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Teenagers have been warned they are becoming unemployable because they use a vocabulary of just 800 words. The limited linguistic range also consists of many made up words and ‘teenspeak’ which has developed through modern communication methods such as text messaging and social networking sites. Today Jean Gross, who advises the Government on children’s speech, said urgent action was required to prevent children failing to find jobs because they are unable to communicate.
Limited vocabulary: Teenagers who speak like the infamous Catherine Tate character Lauren are hurting their chances of securing a job Mrs Goss, who last week issued a stark warning over the effect of television on children’s development said yesterday: ‘Teenagers are spending more time communicating through electronic media and text messaging, which is short and brief. ‘We need to help today’s teenagers understand the difference between their textspeak and the formal language they need to succeed in life — 800 words will not get you a job.
‘ The majority of teenagers should have developed a broad vocabulary of 40,000 words by the time they reach 16. Linguists have found, however, that although they may understand thousands of words, many choose to limit themselves to a much smaller range in regular conversation and on a daily basis could use as few as 800 terms. Mrs Gross said her concerns were increased by research by Tony McEnery, a professor of linguistics at Lancaster University who analysed 10 million words of transcribed speech and 100,000 words gathered from teenagers’ blogs.
He found that the top 20 words used by teenagers, including ‘yeah’, ‘no’ and ‘but’, account for about a third of all words used. Others included ‘chenzed’, meaning tired or drunk, ‘spong’, meaning silly, and ‘lol’, the internet shorthand for ‘laugh out loud’. The research was sponsored by Tesco whose chief executive, Sir Terry Leahy, recently raised concerns about the ‘woefully low standards’ in schools that cause employers problems. Mr Gross plans to launch a campaign next year and targeting primary and secondary schools.
She said: ‘I want teenagers going into workplaces and making videos of how people communicate and then putting them on YouTube for others to study. ‘ She also wants parents to limit children under the age of two to half an hour of television a day, because she says that it crowds out conversation. John Bald, a language teaching consultant and former Ofsted schools inspector, told a Sunday newspaper: ‘There is undoubtedly a culture among teenagers of deliberately stripping away excess verbiage in language.
‘When kids are in social situations, the instinct is to simplify. It’s part of a wider anti-school culture that exists among some children which parents and schools need to address. ‘ According to a recent study from Sheffield University, a teenager actually knows about 40,000 words and a graduate knows 60,000 or more. And Mrs Gross said the invented language of teenagers was not a new – or negative – phenomenon. She said: ‘Teenagers have always had their own language. It is their way of saying ‘We are different’. It is inventive, ever changing and brilliant.
‘My fear is that some disadvantaged children don’t know that there is a different way of speaking in a job interview. ‘ Last week research released by Mrs Gross, who has two grown up children, claimed that thousands of children are struggling to learn to talk because their families keep the television on constantly. Research found almost a quarter of boys and one in seven girls develop speech problems – often due to TV background noise which makes it difficult for babies to understand adults around them. The study found that three per cent of infants go on to develop ‘significant’ problems with talking.