New online skills

digital communication

I wish to address some very interesting aspects of the academic article in the Revista Digital Universitaria published by the Universidad Autónoma de México, entitled “‘Hablar por escrito’, Nuevas habilidades de comunicación en la digitalidad” (Speaking in Writing: New Skills in Digital Communication). The work deals with a topic that is currently of great importance: what particularities does digital communication have? I will explain interesting trends that have defined the new form of expression through online media.

Speaking in writing

Jackeline Bucio-García, who holds a doctorate in linguistics, points in the article to some of the trends that we now see in language on the Internet. It involves a style of writing that is more similar to an oral conversation than a proper text. This type of expression serves to transmit emotions, connotations and nuances in communication.

The users employ emoticons, designs, GIF and other tools to enrich distant communication through writing. We see it on a daily basis on the social networks and on instant messaging apps such as Whatsapp, Skype or Telegram.

Also, given the lapse between when a message is sent and an answer is received, these kinds of elements enable communication to seem like normal conversation, even though it isn’t.

Changes in the meanings of punctuation

There are certain uses of punctuation that have notably changed when compared with conventional means. For example, use of the period. As expressed by David Crystal in an interview in The New York Times and as cited in the abovementioned article from the Universidad de México, current use of the period has a dangerous significance. It transmits irony, lack of sincerity and even aggression.

For example, if you say to someone in a Whatsapp message: “Shall we go to the movies?” and their answer is “No”, you will probably feel badly. There are also people who feel uncomfortable when they receive a response from their boss or even from a friend who simply says “Ok.” Receiving a succinct message that also ends in a period generally produces a negative impact.

These are subtleties of written communication that result from disuse of the period in this type of context. Those who use it that way are somehow showing that they want to emphasize something, although we might think that some people do so simply because they’re very careful about spelling and the use of more academic language.

Emotions and phone snubbing

Increasingly, online tools and apps are adding the option of reinforcing texts with emoticons, stickers and other ways of expressing emotion. The article stated that, despite the availability nowadays of more ways of communicating, the effect is frequently just the opposite and interpersonal communication is actually being neglected. While technology can be a means for reaching out to people in other countries in an instant, it also frequently leads to separation from those who are closest to us.

This is what is called phone snubbing (or ningufoneo in Spanish), which means that we ignore others because we are so distracted with our smartphones.

The use of chat type language in education

Finally, the article refers to the role played by these ways of speaking in writing with regard to education. For example, in education and a distance and in teacher-student communication, we are observing the appearance of a language that is more similar to the concept of ‘speaking in writing’ then the more formal classic epistolary type. Both languages are correct, but the informal type has become widely used.

The teacher may continue to use traditional language to maintain linguistic orthodoxy, but isn’t communication bidirectional? If we use a language that users do not understand in the same way, we will not be able to reach them. That is the main challenge currently facing linguistic education. How far should it adapt and to what extent should the language be preserved?

In linguistic education, and particularly now, this social phenomenon has also come about, specifically at Papora, where we have come face-to-face with this challenge. The teaching of English as a foreign language should take these changes into account. We must teach new words that appear in current daily language, above all in digital communication. At Papora, we also believe that we must opt for interactive learning, where written text is reinforced with sounds, images and the possibility to obtain immediate feedback about lessons.

The technological era poses new challenges but also provides a great deal of resources that can considerably facilitate education.

Jake Stainer

He is a graduate in Economics from the University of Aberystwyth in the United Kingdom and is the founder and director of Papora, a website for learning English on the Internet.