By Elizabeth Hileman
In her article, “Flipping the Switch: Code-Switching from Text Speak to Standard English,” Kristen Hawley Turner examines the place of digital language in the Standard English classroom. When she first encountered text speak, Turner was concerned that it would be the main contributor to the ruin of Standard Written English; however, instructors, like herself, could not ignore the wide use of this informal English on the internet or through texting. Some developed worried attitudes, while others accepted that this “new” language could become the normal means of written discourse.
Turner takes a different view on the situation by utilizing a method created by Rebecca Wheeler and Rachael Swords known as Code-Switching. The method enlists the thoughts and experiences of students, so they are able to learn when to use formal language and when to use informal speech. This method is normally applied to dialects and other informal languages used outside of school; however, Turner and her graduate students have applied this method to secondary classrooms in attempt to teach code-switching to these students of the digital age.
In code-switching, students must first recognize that they utilize alternative languages in varying situations. Turner suggests that the instructor asks the students to propose situations that they encounter daily. Using these situations, the instructor combines the four most common situations, which in the article include the classroom, home, playground, and the internet. Then the instructor supplies sample sentences that the students are to place in the correct category. For example: “Hello. How are you?” is placed in the classroom category. Once the students understand this concept, they create there own sentences to place in these categories. They also are asked to alter each sentence so that it would fit in another category. They discuss the idea that all forms of informal language are acceptable in different situations. Finally, students create a “grocery-list” of common problems for which to search as they edit their future, formal writings.
Turner also considers the idea of class blogs and the extent to which informal grammar should be accepted on these. She suggests allowing the students, at first, to decide what type of speech to utilize on the first posting; then, the instructor is to identify the varying speech and have a discussion about which speech is more appropriate for the classroom setting. Most students, she assures, will choose Standard Written English as opposed to text speak and will come to correct their classmates’ posts. Students should also be encouraged to write first drafts and classroom journals in the manner that comes most naturally to them.
However, she warns that this should not be a one-way task. Instructors should not only encourage switching text speak to Standard English but also allow students to alter Standard English to text speak. This will enhance their language abilities and allow them to better understand classic themes in contemporary society. Students should also be informed that text speak is appropriate to use in digital discourse, but Standard English is appropriate to use in the polished, final drafts of papers. While she admits that this is a difficult task to teach, she, herself, has managed to learn how to code-switch effortlessly and how to connect with her “digital native” students.
Having noted the increasing effects of text speak in the written language of the students I tutor, I must agree that they are having difficulty understanding when to switch to Standard English; however, I must also count myself among these students. The first year I was allowed to have a texting plan, I was surprised to discover my once polished papers littered with informal text speak. I had effortlessly imported my digital language into my written language. By simply becoming aware of the issue, I was able to correct it with editing and eventually, without thought. With this first-hand knowledge, I would like to try to utilize this method with my future students and view the results.