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Byline: Lucy Lynch

SENDING text messages with abbreviated words is helping children learn to spell, according to academics at Coventry University.

Children have to understand the way the complete word is put together before they can write or understand an abbreviation according to Dr Clare Wood, reading developmental psychology. Her report says that to shorten words children need to be able to isolate the individual sounds each letter within them makes.

She points out that understanding the sounds each individual letter and each group of letters within a word is a key part of learning to read. It's called phonological awareness and is currently considered to be one of the best ways of teaching children to read. Dr Wood said: "We began studying in this area to see if there was any evidence of association between text abbreviation use and literacy skills at all after such a negative portrayal of the activity in the media.

"We were surprised to learn that not only was the association strong but that textism use was actually driving the development of phonological awareness and reading skill in children. Texting also appears to be a valuable form of contact with written English for many children which enables them to practice reading and spelling on a daily basis.

"So what can we do with this evidence? With further research we hope to instil a change in attitude in teachers and parents - recognising the potential to use text based exercises to engage children in phonological awareness activities.

"In short we suggest that children's use of textisms is far from problematic. If we are seeing a decline in literary standards among young children it is in spite of text messaging not because of it."

The researchers followed the progress of 63 eight to 12-yearolds over an academic year. They asked for copies of the text messages they sent and tracked their progress in reading, writing and spelling. They found that it was not just the best readers who could abbreviate words, and that abbreviating words helped children become better readers. Among the abbreviations they used were cutting off the last few letters of a word such as bro for brother, leaving the vowels out of the middle of a word such as hmwrk for homework and using initials instead of a full phrase such as lol for laughing out loud.

They also found children substituting symbols for words such as @instead of at.
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Publication:Coventry Evening Telegraph (England)
Date:Jan 22, 2010
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