My Manspeak Translation Skills Must Be Rusty

I’ve been having a little problem with Manspeak lately. You know what Manspeak is.  It’s the way men communicate as opposed to the way women do.  I’m not particularly threatened by it, but it helps to know that it exists. The fact that my difficulty has arisen at school as well as at home indicates, I think, that the problem must be with my translation skills.  I just don’t know where to go for help.

I first became aware of Manspeak when I read You Just Don’t Understand by Deborah Tannen.  The book was published in 1991, and I bought it shortly thereafter.  I have a degree in linguistics, which is partially why it interested me.  The other reason was that the hubby worked in an all-male environment, and I really wanted to understand him when he talked to me.  I don’t think I am a true linguist like my father, so I don’t think in other languages, but I got pretty good at translating Manspeak.  Or so I thought.

Then the hubby retired.  And he was around more.  And I began to realize that I had to listen even more closely because, while he (almost) always answers my questions, what he answers is not necessarily the answer to the question  I thought I asked.

We had two incidences of such failure to communicate today.  During the first, we were mailing letters at the post office.  As I was driving, I asked if both letters were local because, you know, there are two boxes, one labeled local and one out-of-town, and I was going to pull by the local box.  As I was pulling by, the hubby said, “The first one’s local; the first one’s local,” so I backed up to the local box.  Only to find that both letters were going out of town.  Now, I think I asked the right question.  And I think the hubby answered the question he heard, but what he answered did not address my question, exactly.  He was referring to the boxes; I was referring to the letters.

Does that make sense?

The reason today’s incidences of failure to completely communicate are on my mind is because I deal with mostly boys at school, and sometimes they don’t understand what I say either, even though they can repeat directions back word-for-word.

Here’s an example. The ninth grade English teacher gave what I thought was a really good poetry assignment this week.  He got it from this website.  The kids have to write poems based on the poems in this booklet.  Six will get you a C.  Eight will get you a B, and ten will get you an A. The teacher told the kids they could write their own poems, but only for extra credit, so six poems from the booklet plus two of your own would get you a C+, not a B, and so on. I thought the idea was marvelous because in my experience kids, particularly boys, don’t like to write poetry.  I agreed with the teacher; we couldn’t make it any easier for them than to give them a model.


I took my kids to a room so they could begin writing, and the girls got to it right away.  I picked one of the poems from the booklet and modeled it on the board so the boys would know what to do.

Here are the directions for what I modeled from the book:

Begin the poem with “I don’t understand…”  List three things you do not understand about the world or people. Name the thing you do not understand most of all.  End the poem with an example of something you DO understand.

On the board, I wrote this:

I don’t understand

why people _______________________________

why people_______________________________

why people_______________________________

But most of all

why people________________________________

why people________________________________

why people________________________________

why _____________________________________

What I understand most is





I thought that was pretty straight-forward.  All the kids had to do was fill in the blanks.

None of the boys got it.  Twenty minutes went by, during which they told me they couldn’t possibly write poetry and did not write down anything I had written on the board.  I asked the girls if they would share their by- then- finished poems, which they did.  I thought it would help if the boys saw what the girls had produced.  It did not.

So.  Worried that one boy in particular would do a lot of work for nothing, I went to his study hall teacher and explained the assignment to her.  She called him out in the hall and had him repeat it, which he did.  Problem solved, right?


We had early dismissal on Wednesday because of the snow, but yesterday, the boy came to class all excited because he had seven poems.  All of which were of his own design.


When I explained the assignment–again–he said, “Well,you said this was OK  the other day, but now you say I have to do it this way.”

For the sake of less exasperation on both our parts, I would like to figure out where the breakdown in communication occurred.  Was it me?  The study hall teacher is female.  Maybe that’s why she understood me and the male student didn’t.  Is it a problem with the words I am saying, or with the way they are processed? Or, in addition to Manspeak, is there also Manthink, which, being a woman I will probably never master?

Few things are more frustrating than doing your best to communicate only to find out that you did not succeed, so I need to figure this thing out.  If  you have any clues, please let me know.


2 Responses to “My Manspeak Translation Skills Must Be Rusty”

  1. 1 Cherdecor January 17, 2009 at 1:06 pm

    I found your post oh so interesting. There is a difference in the way everyone processes information and men in particular. I like the kid who came back with his own version. He spoke from within himself. It is good if you sparked his creative side. Also, putting up a model is only one form of teaching. I don’t know what grade you are teaching but there could be a lot of factors influencing the guys misunderstandings.

    I taught poetry writing in the fourth grade and found it to be one of the most fun and rewarding experiences of the year. I am thinking you may be teaching junior high. Those guys may be intimidated.

    I love your blog. Keep up the good blogging!

    • 2 Becky January 19, 2009 at 8:09 pm

      The poetry project is in its final days. The kids I am working with are lower-level freshmen. (Your guess about junior high was good.) The girls have got it; it’s the boys that have issues.

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