I don’t know if there is any research on this, but it is my experience that adults entering adult education after a few years away from learning often revert to an earlier stage of their mental development. The classroom, the desks, the whiteboard, the creature called a teacher, all these set up resonances in the brain from the last time they were surrounded by these things, and suddenly they are sixteen again, although they were over thirty when they entered the room. Sébastien, I have not forgotten you after six years, and now, via Blogger, God has delivered you into my hands.
I was doing a lesson on reported speech, that non-area of English grammar beloved of the kind of teacher in other countries who wants to show students that he didn’t get Cambridge Proficiency for nothing. Reported speech needs to be glossed over and goosed up if it is not to bore the pants off all concerned. It depresses grammatophobes and provides pedants with rich nit-pickings. Break a rule that the pedant has memorized, and you get the smart-arse piping up with ‘but my teacher have said me that…’
‘Shut the fuck up,’ you tell him kindly. ‘Yo teacher din’t know nothin ‘bout dis shit. And yes, that was a double negative. No reason in language or logic why you shouldn’t double a negative, despite what you might have heard. I could go into this, but as I see it, we’re doing reported bloody speech my way, or am I mistaken?’ This usually puts them in their place. You can take the caring and sharing thing too far.
Anyway, I had this communication game up my sleeve for some real practice of reported speech, involving summary and paraphrase of utterances, rather than slavish changing of tenses and pronouns. Sébastien was in his thirties and really rather tasty - the photo above is not at all unlike him. He was attractive only until he opened his mouth, though. He sat there with a face as long as a gasman’s Mac while I set up the game. Seeing he was sulking extravagantly, I took him aside, adopted my best bedside manner and started to explain to him the rationale for the activity. My bedside manner was belied by the fact that I was biting a small piece of wood at the time. (I wonder if this small piece of wood was actually provided for the purpose, as otherwise I could not christen it. It just sat there on top of the radiator)
'J'ai compris, mais j'ai pas envie'* he said, with that gallic pout + shrug that makes you (or me) want to work him over with a tennis racket strung with piano wire. You can’t let students go unchallenged - or unsoothed I suppose it should be really - if they behave this way, so later I asked him kindly ‘alors, mon brave, quel est ton problem, cock, pourquoi tu ne gets pas stuck in comme tout le monde, qui est-ce qui a rattled ton cage, huh?’
'Ma famille en France' he say me, 'ave a problem.'
Yep, and you want to make sure we all feel as pissed off as you do.
Later the class was in the computer lab to do research for presentations. Sébastien sat at a terminal which did not immediately respond, so he slapped the keyboard in a huff and got out his laptop, despite the large sign above his terminal saying:
I point to this, provoking more snorts and shrugs. He sits at the adjacent terminal, which does not respond within ten seconds, so he has another fit of snorts. He decides to go to the other lab downstairs. I ask why. 'Ça marche pas, ça marche pas!'* he huffs, indicating the computers, his intonation suggesting a long and exasperating list of things sent (by me) to try him. Anyway, eventually he gets going, but refuses to speak English to anyone, including the uncomprehending Korean girl next to him whom he addresses in French all the time. Perhaps he imagines this makes him seem even more attractive. It does not. Pour draguer les minettes, you need to be nice, mon cher. The girl humours him distractedly, as one being pestered by someone else's toddler.
At the end I announce that the presentations will be tomorrow and Sébastien crows 'toomorreau?!!? Demain on s'en va!* Ha ha!' Music to my fucking ears, cock, I thought. This bloke, remember, was thirty-two, not sixteen, and had chosen to come here but still refused to speak English, and puffed and snorted at every activity proposed.
Today there was Hassan, who is also thirty-two going on sixteen. He is new to me, just arrived in my group from another, whose members were no doubt glad to see the back of him. He is required to stay with us for longer than he wanted to, which understandably pissed him off, but a military man must take orders without question and preferably without staging a three-week long sulk. He spent all morning smirking scornfully at me and raising his eyebrows in sophisticated deprecation of the sheer waste of time I was putting him through. During a discussion, I was listening and noting errors in vocabulary and pronunciation for feedback after. Noticing this, Hassan, who is advanced in level, began to talk like some lower-intermediate weez zer haccent of Charles Aznavour. Goddammit, the lad came this close to getting my knee right in his bijoux de famille.
At the end of the morning session, the blokes told me they had permission to take the afternoon off to watch the footy. So I ran joyfully for the next train home.
* I understand, I just don't feel like it.
* That doesn't work.
* We're leaving tomorrow.