Students Failing English Due to Twitter, Facebook

January 31st, 2010
Filed under: Social Media — joel @ 1:20 pm

The free-form writing style of social networks like Twitter and Facebook is changing the way people communicate, and causing students to fail English. That’s the claim of a piece out this afternoon from the Canadian Press. According to the article “(at) Simon Fraser University in British Columbia, one in 10 new students are not qualified to take the mandatory writing courses required for graduation.” And academicians are, in part, blaming social networking.

I was interviewed for this, and I share the view that students who let social network style, like SMS (text) abbreviations, such as L8R, and emoticons (like smiley faces) slip into their more formal communications, run the risk of being viewed as poor communicators by very influential people, such as potential employers and graduate school review boards. These things:

“say to me … ‘well, this person doesn’t think very clearly, and they’re not very good at analyzing complex subjects, and they’re not very good at expressing themselves, or … they can’t spell, and they can’t punctuate,’ These folks are going to short-change themselves, and right or wrong, they’re looked down upon in traditional corporations.”

So have fun when you’re online, but remember, almost everything you “say” and do is visible to the entire world, including people who can make a difference in helping you achieve your objectives. And even if the social media gurus tell you the old rules have been thrown out, and communications has gone informal, and you should be yourself, someone apparently forgot to send that memo to our universities and corporations.



  1. Every generation or half-generation has been said to produce poor writers for one reason or another. The errors in this blog, for example, lead me to believe that the writer passed through secondary school sometime between the late 1970s and now, when the in-depth teaching of grammar, punctuation and usage fell out of favour.
    Language is evolving faster now than it did in past centuries, but it has always evolved. We must understand that language exists to enable communication, and different forms of language are suitable for different methods of communication.
    Do I want to read texting in a newspaper? No. Do I take the time to write this way on my BB? No. Today’s non-traditional forms of language are not incorrect; they may be used at inappropriate times or in inappropriate media, but each is invaluable in its appropriate time and place.

    Comment by Ruthanne Urquhart — January 31, 2010 @ 2:06 pm

  2. As an English teacher in colleges and high schools for many, many years, I — like the commenter above — have seen a variety of reasons why students fail their writing courses.

    They do NOT fail because of social media. If anything, social media platforms are giving students more opportunities to put their thoughts into written words. Students who really want to do well in a class, whether it is English or Chemistry or Math, must learn the appropriate rules/tips/guidelines for success AND THEN they must follow them.

    I actually use Twitter and Blogging in my classrooms, and many of them want to learn more and do better as a result.

    Comment by Shari Weiss — January 31, 2010 @ 3:36 pm

  3. Ruthanne,

    To suggest that my blog is an example of poor writing is disingenuous, mean spirited and completely false. There are more errors in the first paragraph of your comment than there are in the 10 most recent posts on this blog, but what would be the value in pointing them out?


    Comment by joel — January 31, 2010 @ 5:23 pm

  4. […]  A Canadian press  article claims that the  free-form writing style of social networks like Twitter and Facebook is changing the way people communicate, and causing students to fail English. It definitely changes communications, but I doubt that this is the reason they fail English. […]

    Pingback by Is Texting the future of writing? Bet Not. | iCentered — February 1, 2010 @ 8:39 am

  5. […] 02.04.10 5:16 pm This is an interesting article that I read today. Students are failing English because of SMS (abbreviations like l8r) and using incomplete sentences.  It seems that we now have a second language!  Are you versed in both?  Can you switch between texting your child and writing the report on revenue projections?  To me, it says that as an older adult I may try to “fit in” with younger generations by using the informality of social media  – but I better not let it slip into my day today work activities!  You can read more about the study here […]

    Pingback by Is social media dumbing us down? | Soma comments — February 4, 2010 @ 2:16 pm

  6. As a former NYU adjunct PR/Writing professor, I can honestly agree with Joel’s post. My students were terrible writers and I did my best to get them to adhere to AP Guidelines for business writing.

    While I agree that language is a form of communication, and that it does change over time, I do not agree that communication in business will become informal or use “common” language.

    Today’s students need to know how to write (properly) in order to express themselves coherently and thoughtfully. If they cannot express themselves in writing, they won’t make in a business environment. And clearly, people need to work in order to live.

    My $.02.

    Comment by Jocelyn — February 18, 2010 @ 9:52 am

  7. I’d wager one of the punctuation “errors” Ruthanne wanted to point out was the “Oxford Comma” (it isn’t really a serial comma as the list is only two items long; no comma should be present). The more important question is: while the comma may look strange, does it impair understanding or create ambiguity? In this case? No. So why is it an issue?

    Comment by Aran — May 19, 2010 @ 6:56 am

  8. Aran, thank you for your comment and support. You may be right, but I’m not sure exactly which sentence she would be referring to.

    As you so rightly point out, a basic rule with commas is to use one when to not do so would impair understanding. Strunk and White says “place a comma before a conjunction introducing an independent clause,” and gives the example “The early records of the city have disappeared, and the story of its first years can no longer be reconstructed.”

    This is why I put a comma in the sentence that ends “changing the way people communicate, and causing students to fail English.” To not do so would cause the reader to think that this was a list of two items, which it was not.

    Ruthanne’s comment troubles me on many levels. My blog post, interview with Canadian Press, and the outcry by Canada’s academic community have nothing to do with misplaced commas. Some of the “problems” stem from, as Ruthanne says, adaptation to changes in language vs. seeing those changes as “wrong,” and I accept that. More importantly, though, this is about a looming, unprecedented breakdown in communications, the inability of students to pass basic English competency exams, and worse still, upon graduation, their inability to communicate as required in their chosen professions.

    My SAT score was in the 98 percentile in English. I am one of the most highly paid and sought after business writers in the Silicon Valley. I am a published author. I have a degree in communications. I was a graduate teaching assistant and taught communications. I am a published author.

    I know, big deal, but Ruthanne’s attempt to link the writing on my blog to this situation is weak, and her analysis is ludicrous. She cites no solid examples and attempts to play at being a linguistic Sherlock Holmes when she can’t hold a candle to Scooby Doo.

    Comment by joel — May 19, 2010 @ 8:45 am

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