Club Penguin Day 2: Does Anyone Around Here Speak English?
I’m beginning to understand why kids are so obsessed with Club Penguin. It’s a posh ski vacation via DSL connection. There’s snow tubing, ski lifts, and an ice hockey rink; a coffee shop, pizza joint, and discothèque; even a beach complete with surfboards, sun umbrellas and an outdoor fire pit (photo links below). And they’re all packed like sardines with friend-seeking penguins (upwards of 20 million of them, estimates UK-based virtual-worlds research firm K Zero). I feel so hip, so happening, so popular!
Next day: Not feeling quite so hip and popular today. Mainly because all my would-be penguin pals seem to be speaking a foreign language. Sure I recognize a few words, like “hi” and “igloo.” I’m even holding my own at deciphering the horrific misspellings (sorry, it’s the teacher in me). But ROTFL? NVM? What is this, penguinese?
Following some snooping around the Internet for an English-Penguinese translation guide, I’ve surmised that the mysterious lexicon is actually a series of cryptic acronyms and shorthand that kids use to communicate online. More Pig Latin than Greek, you might say. "ROTFL" is “rolling on the floor laughing” and "NVM" is “never mind.” Kids also use “emoticons” (e.g., the smiley face) to communicate their moods of the moment.
Mom Break: From a parental supervision standpoint, this is not good news. Not only are our kids hanging out in a parallel universe, they’re speaking in alien tongues while they’re at it. This generational fluency gap is bound to result in millions of parents not understanding what their kids and their friends are discussing. Worse yet, not every cyber-acronym is innocuous (i.e. "PRW," or "Parents Are Watching"). Granted, the Disney Company - which acquired Club Penguin in 2007 in a 700 million dollar deal - has filters in place to prevent shady shorthand from infiltrating the conversational landscape. But the reality remains that staying a cyberstep ahead of the Net generation can be tough - even for Mickey Mouse. I found one clever penguin inserting an extra letter in order to use language that's not allowed in Club Penguin: He asked someone, "Are you gay?"
Sharon Duke Estroff is an award-winning educator and author of "Can I Have a Cell Phone for Hanukkah? (Random House, 2007). Her parenting articles appear in over 100 publications including Scholastic Parent and Child, Parents, Good Housekeeping, and Woman's Day. She is a parenting blogger for Huffington Post. Sharon is the creator of CHALLENGE ISLAND enrichment classes, camps, and birthday parties which provide imagination-fueled learning adventures to children while fostering their critical and creative thinking skills.