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    AI, Memes Make Communication Harder for Young Chinese: New Survey

    According to a China Youth Daily survey, nearly half of young Chinese reported poor verbal skills, while over 40% said they were less inclined to write by hand and struggled with clearly expressing ideas.

    Exacerbated by the rise of AI tools and new forms of digital communication, a new survey reveals a significant decline in the ability of young Chinese to express thoughts and ideas. The findings indicate that the dip in verbal proficiency could be attributed to more individuals substituting traditional language with online expressions and memes.

    Conducted by the state-owned newspaper China Youth Daily, the survey involved 1,333 participants. They mostly comprised well-educated individuals in their 20s and 30s, with over 60% holding a bachelor’s degree or higher, while more than a quarter are vocational college graduates.

    Among those surveyed, 47.1% reported poor verbal skills, 43.2% said they were less inclined to write with a pen, and 41.5% admitted that they struggled to clearly express their ideas.

    The survey also underscored the impact of emerging generative AI technologies on communication skills: 73.5% of participants said they were concerned that AI assistants might further degrade their ability to express themselves. In addition, more than one-fifth of the respondents admitted to being “very” worried about this issue.

    Guo Xiao’an, a journalism professor at Chongqing University, highlighted a noticeable decline in communication skills among young Chinese compared to other age groups, particularly when interacting offline.

    “Though their vocabulary hasn’t changed much, or has even expanded with new online buzzwords, their proficiency has diminished as traditional words are replaced by various online expressions,” Guo told China Youth Daily.

    According to the survey, 53% identified a decline in reading as the primary reason for their poor expression, while more than half believe that the overuse of memes and stickers has diminished their creativity in daily communication.

    Chen Chen, a 28-year-old interactive designer from Beijing, admitted that he often struggles to articulate his thoughts clearly. “People are not very willing to describe problems in concise language. Instead, they use vague expressions like ‘this isn’t right’ or ‘check it again.’ So it becomes difficult to practice and improve one’s ability to express themselves,” Chen told Sixth Tone.

    According to the survey, about 58% believe reading more is a viable solution to improving self-expression. And nearly half say that more face-to-face interactions could positively enhance their ability to articulate thoughts and ideas.

    On Chinese social media, the buzzword shiyu, which translates to “aphasia” but lacks the connotation of the medical disorder, describes the inadequate ability to convey emotions and thoughts and has been a topic of increased public concern recently in China.

    At last year’s “Two Sessions” — annual meetings of China’s top legislative and political advisory bodies, also known as lianghui — Wang Canlong, a member of the Chinese People’s Political Consultative Conference, highlighted the decline, attributing it to an overreliance on online slang.

    On Douban, a popular online community platform, over 380,000 individuals have joined a group founded in 2021 seeking advice on effectively expressing their thoughts. Additionally, the phrase “internet mouthpiece” has gained traction, praising those who adeptly express their feelings and opinions, particularly in situations when finding the right words may be difficult.

    Speaking to China Youth Daily, Zheng Huanzhao, an associate professor of the Chinese Department of Jinan University in the eastern Shandong province, emphasized the need to improve the internet’s language environment through high-quality content and promotion of proper language use, while also encouraging engagement with cultural and literary classics.

    Editor: Apurva.

    (Header image: Calvindexter/Getty Creative/VCG, reedited by Sixth Tone)