A language teacher shares a mildly amusing comment with the class and the room erupts in a fit of laughter. ‘Wow,’ she thinks, ‘I had no idea how funny I was. I should pursue a career on the stage.’ Later, head swollen with pride and confidence in her comedic abilities, she makes another joke around friends, but it falls flat. Somehow, this teacher is not quite as funny with friends as she is in class.
It seems the more you struggle to understand a language, the funnier you perceive a joke in it to be. It doesn’t have to be a very witty joke, your garden-variety amusing comment will do. You may find yourself laughing harder than usual at jokes in the language you’re learning. When this happens, you might be thinking that you wouldn’t have laughed if the joke had been in your own language. Basically, you’re laughing simply because you understood it!
Even as an Absolute Beginner of German on the brink of becoming a Beginner (hey, each progression counts!) I can remember a few cases of this happening in the last few months. On each occasion it felt good to giggle along with the native speakers. I felt part of the action, and less of an outsider. ‘Getting’ jokes in a foreign language not only highlights the progress you’re making, but gives you a sense of belonging in a foreign place, a place you may now call home. Perhaps the more opportunities you get to laugh, the more at home you’ll feel.
Which is why I’ve decided to laugh long and laugh hard, even if it’s just because I get it.
- mildly amusing = a little bit funny
- erupt in a fit of laughter = suddenly start laughing hard
- on the stage = performing
- (the joke) falls flat = nobody laughed at the joke
- garden-variety = common
- on the brink of = when something is just about to happen
- feel at home = feel comfortable in a place
Did you spot the conditional? No? Here it is:
'..you wouldn’t have laughed if the joke had been in your own language.'
Remember: this structure helps you imagine a past event in a different way.
The joke wasn’t in your language. It was in English. But if the joke had been in your language, you wouldn’t have laughed. Maybe, if the joke had been in your language, you would have smiled instead. But actually it was in English, so you laughed.