What works and doesn’t work

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Humor has a big role to play when it comes to engaging students in a classroom environment. By facilitating student laughter with appropriate jokes, banter, and visual humor, a teacher can make the learning experience extremely rewarding for their students. Studies have shown that humor enhances the classroom experience by diffusing tension and can even serve as a mnemonic device to help learners prepare for tests.

It is true that there have been doubts about the advisability of using humor in foreign language (FL) classes due to the fear that learners will fail to appreciate a joke without the cultural context. or the necessary language skills. However, given the universal nature of humor, it is suggested that humor should be used as a potential strategy even in FL classrooms, while taking students’ language abilities into consideration. But are all humor strategies likely to be equally effective? And do students’ attitudes toward humor generally influence how they perceive certain varieties of humor?

In order to find the answer to these and other concerns, a duo of researchers, Prof. Peter Neff from Doshisha University, Japan, and Professor Jean-Marc Dewaele from Birkbeck, University of London, UK, conducted a study to answer the following questions: Do FL students have a preference for certain humor strategies? How are their attitudes toward humor in the classroom influenced by FL proficiency, FL enjoyment, frequency of use of humor, and perceived role of humor in language learning . The results of their study were published online June 15, 2022 in the journal Innovation in language learning and teaching.

In this study, researchers interviewed a total of 243 FL learners in 24 different counties. Just over half of the participants were studying English as their first foreign language and the rest were studying other languages. The researchers used a five-component survey as the primary assessment tool. These five components involved demographic data and background information, components to measure FL enjoyment (FLE), attitudes toward classroom humor, and responses to eight different humor strategies.

The survey, to which all 243 participants responded, found that students preferred spontaneous verbal humor as well as cartoons and memes the most, while visual humour, such as making humorous faces and using props , were the least preferred humor strategies. Professor Neff explains: “What this suggests is that students like their humor to be spontaneous and value verbal humor more than any humor that uses an element of artifice, which may be perceived as childish.” Additionally, role-playing as a form of humor ranked somewhere between the most liked and least liked strategies.

The strongest predictor of preference among the eight humor strategies was general attitudes toward the use of humor in language learning. “Students who valued humor in their language lessons clearly accepted the view that language learning should not be a dry, humorless endeavour. Rather, it should be a characterized process through play, laughter, challenge and experimentation where teachers would joke around when things were going wrong rather than reprimand using demotivating comments,” the authors state. animated, word games, role-playing and spontaneous commentary strategies was FLE.

These ideas reveal something interesting: students don’t want their teachers to become the center of attention by using humour. Rather, humor should only function as a social lubricant that helps facilitate the achievement of educational and social goals.

Laughter, if used consciously, can not only lighten the atmosphere in the classroom, but also facilitate the learning itself.


Study: Ability to Produce Humor Linked to Higher Intelligence Levels in Schoolchildren


More information:
Peter Neff et al, Humor Strategies in the Foreign Language Classroom, Innovation in language learning and teaching (2022). DOI: 10.1080/17501229.2022.2088761

Provided by Doshisha University

Quote: Improving foreign language learning with humor: what works and doesn’t (July 13, 2022) retrieved July 13, 2022 from https://phys.org/news/2022-07-foreign-language-humor.html

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