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Fears for spelling in the digital age

Kamahl Cogdon and Diana Jenkins, February 25, 2021 6:30PM Kids News

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Australians overwhelming believe spelling is important but they fear standards are slipping because of social media and text messaging. media_cameraAustralians overwhelming believe spelling is important but they fear standards are slipping because of social media and text messaging.


Reading level: red

Social media and text messaging are killing kids’ spelling skills, most Australians fear.

A survey reveals more than two-thirds of adults are worried about the spelling abilities of children, saying standards have eroded* as technology has taken hold.

The online poll* by personal finance app Humaniti found that while 97 per cent rated spelling as important, 67 per cent were very or somewhat concerned about how well children can spell.

And it’s not just kids they were worried about, with 66 per cent saying spelling standards had slipped in Australian society overall.

They pointed the finger at technology, with social media and text messaging seen as the main culprit*. This was closely followed by a reliance on smartphones and voice-controlled technology like Siri.

Combined, these were considered the main reasons for spelling decline by 67 per cent of respondents.

Now I know my ABC media_cameraNAPLAN results show “patchy” progress on spelling since 2008.

When asked for other reasons, a decrease in reading books was blamed by 42 per cent, while laziness was blamed by 26 per cent and education blamed by 20 per cent.

Literacy expert Dr Jennifer Buckingham said NAPLAN results showed “patchy” progress on spelling since national testing was introduced in schools in 2008.

And she said parents’ concerns should not be dismissed.

“I think parents are pretty good bellwethers* with this sort of thing,” Dr Buckingham said.

“If parents are worried about this then I think it’s something schools should be looking at.”

But Dr Buckingham, a phonics* advocate* and the director of strategy at literacy program provider MultiLit, said the way technology was taking a toll on spelling was different to what people might think.

Dr Buckingham said there was little research at the moment to show a link between social media use and worsening spelling, but there was evidence that the shift away from handwriting in favour of typing and texting was hurting spelling ability.

“The thing that’s most likely to impact on it is the crowding out of handwriting,” Dr Buckingham said.

“There is a lot of evidence that handwriting is very important for learning spelling because that fine motor process of forming the letters in handwriting helps children to learn the letter and also to learn the letter patterns that contribute to their spelling.”

A+ elementary spelling test corrected by teacher media_cameraHandwriting is thought to play an important role in learning spelling.

The Humaniti survey of 1662 adults, including more than 600 parents of school aged children, revealed technology was overwhelmingly seen as a negative when it comes to kids’ spelling.

The negative impact was seen as either significant or moderate by:

  • 88 per cent for text and chat messaging;
  • 86 per cent for social media;
  • and 75 per cent for voice-controlled assistants like Siri.

Only 4 per cent believed these digital-age obsessions* had a positive impact on a child’s spelling ability.

But Australian Catholic University literacy teaching expert Professor John Munro said the spelling and language young people used in SMS did not necessarily follow into other areas of their life.

He said SMS was just one of the “cultures” today’s students lived in and they adapted their communication to suit, just like they did when speaking to their teachers or parents compared to their friends.

“Could SMS language, social media language impact (spelling)? It could if the student isn’t learning to survive in multiple cultures,” Prof Munro said.

“If there is one thing the 21st century requires kids to be able to do, it is to live in multiple cultures.”


  • eroded: been gradually destroyed
  • poll: taking of people’s opinions
  • culprit: the source or cause of a problem
  • bellwethers: signs of a trend
  • phonics: the method of teaching reading by sounding out letters
  • advocate: a person who recommends or supports something
  • obsessions: things people love or always think about


Spelling out the right time for formal language

Millions of $50 notes have spelling mistake

What is dyslexia? Is there a cure?


  1. What do people see as the main reason for declining spelling ability?
  2. Name two other reasons people think spelling is getting worse.
  3. How many people took part in the survey?
  4. What national test has been done in schools since 2008?
  5. What does Dr Buckingham believe is important for learning spelling?


1. Do You Agree?
Do you think technology is making kids’ skills in spelling, writing and maths worse? Give specific reasons for your answer. Make your answer convincing!

Time: allow 20 minutes to complete this activity
Curriculum Links: English, Science, Critical and Creative Thinking

2. Extension
‘The Day Everyone Forgot How to Spell.’ Write a story about this.

Time: allow at least 30 minutes to complete this activity
Curriculum Links: English, Critical and Creative Thinking

Down-Level It
When you up-level a sentence, you do things to it to improve it: make it more interesting, or more complex.

But sometimes, when we read something it can be too complex and we don’t understand it very well. You ask someone to explain it to you, they do (in a simpler way) and you think, well why didn’t they just say that?

Go through the article and find a sentence or two that is complex, or hard to read.

Ask an adult what it means, or try and look some of the words up in the glossary. Once you know what it means, see if you can rewrite it in a simpler way – down-level it.

Make sure you don’t change the meaning of the sentence in any way though.

HAVE YOUR SAY: Do you believe text and chat messaging has made your spelling worse?
No one-word answers. Use full sentences to explain your thinking. No comments will be published until approved by editors.

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