How Does Social Media Slang Affect Learning?

The Use of Slang

The term “slang” refers to any word or phrase used in informal settings among certain groups of people (e.g. subcultures, regions, etc.). Slang can be a common word or phrase used in a new context (e.g. that jacket is “sick”), a new word or phrase (e.g. her hair is “on fleek”), or a combination of the two (e.g. “tope,” meaning “totally dope”). Despite how much it may confuse “outsiders,” slang serves an important function in the evolution of language by providing an outlet to test new expressions for common objects and emotions.

Slang found on social media sites and in text messages has become its own subdivision of language. These platforms frequently limit the number of characters used to convey messages, requiring users to develop shorter terms and more creative means by which to express themselves. As a result, various odd acronyms (e.g. LOL, OMG, FTW, IDK, etc.) and abbreviations (e.g. “b4″ for before, “2” for to/two/too, “u” for you, etc.) have become infused into everyday communication.

How Does Slang Affect Students in the Classroom?


The rampant use of social media/texting slang by teenagers is largely due to increased accessibility to mobile phones; 91% of teenagers polled in 2015 by the Pew Research Center reported going online at least occasionally from a mobile device. In addition, 73% of teenagers reported owning a mobile phone, and 91% of these teens used it for text messaging. An earlier poll conducted by Pew in 2008 found that 85% of teenagers engage in some form of online personal communication, confirming a small but significant rise in this trend.

Considering how many teenagers are using mobile devices to communicate on a daily basis, it’s not surprising to see anecdotes from teachers and college admissions officers regarding the poor verbal and writing skills they observe on a daily basis. A 2010 study in Communication Research provided evidence that frequent use of texting slang negatively impacted formal writing and daily communication, but positively affected informal writing.

Others argue that the use of internet slang improves language skills by permitting creativity through the development of new words and encouraging good editing skills in order to convey messages within short character limitations. Interestingly, the 2008 Pew study cited above found that while 60% of teens don’t consider texting or communicating on social media as “writing,” 64% admit to using this type of language in their schoolwork.

Does Slang Harm Writing Skills?


As mentioned before, there is some data available suggesting that excessive use of texting language impairs formal writing skills, though there is not a standard consensus on how to handle it. Slang is actually an integral part of society, where its use is important in developing and maintaining social bonds. Even professionals use some form of slang, typically called jargon, to simplify their lives and identify themselves to one another.

The use of slang is so important to some subcultures that it can lead to widening of the achievement gap between blacks and non-blacks within the American educational system. It is hypothesized that students must sometimes make a choice between whether to learn their subculture’s slang to fit in or learn proper English to succeed down the road. The need for social acceptance differs between cultures, thus those with a higher need for it would prefer to learn slang over proper English. Also, those that start out with a disadvantage in reading or writing skills are more likely to be negatively affected by the use of slang, as it further limits their already impaired communication skills.

With these thoughts in mind, it is important for educators to understand and accept that today’s students will always be using mobile devices and social media to communicate with one another. It is equally important to teach students the difference between formal/professional writing and common slang. To this end, educators could leverage the increased use of and access to technology and the internet’s wealth of information and toolboxes to provide proper instruction on formal writing. Slang does have a place in society and learning, but students must be taught what that is and what the converse looks like in order to develop well-rounded communication skills.

List of Common Slang Terms

Slang Term Meaning Commonly Found On…
LOL Laughing out loud Facebook, Twitter, Text
BRB Be right back Text, Gaming
IDK I don’t know Facebook, Twitter, Text
BTW By the way Facebook, Twitter, Text
IRL In real life Facebook, Twitter, Text
2nite tonight Facebook, Twitter, Text
b4 before Facebook, Twitter, Text
OIC Oh i see Facebook, Twitter, Text
FTW For the win Facebook, Twitter, Gaming
GTG Got to go Text
NVM nevermind Text
TTYL Talk to you later Text


  1. LaDonna Gustafson

    December 13, 2016 at 7:42 pm

    I am trying to use Chromebooks in my classroom. I like the built in microphone and the compactness of this tool. I also like the features Google has such as apps that can be used in the classroom for students to create a multitude of projects–LGustafson

  2. Daryl Ortiz

    December 23, 2016 at 1:49 am

    Its totally disturbing my children’s study. Now forgot slags, my daughter most of the time write “u” instead of “you” as she is addicted to whatsapp/instagram. They are using so many social media slang which even presents doesn’t know. I recommended to extended the social media usage age from 14 to 18. Let, students use internet for study purpose only.

  3. Paul Perkins

    January 16, 2017 at 12:17 am

    yes slang really efffects the traditional learning,infact use of slang is very informal and does not meet the formal/document writing skills,they dont follow punctuations,quotations,and there is no worry of spellings,words etc so it is not a good habbit to practice..

  4. Madison

    February 12, 2017 at 12:19 pm

    I found this to be an extremely interesting post since social media slang is growing within the younger generations. This social media plays an enormous role on our society that it didn’t, even 10 years ago, which makes it difficult to seek a solution in reducing access to these platforms. Thinking about my technology usage (which is fairly limited in comparison to my peers), I would admit that my spelling has suffered at the expense of using my laptop for the majority of my work. I can see this reflected in the intensity in which we abbreviate things on social media, especially Twitter where our word count is limited to 140 characters. I would assume that this slang would impair one’s formal writing skills but appreciate the counter-argument that it actually increases one’s creativity. I don’t think this is necessarily a trade of, as stated in regards to using your subcultures slang OR learning proper English down the road but there is conflict between the two. Because of this, I think it will take more time for the upcoming generation to differentiate between what is acceptable and what is not acceptable in terms of their reading and writing skills. While this slang appears to be hindering formal writing, I wonder if in the long run this will help students to take shorthanded notes and process information in a more feasible, creative manner?