The use of “textisms” can improve literacy among pupils by giving them extra exposure to word composition outside the school day, it was claimed.
The conclusions come despite fears that the use of abbreviations such as “CU L8R”, “Gr8” and “innit” can undermine children’s reading and writing.
Critics have suggested that text messaging can blur the boundaries between colloquialisms and standard English, with some teachers claiming that slang is now creeping into children’s school work.
But academics from Coventry University said there was “no evidence” that access to mobile phones harmed children’s literacy skills and could even have a positive impact on spelling.
In the latest study, researchers recruited 114 children aged nine and 10 from primary schools in the Midlands.
The pupils, who did not already use a mobile phone, were split into two groups.
Half were given a handset to use for texting over weekends and during the school holidays over a 10-week period. The remaining pupils formed a control group.
Academics then gave pupils a series of reading, spelling and phonological awareness tests before and after the study. Pupils’ reading and spelling was also monitored week-on-week.
The research, to be published in the Journal of Computer Assisted Learning next month, found evidence of a “significant contribution of textism use to the children’s spelling development during the study”.
This study, which took account of individual differences in IQ, found higher results in test scores recorded by children using mobile phones after 10 weeks compared with the start of the study.
According to the report, the association between spelling and text messaging may be explained by the “highly phonetic nature” of the abbreviations used by children and the alphabetic awareness required for successfully decoding the words.
“It is also possible that textism use adds value because of the indirect way in which mobile phone use may be increasing children’s exposure to print outside of school,” said the report, funded by Becta, the Government’s education technology agency.
Prof Clare Wood, senior lecturer in the university’s psychology department, said: “We are now starting to see consistent evidence that children’s use of text message abbreviations has a positive impact on their spelling skills.
“There is no evidence that children’s language play when using mobile phones is damaging literacy development.”
By Graeme Paton