DOES HANDWRITING HAVE A FUTURE?
In this radio programme you are going to hear some new words. Read and listen to them. Make sure that you know what they mean.
skill · evolving · die out · carving · tool · lecture
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the radio programme.
Presenter: Does handwriting have a future? Finland and many American states have removed handwriting from the curriculum. But many psychologists believe writing still has an important role to play in cognitive development. So what’s the truth? My name is Antony Brown interviews Professor Anne Downey, author of the forthcoming book The Uncertain Future of Handwriting.
Text adapted from an ABC radio interview
[Now listen to the interview]
Antony: Hello, welcome to Future Tense. I have to confess it’s been years since I’ve
hand-written a letter or even sent a Christmas card. In today’s programme, we put the
question “Does handwriting have a future?” to our expert, Professor Anne Downey.
Anne: It’s a very interesting question. Today we have many alternative ways of
recording our thoughts and of communicating. So, in a way, younger generations don’t
use handwriting in the way perhaps we did a generation ago or, even sometimes, they
don’t use handwriting at all.
Antony: What do you mean by that?
Anne: I mean that they text or they type but usually they text. So they particularly don’t
use handwriting at all anymore. In fact, I would say that for the day-to-day stuff,
absolutely everybody texts, not just the younger generations.
Antony: Well, then if most people use technology much more than they would use
handwriting for even the simplest of daily tasks, the question is, should we keep handwriting?
Anne: Well, the first thing is that handwriting actually in some way stimulates cognitive
processing. By that I mean it helps us to learn, it helps us retain information, it helps us
develop other skills such as reading, and it’s even been found to help with mathematics. Handwriting is as personal as the clothes you wear, it’s something which is part of you.
Antony: So, you believe that handwriting is actually better than texting or typing. So we
should continue to teach it.
Anne: Yes, absolutely. And there seems to be pretty solid evidence that handwriting in
preschool changes the brain, that there is a link between handwriting and learning how
to read. Handwriting is a skill which has to be taught. If we don’t teach it, it will die out.
Antony: But, what about the link between typing and learning to read? Or is handwriting unique in its ability to help us to develop our reading skills?
Anne: There is no evidence out there that tablets and computers are having an effect
Antony: Well, you also say that handwriting changes the brain, then …, if our brain is
highly adaptable, is it possible that over time our brains will change because of the use
Anne: It is true that digital technologies will become more common, and so sure, we
probably will adjust to them, but adaptation is going to take a long, long time. Writing
has gone through many changes in the 6,000 years since humans have been writing.
Antony: So texting or typing is simply another step, you would say, in the evolving
history of the way in which we communicate.
Anne: Exactly. For instance, if you look back at the Roman world, carving on stone is
something that used to be done much more than it is now. We’ve lost many things in
the history of writing.
Antony: The big question, I suppose, is how does it change the way in which you
Anne: This is a very good question. We have to remember that the technology itself is
really changing all the time and I think that we should be looking way beyond text and
type to a new stage of communication.
Antony: A next stage of communication? What do you mean by that?
Anne: I started noticing, you know, people walking down the streets and they’d be
talking into their phones and they were not talking to a person, they were dictating a
text message, or an email. They were composing texts.
Antony: So, you mean that people have now started to compose text on their phones
with their voice?
Anne: Exactly. If you speak in a clear voice you can generate an email, a text message, a note to yourself on a mobile device. So, we are starting to see a new practice, voice dictation, writing text by speaking it. I call it “voice writing”.
Antony: So, if people are going to be doing composition with their voice, could we train
them to do it well, in the same way that when we teach people to handwrite?
Anne: Right now we know little about handwriting and typing. If you want to take
notes, if you want to understand what someone is telling you in a lecture, research
seems to suggest that it’s better to write by hand because you go more slowly but you
think more about what’s actually there, even if you go more slowly. If you type, you’ll
tend to just transcribe the contents, you won’t think about the meaning as much. So we
could now start to think of the situations when writing with your voice might be the best
Antony: But when you look at the amount of time in schools that is put into
communication, that’s put into things like writing, presumably some of that is going to
have to change, isn’t it?
Anne: Well, one of the things that we forget is that we’ve always had multiple channels
to enter information into computers. The fact that we use keyboards today doesn’t
mean that we will use keyboards forever. I think it’s somewhat naive to think that
handwriting is just going to disappear in the near future.
Antony: Thank you very much for sharing your time with us.
Anne: My pleasure. Thank you.