Friday, June 15, 2007

Culture problems with humor

By Camilla Krueger

My guess is that understanding another culture's humor rates as a super high-level skill. You almost need to be an "insider" to get the joke. Remember the Far Side cartoon with the moose family that has a collection of human trophy heads hanging on their living room wall? So how are you going to explain that? No, what I mean is, what do you think your Chinese students will come up with?

I've never used Far Side cartoons in class, but I have used Calvin and Hobbes in one activity. I selected cartoon strips that I thought would be interesting, xeroxed them, cut them apart and glued them onto cardboard. (This all took a lot of time.) I marked the backs of each group so that I wouldn't have trouble reassembling the strips. Then I gave one set to each pair of students and asked them first to put the panels in the correct order (not always easy!), and then to work out the meaning.

Turned out there were lots of new words and idioms to explain, and after working all that out the humor didn't have much of a chance. This was done with second year English majors. In principle I still like the activity, but I need to rethink how
to make it more effective.

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