Thursday, February 10, 2011

Jokes, Humor, and Comedy in a Foreign Language

Among various foreign language skills, humor is the most difficult to master for non-native speakers. In the Tokyo head office of my previous company, I worked with an American named Neal who graduated from a university in Tokyo. His Japanese speech skills were excellent; he did not have any problems with everyday situations and words. Our boss invited Neal and me to his home for dinner. On TV was a Japanese comedy program featuring a famous Japanese comedian. He said, "Do you understand? You do not understand." Our boss, his family, and I all laughed, but Neal did not. Later Neal asked me why that phrase was funny. There is actually nothing funny about the expression; it was that comedian's favorite saying. Whenever he said it, every Japanese person laughed.

In my former employer's New York office, there was a general affairs staff member who took pictures of all newcomers to the office. She was photographing a young Japanese employee who had just arrived. She introduced herself as Trish and he asked if her name was "Trash." Trish was not happy and repeated her name several times. The Japanese employee did not associate the word "trash" with "garbage" until someone explained. He bought Trish and her friends lunch the next day.

Another friend of mine was humorous and witty.

Her name is Sue Crucy. When she first went to Japan on a business trip, she practiced her Japanese and memorized a greeting. In her Japanese greeting, she said, "My name is Sue Crucy. You can remember my name to be Sue Crazy." All the Japanese who met her laughed. Laughter is the most effective icebreaker, even in a cross-cultural environment. Sue became famous after her first trip. Fortunately for her and her Japanese business colleagues, nobody remembered her as "Sue Crazy." They all remembered her name correctly. I was amazed and impressed by her wit.

Even in the same language, jokes and humor can vary from generation to generation. My mother, who is 81 years old, never understands my jokes. When my mother jokes and laughs with her friends, I can never understand why they are laughing. I don't even have a clue why their jokes are funny. Our sense of humor is a part of our culture. Anyone who can properly exhibit a sense of humor in a non-native language can be considered to have mastered the second language. Without understanding the cultural background, non-native speakers are not able to understand jokes properly.

Read this Article in,-Humor,-and-Comedy-in-a-Foreign-Language&id=5865029

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