Practice English Listening: Twitter

Online English Listening

Listening level: 2
Audio file: 1:58 min
Story length: 252 words


Here is the listening file for this lesson.



Why are tweets limited to 140 characters? There are 2 reasons.

In the beginning, Twitter was designed to work on cell phones. When Twitter started in 2006, cell phones were popular. Smartphones were uncommon. The iPhone didn’t even exist.

Cell phone messages had to be short because of a 160 character limit. If you sent a message longer than that, the phone company might have cut it up and sent two or three separate messages.

The 160 character limit came from a man named Friedhelm Hillebrand. In 1985, he studied many kinds of messages. He said the average message was 160 characters or less.

That was good news for telephone companies. 160 characters was about the most they could send in a single message with their technology. So, phone companies picked 160 characters as the international standard for the short messaging system, or SMS.

Why did Twitter limit messages to only 140 characters? Twitter said each tweet required 20 characters for the user’s name. The remaining 140 were needed for the information in the message. Another reason was style. Twitter wanted people to send easy to read messages that would not be cut up into smaller pieces by the phone companies.

Back to the original question, why are tweets 140 characters? History and style. Tweets were designed 10 years ago for cell phones. Today’s technology has advanced a lot compared to the past, but nobody can think of a good reason to change the 140 limit.

Short tweets are here to stay.

More Practice

Here’s a gap fill exercise. Download the Twitter printable worksheet (pdf file). Listen to the story and fill in the blanks.

Learn English Online with More Listening Comprehension

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