Researchers say netspeak should be recognised as legitimate communication and included in lessons for those studying English as a second language.
Victoria University researcher Dr Roberto Bergami has completed studies on the influence of cyber language – including abbreviations used on Facebook and Twitter – on adolescents learning English as a second language in Italy and Pakistan.
His work showed netspeak – including the use of 'gr8' (great), 'lol' (laughing out loud) and 'omg' (oh my god) – existed for these students when communicating in English, while they increasingly also had parallels in their own languages. The netspeak also spread to phone text messages and sometimes even the way they talked to one another.
Dr Bergami said it showed an evolution of language which teachers of English as a second language needed to come to terms with to avoid these students getting left behind when communicating online.
"Netspeak is increasingly creeping into English and its influence should not be ignored," Dr Bergami said. "Languages are forever evolving and meanings are changing – just look at how different Shakespeare's English is to Modern English – but to ignore that is to hold these students back from accessing the new culture in a way relevant to them."
He said research showed that if students are more interested and can relate to the material they will learn it better.
"Even small lessons or games using this netspeak could be useful for engaging students and teaching them more relevant English," he said.
"It's certainly not a matter of replacing traditional English lesson, after all you need to understand the original grammar and pronunciations to understand most abbreviations – it's merely recognising that it deserves a place."
Dr Bergami said resistance to language change was nothing new, with evidence in the 12th century of young Italians speaking slang Latin, with those who dobbed them in to teachers known as 'lupi', or wolves.
The study was co-authored by Dr Ameena Zafar from Muhammad Ali Jinnah University in Pakistan and Dr Biagio Aulino from the University of Toronto, Canada.