Many jokes are based on ambiguity of some kind. Ambiguity is a situation when the same word or a combination of words could be understood in different ways. The ambiguities arise mostly in homophones (words that have the same pronunciation but different spellings and meanings) and homonyms (words that have the same pronunciation and spelling, but different meanings). A joke that exploits similar sounding words with different meanings is called a pun. Let’s take a look at one of them.
This joke is based on a pun; in this case, two meanings of the same word. Which word?
One of the essential skills ESL learners need to develop is tolerance to ambiguity. “What? Another skill I have to learn?” you might ask, ” But you (the teacher) told us that there are just four: reading, writing, listening, and speaking! Isn’t that enough already?” “Not enough, my friends,” I would say. The four skills you just mentioned are the kind of skills that are OBVIOUS and TALKED A LOT ABOUT. But there are a few others, that are as important as these four, but they are not really taught in the classroom, and I think they should be.
Come back! Don’t fly away!
Ambiguity is a situation in which something can be understood in more than one way. In simple terms, ambiguity is something confusing. An ambiguous sentence could be understood in one way by some people, and in a different way by others. And this misunderstanding makes it very funny sometimes. Consider this sentence: They said they saw the Eiffel Tower flying over Paris. Who was flying? The people who said this or the tower? This sentence could be understood either way, and that’s what makes it ambiguous. Watch out for this kind of situations, because there are great many of them in everyday life, and we have to figure them all out. And how exactly do we do that? I’ll tell you in another post.
Do you understand what is funny in this cartoon?
If you understand the humor of any particular nation, that means you’ve achieved a very important milestone (point on your journey toward any goal). Humor is the essence of any particular nation’s collective experience. Just think about it: if millions of people find something amusing and funny, there is a deep meaning to that joke, cartoon, or story for so many people speaking your target language. If you don’t understand what’s funny, you’re not fluent…not yet. How do you learn the humor? What do you do to understand and appreciate the beauty and wit of a particular joke that most native speakers find funny? Good question. You just breathe it in, and wait till it resonates with your personal sense of humor.
One of my favorite American cartoonists (people who normally make you laugh by creating funny images with captions) is Garry Larson. He didn’t just draw funny pictures; he created a unique cartoon universe that could become an excellent guide to all of us, immigrants, toward understanding what Americans find funny, and why.
His sense of humor is not light and airy, but rather macabre (dark, sarcastic, sinister). At least it is macabre in American perception; I don’t see anything particularly dark or sarcastic, but then again, I’m Russian, and that means I have more tolerance to dark and sinister things.
Of course you know that there is an English tense with this name. But what kind of a store or a shop could have this name? There is one in my town, and I pass by it often. I think it’s a very smart way to name it, considering the kind of merchandise they sell. What do you think they sell there?
This is one of the most common questions beginners ask. Intermediate and advanced students already know: long. But beginners usually try to estimate the period of time they will need to accomplish this task.
To answer this question, I ask them first to define the terms: what does “learn a language” mean to you? Does it mean to learn enough vocabulary and basic grammar so as not to get lost in an English-speaking country or does it mean to be able to work in an English speaking country and communicate with native speakers without considerable difficulty? Or perhaps you mean to become truly bilingual and feel equally comfortable in either language – your mother tongue or English.
This is the very first question all of us need to answer before we set out on the journey of a foreign or second language learning. The time frame for learning will depend greatly upon the purpose and the scope of the skills you intend to master.
If you are simply going on a short-term vacation and you need the tourist minimum – it might take just a few weeks. If you’re attempting to immigrate and acculturate in an English-speaking country and feel relatively comfortable at work and day-to-day situations, probably a few years. If it is to become truly bilingual, it might take your entire life, or the answer might be “never.” It sounds harsh, but it is the only answer I can give you if I want to be 100% honest. So, when any particular school, instructor, or “innovative method” promises you that you’ll learn a foreign language in 10 days, bear in mind what you can realistically hope to accomplish: to get the very minimum and that is it. If you want to become really proficient, it will take a lot of time and effort on your part.
There are a few other aspects that greatly impact your prospects of learning. Here they are:
- Ability – Unfortunately, we are each born with different sets of abilities. Some of us are talented musicians or artists, others are not. Some of us have an innate (natural) ability for mathematics, physics, and other exact sciences, but others don’t. Just like with any other talent, some of us have a natural ability for languages and seem to just “breathe” the language from the environment. For some they can internalize difficult grammar structures, vocabulary, slang, etc. without a lot of effort. Others, whereas, try hard to understand and memorize each little piece, and still don’t accomplish as much. The truth is: memory can’t always help when it comes to learning a language; there are other important factors, like:
- Flexibility when we don’t understand something (it is called tolerance to ambiguity),
- Abstract thinking (a different language usually has a different organizational structure and logic),
- The so-called “phonetic ear” – ability to hear and mimic foreign sounds, and a few other abilities.
- Age – When we are young (especially up to the age of puberty), our brain’s natural ability to acquire a language is quite strong. As we age, our brain gets more set in its ways and languages become more difficult to learn.
- Need – When students come to my class to study English in the US, it is quite clear WHY they need it. And even then I interview them about their specific needs in life: do they need English for their job, doctor’s visits, grocery shopping, their children’s schooling, etc. But when an American is hiring me as a Russian tutor, the first question I ask is “What do you need Russian for?” The reason I ask this is: without an actual need, people lose their interest in a foreign language learning rather quickly. It requires time, effort, money, and commitment on their part and people don’t realize just how much of all that they will need.
- Personality – Outgoing people usually progress faster than shy people because they’re not afraid of their errors and feel more relaxed in situations when they don’t have everything under control. Perfectionists- people who want to do everything perfectly – have a very hard time in a language classroom, because it is not realistic to start speaking a foreign language without mistakes. Everybody makes mistakes, even native speakers. “It is human to err” in general, and simply unavoidable when studying a language. So relax, don’t be shy and afraid to “sound stupid” or to be less than perfect because EVERYBODY in your class goes through the same process as you, and EVERYBODY understands your challenges.
- Attitude – While flexibility and tolerance of mistakes – your own and others’– is a great help, you will still need to work hard, because long hours of study and practice are necessary to advance. You need to be ready to invest a lot of time and effort to this cause. You will also need to be a good teammate with other students in the class (if you’re studying English in a class setting) and not only help others but be helped by others when need be.
- Can you think of other factors? Please share.
We consider something funny if what we hear is unexpected or unusual, and amusing. Humor is the key to unlock the character of a particular culture. Sometimes we hear a joke or see a cartoon, but we don’t get it. “What is funny about it?” we ask.
This means we’re missing something…In this blog, we’ll practice understanding jokes. You will be given a few choices to decide why the joke (picture, image, cartoon) is funny. After you entered your choice, you will see how your selection compares to other people’s. Let’s try it now. Take a look at this:
You don’t have to outrun the bear, you just have to outrun your friends…
Prefix out——- sometimes means “do better than”, so outperform means perform better than somebody, outdo means do better than.
People say, “You outdid yourself”or “He outdid himself.”
It means the person did better than expected.
So, what is the joke telling us?
This joke is funny because...
No wonder they attached “Good Luck” to a regular traffic sign! I still don’t know which way to go.