Find a Sense of Humour in a Foreign Language

English HumourHumour is part of everyday life, especially in the UK, and just because you are learning a new language doesn’t mean you can’t continue to enjoy a giggle or even a guffaw. It just takes a tad more care. Jokes often have a linguistic component and many jokes are funny because of a clever play on words – this is where joshing in a different language can cause EFL learners to get unstuck! It can take quite an advanced knowledge of a language to create a good, witty, linguistically complex joke. But it is still possible to enjoy humour in a foreign language with only a basic grasp of the grammar and vocabulary.


In fact, many jokes can come more easily to a language student simply because they are more aware of the importance of language as a tool of communication. EFL students are always hyper-aware of the words they use, so linguistic jokes can often trip off the tongue – if sometimes unintentionally!

Humour, Culture and Language

EFL teachers can help students of English integrate into the humour of life in their new tongue by giving them an understanding of culture as well as language.

For example, English humour can be very dry, sometimes dark, occasionally sarcastic and very often ironic, all of which can be confusing to people not used to that kind of ‘humour culture’.


It might be helpful for the EFL student to assume a different persona, by reading a script or acting out a dialogue, in order for them to appreciate a different style of humour, without feeling they have to claim it as their own.

As long as a student knows why a sentence is supposed to be funny, that is all that matters – they don’t have to laugh along with it (though they might groan!)

It can also be a great idea to use comics to introduce humour to an EFL lesson (remember Asterix the Gaul?) or children’s cartoons. For more advanced students, English comedy shows could be a useful choice, such as The Simpsons with the English subtitles turned on.

Humour in a foreign language - the simpsons

Humour in a Foreign Language

Fancy trying humour in a foreign language? For those learning English, here are a few short, word play jokes to tickle your funny bone (along with some explanations in brackets):

“You feel stuck with your debt if you can’t budge it” (budge it = budget)

“Those who jump off a Paris bridge are in Seine” (in Seine = insane)

“A successful diet is the triumph of mind over platter” (the phrase is ‘mind over matter’)

“Why was six scared of seven? Because seven ate nine” (‘ate’ sounds like ‘eight’)


“A will is a dead giveaway” (‘dead’ is used as a slang emphasis word)

“Without geometry, life is pointless” (‘pointless’ = literally without points and without reason)

“I stayed awake all night wondering where the sun went. Then it dawned on me” (if something dawns on you, you understand it. Dawn is also when the sun rises)

“Santa’s helpers are subordinate clauses” (subordinates of Santa Claus!)

“A boiled egg is hard to beat” (to beat = to claim victory and to whisk)


Tim Vine, eat your heart out! Do you know any one-liners better than these?

Do you think wordplay jokes are useful learning tools in the EFL classroom?

Do you enjoy using humour in a foreign language?

Is it possible to fully appreciate humour in a foreign language without a good grasp of the culture?

Let us know your thoughts on humour and language in the comments!


Is it ever possible to fully appreciate humour in a foreign language?

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2 thoughts on “Find a Sense of Humour in a Foreign Language

  1. He said, “You remind me of a pepper-pot.” I said, “I’ll take that as a condiment.”

    I’m against hunting. In fact, I’m a hunt saboteur. I go out the night before and shoot the fox.

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