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Jokes in the Lounge

March 7, 2011

Listening to jokes in the teachers’ lounge this morning, I’ve never wished I understood the language more. I suppose I’m conversational at this point, and as long as questions remain in a familiar realm, I can understand what’s being said to me. I regularly have a polite back-and-forth with my favorite shopkeepers around town: “How’s work? How’re the kids? When is that English concert you’re putting on? etc.”

My listening comprehension far outweighs my speaking ability as I spend so many hours idly listening to Mongolian conversations and rarely interjecting. Sitting here this morning though, mostly paying attention to the funny-man’s cadence, emphasis, and practiced delivery I really wish I could understand what was so funny. Here’s what I managed to glean: one joke about a drunk man and a soldier, and another about an old married couple from the countryside. Something familiar about those archetypes, isn’t there? “A priest, a soldier, and a lawyer walk into a bar…” or maybe “The country farmer and his wife are lying in bed…”

I’ve always had the feeling that humor has to be one of the last things to make sense in a second language. It requires such an intimate understanding of culture and how the language relates to it in order for a joke to work for you. What in the world would be funny about a knock-knock-joke if you were just learning English? (Honestly, what’s funny about them if you do speak English?) But I was amazed to find such prototypical knee-slappers being told this morning, albeit with a Mongolian twist.

I laughed along with them anyway, because laughs like this are just so infectious.

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