IM Goes to School


plz hlp b4 i 4get how 2 rite english

If you have a child who loves Instant Messaging, you can probably decipher that sentence: Please help before I forget how to write English. IMspeak, the cryptic language used in Instant Messaging, is phenomenally popular, not only with teens and pre-teens, but also with the millions of adults who now use it to communicate with friends, family and even co-workers.

The people who aren’t enthusiastic about IM are teachers responsible for getting students to write Standard English. Many are wearing their red pencils down to the nubs trying to get kids to use traditional spelling, much less punctuation and capital letters. It’s a battle that’s not likely to be won unless parents get involved and help their kids understand why they must master the intricacies of complex sentences, proper punctuation and conventional spelling.

As a way for kids to talk to each other, IM is indeed awesome. For one thing, it allows kids to carry on multiple conversations. For another, the condensed language is a sort of code much like slang in previous generations. The fact that adults can’t quite figure it out is part of the allure. By the time parents decode an expression like ROFL (rolling on the floor laughing) or nmjc (not much just chilling), the kids are on to the next thing.

In many ways, IM resembles conversation more than traditional writing. It’s written in short bursts like a telegram, partly because most programs allow only so many characters per message. Also, if you respond too slowly or go on too long, the person on the other end gets bored.

As a result, kids have streamlined the language when writing IM messages. For one thing, they tend to dispense with capital letters and punctuation. They also don’t bother with little words like pronouns or articles such as “a” or “the.” Many words are shortened, often by dropping vowels, so people becomes ppl and sorry becomes sry. Sometimes numbers are inserted into words to create little puzzles like l8r (later) or b4 (before). Acronyms which use only the first letter from the words in common phrases are also popular — g2g (got to go) or brb (be right back).

You can admire the imagination behind these shortcuts and still understand how they make teachers crazy. In addition to the fractured rules of grammar and spelling, teachers worry that kids have become so used to expressing themselves in quick bursts that they will be incapable of sustained thought. Even teachers who are glad to see kids writing effortlessly are concerned about whether they will be able to develop ideas that are more complex than waz^?

Obviously, language evolves and, over time, some IM expressions might become part of Standard English. In fact, some reformers have long advocated the simplified phonetic spelling typical of IM lingo because they believe English spelling is unnecessarily idiosyncratic. (For information, check out or

At this point, however, IM is far from standardized. Kids are constantly making up new abbreviations or expressions that are inscrutable to anyone outside their buddy list. Creative as this process might be, it doesn’t help kids develop the kinds of communication skills they’ll need as students, citizens or workers.

The solution isn’t to stifle IM. Instead, parents need to talk to kids about when it’s appropriate to use the informal language of IM and when they need a more disciplined version of English. Even young children can understand that different settings call for different kinds of language: The way a child talks to teammates in the locker room won’t do at the dinner table. The same thing is true in writing. The way a child writes for a teacher should be very different from the way he or she writes for IM buddies. Here are other ideas about how to make this distinction clear for kids.

• Ask your child’s teachers about policies on IMspeak. Some teachers are willing to let kids use it in rough drafts because they believe it minimizes writer’s block. Other teachers deduct points whenever they see it.
• Point out where IMspeak is helpful. Your child might be able to take notes more quickly using the condensed language of IM. Using IM lingo in a journal may make it more private.
• Encourage children to proofread written work. Using a spelling or grammar checker won’t catch many IM problems.
• Read over your child’s written work before he or she turns it in. You might not want to correct every problem you see, but you should insist that IM expressions be changed to standard forms.
• Make a list of IM elements and expressions that shouldn’t be used in essays, reports and other schoolwork. Obviously, the list should include smileys, the little faces which express emotion. Teachers also don’t want to see u in place of “you,” r instead of “are” or 2 in place of “two,” “to” or “too.”
• If your child can’t seem to break the IM habit, consider limiting time spent on Instant Messaging. Often the simple suggestion that IM could be curtailed is an incentive for a student to become more conscientious about his or her writing.

In the end, today’s kids need to be bilingual so they can enjoy the social benefits of Instant Messaging with friends and the academic benefits of being able to write clear, well-constructed English sentences. Kids whose parents appreciate both are the real winners because they will eventually be able to say “I’m grateful you insisted I learn to communicate effectively” as well as “thks ur so kewl.”

1. In the world of cell phones, a text message is called an “SMS,” which stands for “short message service.”
2. While there are some variations, most text messages are set at a maximum of 160 characters.
3. The first commercial text message was sent on December 3, 1992.
4. About 17 billion text messages were sent worldwide in the year 2000. The next year, that number rose to about 250 billion. By 2004 the number was 500 billion.
5. In July 2006, 18-year-old Ben Cook of Utah claimed the world speed-texting record, sending a 160-character message in just 42.22 seconds.
— Courtesy of Kajeet pay-as-you-go cell phones

Emoticons are fun to use when texting. Here are some favorites:
🙂 smiling
🙁 frowning
:-# face with braces
:-B face with buck teeth
😉 winking
=:-O shocked
>:-O yelling
*<:o) clown
O:-) angel
<3 heart
— Courtesy of Kajeet cell phones

IM Speak – A Sample
LULAS love you like a sister
LUWAMH love you with all my heart
LY love you
LYL love you lots
M/F male or female
MA mature audience
MORPG multi-player online role-playing game
MOOS member of the opposite sex
MOSS member of the same sex
MUSM miss you so much
NAZ name, address, zip
N-E-1 ER anyone here?
NIMBY not in my back yard
NOYB none of your business
NP no problem or nosy parents
NT no thanks
NUFF enough said
NW no way!
ORLY oh really?
P911 my parents are coming!
P2P peer-to-peer
PA parent alert
PAL parents are listening
PANB parents are nearby
PDA public display of affection
Peeps people
PIR parent in the room
PM private message
POS parent over my shoulder
RT real time
RLF real life friend
RPG role-playing game

— Courtesy of Webroot Software. Download a free parent handbook on Internet safety at their Web site,

Carolyn Jabs is a former contributing editor for Family PC and mother of three computer savvy kids.