Teaching and learning English humour, in principle and practice

Richard Hodson
Saturday, 13 November 2010 - 6:30pm to 8:00pm

One question in the review section of a popular textbook widely used in conversation classes asks, ‘Can you tell a joke in English?’ but in the presenter’s experience students rarely, if ever, attempt this question. Why not? How can learners be encouraged to experiment with humour, and what materials can teachers provide to help them do so? Successfully telling, and even understanding, a joke in a foreign language is a challenging activity that demands linguistic skill, but also one that provides learners with valuable opportunities for language practice, access to cultural knowledge, and also to the cognitive and affective benefits of creative language play.

In the first part of the session, the presenter will outline the key pedagogical and cultural issues that need to be considered when introducing humorous materials in the EFL classroom, including insights both from humour theory, and from recent ELT research, which has begun to suggest broad guidelines for the selection and use of humorous input texts. The second half of the presentation will describe, and report results from, two recent research projects. In the first, students rated a series of thematically-linked newspaper cartoons, and wrote their own original captions, which were in turn rated both by their peers, and by a group of native speakers of English. In the second project, students were introduced to a series of jokes linked to everyday forms and functions found in typical communication classes and texts, which they rated and then used as the basis for their own experiments with English humour, by adapting, recreating, and expanding on the jokes provided.

Richard Hodson is a lecturer in the Faculty of Global Communication at the University of Nagasaki, Siebold (長崎県立大学シーボルト校 国際交流学科)