Soundbite;Parting shots

27th March 1998 at 00:00
You need to eavesdrop on some conversations, I advised my students. It's A-level English language and we are doing discourse analysis.

Take a notepad with you on the train, a tape recorder even, and wait for an argument to hop on board.

This happened to me, on the 3.33 out of Waterloo. Enter a couple, in flagrante a stupendous row.

What's an hour in the scheme of mankind? he demanded.

An hour-and-a-half you kept me waiting Mike, she said.

Well rounding it up it's an hour.

My students devour this found source eagerly. When you've been stood up for an hour and a bit, it's the bit you remember, one tells us gravely.

It's classic Deborah Tannen, says another. You know, her book 'You Just Don't Understand'.

Mike said everything would have been OK if only he'd taken the mobile.

According to Tannen, men always fall back on technicalities. Nothing is ever their fault. Women, on the other hand, have hearts: You haven't time for me Mike, she complained. I give you so much.

It's a brilliant lesson.

The next week I repeat the exercise as part of an in-service training programme with a group of non-English teaching colleagues. Afterwards I overhear them discussing the feedback form, the bit where it asks: What did you learn from the session?

They shrug. Not to travel on trains, says one.

I work with turkeys. They just don't understand. Thank God for students.

Richard Daubney teaches in Surrey

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