The impact of digital tools on children and their grammar.

It’s almost 40 years since the song ‘Video Killed the Radio Star’ became a worldwide hit. Topping the charts in 16 countries, its lyrics predicted the dawn of a new age in the music industry – video. The song’s video was famously the first music video to be broadcast on MTV.

Computers and grammar

The song also raised the wider issue of the impact of technology, primarily on the media arts. The impact that technology has on our lives in general is an issue that has never really gone away over the last four decades. In fact, you could argue that it has never been more important.

Now, 40 years after video claimed its first victim, questions need to be asked about new technology again: Did video kill the grammar star too? Has the use of chat apps and emoticons created a generation unable to spell correctly?

Did digital kill the grammar star?

Perhaps the most appropriate title for this blog would be ‘Did digital kill the grammar star?’ After all, it is the  digitalisation of our world, in general, that has had so much impact. Digital has changed the way we live our lives immeasurably over the last few years. Digital has affected all aspects of our lives. From the way we consume media, to business and marketing, to the way our children learn – digital is everywhere. It makes things faster, easier and much more convenient.

Much research has been carried out regarding the potential effect on children’s literacy standards.

Where does grammar fit into the digital world?

You might be asking: What does the importance of grammar have to do with the digital world? Of course, it is still important. Children still need to learn to read and write. Statistically there is still a clear correlation between literacy skills and life chances and level of employment.

But despite all these fairly obvious points, it is also worthwhile to note that there has been a shift. Increasingly, businesses are using txtspeak or emoticons in marketing materials or their day-to-day communication.

The use of images and video are also increasingly important. It’s no secret that click rates on social media are much higher when images are included in posts. The growth of video content is even more significant. 80% of all consumer internet traffic is now video-based.

The two fastest growing social media channels, Instagram and Snapchat, are very focused on image over text – so where does this leave words, language and grammar?

The new basics and the old basics

Digital skills and the likes of coding being heralded as the ‘new basics’ – the all-important skills that children will need to succeed in the workplace of the future. But the ‘old basics’ of reading, writing and grammar are still as important as they ever were. The new basics need be taught, but not at the expense of the old basics.

Employers constantly complain that new recruits lack a good level of grammar proficiency and communication skills in general. Many argue that this trend that has been created and exacerbated by children’s overuse of digital devices. Twitter might exist in a world of 140 characters, but the wider world does not.

People still need to be able to articulate and communicate effectively. Sloppy or poorly written copy – be it on a application letter, resume, email, blog or website – conveys a negative image of an individual or a business.

Poor grammar can be costly

Poor grammar will cost you lost marks in an examination. It could cost you a job interview or potential business. At its most extreme it can be even more costly than that.

Oakhurst Dairy, a Maine-based US company recently had to pay out $8.1million in overtime to back pay to its drivers – all because of a missing comma!

State law states that overtime pay must be paid to all workers who work above the threshold of 40 hours per week. There are a list of exemptions on the statute: ‘freezing, processing, preserving, freezing, drying, marketing, storing, packing for shipment or distribution of perishable goods.”

A should have been used to separate the last two items in the list: ‘packing for shipment, or distribution of…’ Here, ‘packing’ and ‘distribution’ are clearly two different work tasks. But without the comma, it reads like a single activity – ‘packing’. This slip enabled the drivers distributing the product to successfully claim for overtime pay.

Digital has not killed the grammar star, and it never will.