Understanding ESL Text Speak

Text speak slang: Help for ESL learners

English text speak can be really hard for those learning English as a Second Language (ESL). 

When texting or commenting online, it's common to shorten regular words to make typing shorter and faster.  That can save people time and money.

However, sometimes text speak is not just short hand.  It's not just using shorter than regular words.  Often people are actually using slang.  

What's slang? 

Slang is very informal language that is used by a particular group of people or is typically used only in certain situations and is more metaphorical, playful, etc.

For example, in the United States, we often:

  • refer to the police  as "cops" 
  • refer to being drunk  as "hammered," "plastered" or "drunk as a skunk"


Often people are just trying to be cool when they’re using text speak slang — or I should say kewl not cool…. now do you understand what I mean?


Examples of text speak slang

Here a few examples:


::poof::  =  I’m gone, I’m leaving  (the English sound when someone disappears as if by magic).


*$$  = Starbucks (the coffee shop. The asterisk makes a “star” shape and “buck” is another word for dollar $$)


143 = I love you (each number represents the number of letters in each word):

  • I = 1 letter;
  • L-O-V-E = 4 letters
  • Y-O-U = 3 letters


1432 = I love you too  (see above for explanation of 143, and 2 = too)


^5 = high five  (when you raise your hand—which has 5 fingers—in the air to slap someone else's hand showing that you agree with something or want to celebrate something). 


411 = information (this is the USA number you dial for information about  a business or person’s phone number and address)


404 = I don’t know  (“Not found 404” is a technical message that is shown on a webpage when a URL is not found on a server).


w00t =  pronounced /woot/ this is used to express elation, enthusiasm, or triumph.


Use slang dictionaries to understand text speak

When you're completely confused, the best thing to do is to look up the words in one of the online text lingo dictionaries instead of struggling to understand them yourself. 

Here are a few popular slang dictionaries:

Just remember that slang is often used by just a small group of people so you may find many definitions that are very different.  There's no "word police" to give an expression an official meaning.

The last one, Transl8it is a translator. You can type in a phrase in regular English and get a translation into text speak. Or, you can type in the text lingo to get the translation into regular English. Try it out, it’s really cool!

For more information on text lingo, please check out this post.

Hope 2 CU l8r & GUDLUK w/ur English!!


› Text Speak

New! Comments

Have your say about what you just read! Leave me a comment in the box below.