sábado, 11 de julho de 2009

Humor in class

Humor is a natural part of human interaction in many environments. As teachers and learners of English, most of us are used to experiencing some moments of joking and laughing in our classrooms. But what is the role of humor in the language class? Does it have any implication for learning itself?

Humor in class can benefit teacher-student interaction, as it motivates the student’s participation and help them

to build on and sustain their interpersonal relationships as a community of English language learners
(…) (Hall & Walsh, 2002:193)

Once that learning in our classrooms is accomplished through interaction, humor can create an environment where students may feel they belong to and overcome the natural barriers that they face in learning a foreign language as it relates to their self-image, etc.. That means that the use of humor in class can be an inclusve tool to promote participation and learning.

This humor many times may happen as a playful approach to the language itself:

The final characteristic of the language used in successful lessons is that of richness and occasional playfulness as well ... The teachers in successful classes tended to use language in ways that called attention to the language itself. (idem: 194)

Because of some Latin roots that Portuguese and English share in many cases, it is interesting to see my students in Brazil playing with the use of some suffixes of Latin origin. For example, they will add -ation to an English verb or adjective and see if it works as a noun, as in modernization or acceleration. But in case the process fails to produce an existing word in English, the outcome is a humorous play with the target language, moving away from the labels right and wrong. The same happens when they translate idiomatic expressions or pronounce local words with an English pronunciation.

As Simon Andrewes points out,

The intervention of the mother tongue in the foreign language learning process through such actvities as code switching, free and direct translation (...) can be
extremely enlightening, as well as enjoyable
(2007: 8)

Given the bias that still exists in our field concerning the use of mother tongue, however, this humor and playfulness using or refering to elements of the mother tongue may be perceived by some teachers as not beneficial to learning or, at least, a waste of time. That is of course a misconception.

Humor can not only "break the ice", but also raise awareness about the language, and focus on it as a real means of communication.


Hall, Joan Kelly & Walsh, Meghan. Teacher-student interaction and language learning. Annual Review of Applied Linguistics (2002) 22, 186-203. Cambridge University Press.

Andrewes, Simon English, Foreign languages and language. Modern English Teacher (2008) Volume 16, number 04.

Picture by Marc Ducrest

2 comentários:

  1. Hi Antonio,
    I totally agree with you that humor should be part of our teaching and classroom practices because of the benefits that you pointed out in your article. Some teachers were averse to use humor in the past because it was considered as something that could challenge their position as nonnegotiable authorities in the classroom environment. As the focus has shifted to learners’ needs, teachers now tend to see humor more as a helping factor.
    Besides, some teachers’ claim that humor is innate and not acquired is being challenged (‘An article by Dr Low Guat Tin reported that ‘the ability to use humour is a skill that can be acquired : http://www.ite.edu.sg/~able/webshr12.htm). Well-prepared and thoughtful use of humor can be really beneficial as you made it clear. "The job of the teacher is to get students laughing, and when their mouths are open, to give them something on which to chew." which was quoted by Tom Davis, implies that humor can be even used as a tool rather than just a digression from the seriousness of learning.
    Thanks Antonio for drawing our attention to such an important issue.
    Looking forward to reading more of your articles.

  2. I totally agree with you, Tarak, that authority is a big issue in this discussion. Everything we do (and don't do) in class has a lot to do with the way with see ourselves as teachers.

    I just wanted to acknowledge that authority is a hard issue to address. Don't you feel so? "Authority" can be a scary word for many of us and history has given us good reasons to have a bad impression about the concept. However, having authority is different from being authoritarian.

    Teachers have authority as they are supposed to be leaders in the groups they teach. And, as leaders, their role is to promote the "full citizenship" of the other members in that group/community up to the point all citizens also become leaders themselves.

    This view challenges the role of teachers as source and givers of knowledge, the ones who have the control over everything, including - if possible- humor! It seems that this control is not possible though.

    Interesting how students may use humor to challenge this traditional belief and practices in class, whenever they feel understimated.

    Using humor as a tool is an important point. I also think teachers shouldn't convert into "entertainers". There is a reason for us to play with the language, etc..

    Thanks for the comment! I'll take a look at the references/names you gave us.