Do you speak internet?

Can you speak or understand other languages? Maybe you can speak some Mandarin but wouldn’t know how to write the words you know, or you can read Spanish pretty well but wouldn’t be able to hold a conversation. What about webspeak? For many people, the acronyms and abbreviations that litter emails and text messages are just as complex as a foreign language. Whether it’s deciphering a parent’s email that is signed “TYVM1,” knowing how to respond to a coworker who texts you “TTYL2” or understanding what a school-ager is talking about when she says “TMI3,” internet slang is making its way into our work in early childhood education.

In the workshops that I’ve done on communication, I always ask how the participants keep in touch with coworkers and families. Many of them, in addition to communicating face-to-face, interact with others in the workplace through text message and email. This creates a lot of opportunities to use, and confuse, common internet terms. Recently, I was reading a text from a coworker that said “SMH.” I’d never heard of it before, and spent several minutes staring at it and thinking So Much… Happiness? No, that doesn’t fit the context. Send Me Home? I have no clue. I finally looked it up and found out that it stands for “Shaking My Head.” As people who grew up using the internet and cell phones become coworkers and parents of children in our care, these terms are going to be more prevalent in our work.

Internet terms are not limited to just adults. In this infographic by Loreal Lynch, it gives some useful information about the use of internet shorthand in our classrooms. In the study it references, 38 percent of the children surveyed said that they had used internet shorthand in their schoolwork. I’d be willing to bet anyone who has worked with school-agers has heard them say “OMG4” or “BFF5.” It’s important to know what they mean so that you can be informed and know how to respond (especially if the acronym includes a cuss word). Even though they may not know how to spell them or what they mean, children under five years old may have some internet terms in their vocabulary, especially if they have older siblings who frequent the internet or use text messaging, and the internet terms are used in their home.

What experiences have you had with webspeak in your work with children? I’d love to hear your stories in the comments!

And in case you’re curious, here are the explanations for the acronyms I used above.

1TYVM = Thank You Very Much

2TTYL = Talk To You Later

3TMI = Too Much Information

4OMG = Oh My Goodness (or Oh My God)

5BFF = Best Friends Forever