The English language may not be as lyrical as French or as utilitarian as German, but it does stand apart in one crucial way — the English language has far, far more words than most other languages. Yet despite this, linguists have recently discovered that more words have died in the past 40 years than at any time since 1800. And even though children of the 21st century have access to more communication technology than any other generation in history, the average child is less literate than generations past.
So What Gives?
Has the so-called Information Age really lived up to its name? How are rapidly evolving digital technologies affecting speech and language development in young people? For better or for worse, it may be too early to say. So why are the current generation of youngsters less literate than their peers from bygone eras?
Recent studies have shown that schoolchildren of the 1960s and 1970s were more literate than present day kids, who struggle more with basic speech and language development skills like spelling, grammar, and writing. Some researchers have specifically cited texting as a possible culprit.
Our language development is heavily influenced by social communication, and if young people spend more time communicating in 140-character limits, they may be less likely to develop complex writing skills. Texting and tweeting might make young people skilled at expressing themselves in emoji form, but it might stunt their essay-writing abilities.
But what about very young people? How could digital tools like tablets and smartphones affect the speech and language development of infants and toddlers? If you’re a parent, you’ve no doubt seen firsthand how much young children love playing with mom and dad’s tablet. It’s not uncommon for children as young as two or three to have a dedicated tablet of their own.
How does the iPad affect language development? It’s too early to know for sure, but it might be best to proceed with caution. For instance, we already know that babies younger than 30 months ?cannot learn from television and videos as they do from real-life interactions,” which means a tablet could stunt speech activities if used to excess. Of course, for older children, there are countless apps and programs designed by language educators to instill reading skills in young people, so it’s a mixed bag.
But only time will tell if the information age really does live up to its name.