UNWISE WORDS: Text speak and slang may be ruining young people’s chances in the job market
TEXTING SLANG and street talk is destroying many young people’s chances in the job market because they are increasingly unable to distinguish when it’s appropriate to use it, say youth workers and language experts.
Whereas in previous generations slang was used to communicate with peers or to be cool, social media and the use of mobile devices has seen what language experts have labelled ‘multicultural English’, with words like ‘innit’, ‘bruv’, ‘allow it’ and ‘man dem’ used to address everyone as part of a normal way of speaking.
Some employers have expressed concern about young job seekers sending them hasty and poorly thought-out messages replete with smiley faces and emojis from mobile devices, or using social networking sites to befriend interviewers.
They say that such immaturity can instantly kill a job candidate’s chances. With the obstacles to finding full time employment already high – recent figures from the House of Commons library show a 50 per cent rise in BAME youth unemployment since 2010 – concern is growing that young black job seekers are ill-equipped to communicate in the wider world.
Figures from the House of Commons library also show that the unemployment rate for BAME people was nine per cent, despite forming only three per cent of the population. The comparable figure for white Britons was five per cent.
One east London-based youth worker was so concerned about the issue she decided to create a youth etiquette in the workplace video resource aimed at helping the young people she worked with. Rianna Raymond - Williams created the two minute video, funded by the charity Fixers, the Big Lottery and ITV because she wanted to encourage young people to know that in a work setting, saying or doing the wrong thing can cause you to lose opportunities, alienate people or lose a job.
She told The Voice: “After working with young people in a youth work capacity for the last seven years, I started to recognise a pattern. “It wasn’t that the young people didn’t know how to conduct themselves properly in formal environments – instead they felt they didn’t need to, but this is exactly what might be costing them important opportunities.
“When they speak to their parents, their choice of words are different, when they attend family gatherings they appear in their best and conduct themselves in a friendly manner, so why is this any different to employment or education?
MIND YOUR LANGUAGE: Youth worker Rianna Raymond Williams, (right) is concerned about young people’s use of slang
“I was frustrated and concerned with young people not presenting themselves accordingly and with that thought came my idea for my youth etiquette resource. Just because you use language or gestures
around friends, that doesn’t mean you should do the same in public. Take responsibility for what you say and do.”
Raymond-Williams added: “After launching the resource, some critics viewed it as feeding in to an agenda that was essentially anti-youth, anti- urban, anti-working class and anti-minority ethnic. This is not the case. The resource was designed due to the unfortunate reality that young ethnic minority people are at a greater disadvantage when accessing employment and education as statistics have shown.”
Language experts such as Paul Kerswill, professor of sociolinguistics at York University, have pointed to the rise of what has been called ‘multicultural English’, which is “a bit cockney, a bit West In- dian, a bit West African, with some Bangladeshi and Kuwaiti and it seems to be replacing traditional cockney.”
He says that social media is a key factor in its use becoming more widespread. “Much of social media, whether it be YouTube, Face- book or text messaging, has a written form and it may be that people feel that the kind of informal language they use when they text or post messages has more legitimacy and is more fixed because it’s written down as well as spoken.
So the perception is that it’s okay to contact a potential employer with shortened versions of words such as b4 (be- fore), thx (thanks) or that they can use ‘hi’, because that’s what they would do in a message to somebody.”
But in recent years, a number of schools have decided to act on what they see as a lack of “appropriacy” in the use of language among young people – the skill of turning it on and off in different situations such as using formal English in exams or business environments and slang amongst one’s peers. In 2015, Harris Academy in Upper Norwood, south London, banned the use of slang words such as ‘you woz’, ‘bare’ and ‘innit’, as well as beginning sentences with ‘basically’ or ending them with ‘yeah’.
The move was supported by Tottenham MP David Lammy who said: “I think this is a very good idea. Speaking slang is fine in a social setting but a school should be a professional, educational environment and if part of that means banning slang then that’s fine by me. Too often I see young people going into job interviews or writing cover letters without being able to use correct English.
Any attempts to change that should be encouraged. “Not many employers would tolerate their staff using words like ‘innit’ when speaking to customers or clients, so the school is right to try to discourage the use of this language in classrooms.” But Kerswill believes that employers may be shortsighted in excluding job applicants who use slang or text speak because technology is rapidly changing the world of work.
He said: “If you want to work for a bank there would be a formal application process and you have to play by the rules. But far more young people are starting up on their own these days and are often doing it through social media.
“They are now the employers rather than employees and they will be attuned to other young people writing in the sort of informal style as themselves. I think it’s a question of mutual education. “Employers may need to look past the language they might not find appropriate but, equally, young people should be aware of the kind of effect that their language has on older people.”
Wise Santos, a 23-year-old writer and poet from London says, that while language and the world of work is changing, there is a still a need for young people to use English correctly and believes that parents play a key role in this.
She said: “If a young person feels comfortable enough to contact a potential employer with the words ‘thx’, that just shows a lack of education. “I remember growing up and having talks with my Dad most nights, and me and our brothers knew that the way we address our father was not the same way we addressed our friends because there was a strict way of speaking.
“Parents have stopped having certain conversations with their children and I feel that parents these days are children themselves.” She continued: “Yes there are new types of communication and new types of jobs but regardless, English is English and words in the dictionary are still quite valid.
“Whatever job you are doing you are still a professional and you should learn how to speak like one – I don’t understand why you wouldn’t.”