There is no doubt that technology is good and worth embracing. From the planes to computers, radio to skype, phones to facebook name it, the world has marvelled at such innovations and rushed to embrace those technological breakthroughs.
Who would not want to communicate with people in any part of the world for free and instantly? Who wouldn’t want to take pictures of an event and upload them on facebook immediately? Most people either use phones or social media platforms such Facebook and Twitter.
These new technologies though have had their toll on the English language particularly the written word. Television, movies and social media have taught the world especially teenagers certain jargons and terms that are either abbreviated or simply informal. As a result, formal English is slowly but surely on the decline in schools.
The ‘mutilation’ of language is fast making its way into academic papers, classroom assignments and students compositions. The ‘SMS’ language that is appropriate for the brief word counts that social media platforms like twitter allow has become too common amongst students that it is almost impossible to avoid it during class assignments.
‘Because’ has been shortened down to ‘coz’, ‘2moro’ was coined to save the energy that would have otherwise been used to write ‘Tomorrow’ in full, ‘thx’ for ‘thank you’, ‘BTW’ for ‘by the way’ amongst others.
English language a casualty
A paper by the International Journal of Linguistics written after undertaking research with higher learning institution students as subjects pointed out that correct English language was becoming a casualty to SMS language that thrives on short forms and abbreviations.
“In the view of attested addictive effects of text messaging, caution must be exercised in encouraging students in its use. If not checked students are likely to get so used to it that they may no longer realise the need for Standard English construction even in writings that are supposed to be formal. It is evident that SMS language could pose a threat to students’ writing skills as written communication skills are getting poor. All efforts have to be made to ensure that students write good English, whether on phone or paper,” the paper reads in part.
The short forms, slangs and abbreviations have at times made it difficult for graduates to prove themselves before potential employers, tutors and business colleagues. The same forms are giving teachers and facilitators sleepless nights knowing well that their students have good points to get across but how they are making the points is inhibited by ‘street’ influence.
Jean-Michell Habineza, an English teacher at Nyarutarama-based Green Hills Academy, has to deal with such challenges of language mutilation often.
“If you read most of the papers that I have to read daily, you find that most of them have the same problem. Part of the problem is because most learners are used to that kind of language and they do not even read. If they do not read it becomes really hard for them to actually learn how to correctly use the language and end up using what they know. You will find that for some of them, jargon is the only language that they know and you cannot tell them to write differently,” Habineza notes.
The same generation that is prone to effects of ‘mutilation’ of the English language has been known to be loud about their ability to be flexible in various situations giving the impression that it would be possible to balance between use of slang and grammatically correct English.
According to Habineza, this is only possible if you are fluent and comfortable with both styles which can be easily balanced by reading often.
“It is possible but requires one to be comfortable with both styles. There are people who read a lot and have mastery of language but it is sometimes hard to manage. But it is best for students to play it safe with grammatically correct English as it will not have a negative toll on their academic progression,” Habineza advises.
Edith Birungi, a teacher at Kigali Christian School, says ‘mutilation’ of English is a prevalent challenge for teachers to deal with and the root of the problem can be traced to the way students communicate.
“It is mostly because of how students communicate when they are out of class and due to the influence of social media where they tend to be economical with words,” she says.
Students speak out
Solange Umwali, a second year student at Mount Kenya University, pursuing business administration is an ardent user of social media and speaks in a mixture of English, French and Kinyarwanda. She says she can differentiate when to use formal or informal language.
“As a student and learner, you should be versatile with varying situations. You should be able to converse with your friends physically using slang, on social media using short forms and write assignments and formal papers using correct grammar. But it probably goes down to the exposure that you give yourself through books and other reading material.”
But some, however, admit to have challenges in balancing slang and correct grammar more so when taking notes in class and when writing assignments.
“At times you have points to get valid and correct points to get across but because of the hurry you are in, you easily forget and use terms that are not grammatically correct. At times it is because of lack of concentration or because one is in a hurry. I do not think it is an issue of concern, it should be about content not style,” Fred Gasana, a student at University of Rwanda School of Education, says.
What do we do?
As a teacher, Birungi suggests that the trend would have a less effect on students and learners if they took more time to read extensively.
“Most people are only restricted to reading on social media and they have little contact with grammatically correct literature. If they took more time to read articles, newspapers and novels, they would not get it wrong while writing.”
Birungi also advises teachers to be on the lookout for students and ensure that they always point out such ‘mutilation’ of English so that the students feel obliged to change.
“There may not be one single route to correct it or deal with it, teachers should just ensure that they always point out and support students to use proper English in written and verbal communication.”
Brian Kasawuli, a former English teacher and an educationist, says the rate of adoption of slang and abbreviations is worrying.
“We can only use the short forms, abbreviations and slangs when you are dealing with people you are familiar with. You cannot use them for professional communication as it is grammatically wrong. It is increasingly becoming common for slangs to appear in formal communications and unfortunately it is seen as a new style and every day more people are adopting it.”
Kasawuli encourages people to completely avoid informal language as drawing the line between when and when not to use it can be tricky.
“We encourage students to avoid it because it portrays an image of familiarity between them and the person they are writing for. Much as it is an emerging style, they should stay off it,” he argues.
Devota Uwase, a parent, says the trend could have thrived and taken root because in recent times few parents are keen on their children’s academic progress and there is less emphasis on reading.
“In the past, parents followed whatever their children were doing keenly and encouraged them to read extensively. But as days go by, children have been left to the social media, television and the Internet.”
If the trend persists, in the near future we risk seeing bright students who cannot write convincing business proposals or application letters to potential employers. This might hinder their development and progress.
WHAT DO YOU THINK ABOUT USE OF SLANG?
Nelly Bana Rwagitore, a student
I don’t use slang that much except when talking to my friends. My mother is also okay with slang but my father cannot tolerate it. I can never use slang when talking to him. Fortunately, slang does not affect me when writing my exams.
Robert Benjamin Ndushabandi, S.5 student
I use slang when talking to friends but sometimes I accidentally use it even when talking to old people. Our teachers, however, advise us to use formal words irrespective of the language in which we are we are using.
Sunday Justine Nzitatira, Life Director KCS
Policy encourages speaking and writing proper English and French. In an environment of teenagers, slang is widely used mainly when students are communicating with each other of course not with teachers. They learn these words from their friends, movies and a few adults. I have observed the use of common words like swag and I am not even sure about their meaning.
Armella Ndacyoyinenga, S5 student
I speak both English and French and slang is just part of me. I pick most of the words from movies and some novels. Sometimes I use informal language in formal settings but it’s hard to avoid it.
Philippe Kayumba, S.4 student
I use facebook quite a lot when I am not at school. Personally, I do not use slang a lot but sometimes it’s inevitable. But since slang is discouraged at school, we never totally forget grammatically correct English.