Chronicles of a French teacher :

Can We have FUN WHILst LEARNING A LANGUAGE?

PASCAL MILARD

French teacher at Alliance Française de La Haye

Personally, I can see only one possible answer to this question: you can and should have fun learning a language. I even feel like saying we have no choice, or else learning becomes a form of torture. The metaphor that comes to mind when I think about the process of learning is that of a long and sometimes painful birth. For a learner as well as for a mother-to-be, we don’t always know what happens to us, but we are sure that the final outcome will be extraordinary. There is no reason why we shouldn’t laugh a little along the way. I have even heard of women who burst out laughing during their work. This is the only natural resource of decompression that may contain unexpected virtues.

About that, I have found throughout my teaching career that memorizing vocabulary or certain grammar points is much more effective and lasting when students laugh or have fun with what they are discovering and understanding. For me, laughter is like a camera that takes a snapshot of the moment, it can store it in our brain much more easily than if we had received information in a neutral way or even worse in a violent way. We always prefer to forget traumatic moments and the brain tends to eliminate all forms of monotony, while a funny moment can remain as a reference point, a story that we repeat to others, it becomes intimately linked to what we have learned.

We have to believe in fun when we approach a foreign language: this subject is often abstract, strange and quite often annoying because it differs in many aspects from our own mother tongue. The worst moment is when someone no longer understands the logic used by the culture and language of others. It is precisely in these moments of difficulty – the breeding ground for the learner’s demotivation – that the situation must absolutely be de-dramatized. In these cases, my message is simple, not understanding is normal for everyone. What’s at stake is not to get frustrated. Together we have to find common ground to unlock communication issues and regain a certain fluidity in inter-comprehension.

In such a situation, we could take up the old adage that the subject is far too serious to be treated without laughter. Whether it is brief and contained, thus revealing a certain embarrassment, or on the contrary frank and relaxed, laughing is always a communication tool meant to manage the balance of power in which sometimes students feel inferior to the teacher. In short, laughing or smiling is a proof of social intelligence, it is a lubricant in our inter- and intra-cultural communication. As Bergson said: “Laughter hides an ulterior motive of understanding, almost of complicity with other laughers. »

On the other hand, we cannot ignore the fact that humour contains some of the most difficult sociolinguistic notions to share between two people of different languages. Language subtleties are sometimes taken to extremes when it comes to humour : word games, hidden meanings or even double meanings, if you add to this a few cultural references, you get many ways to lose the interest and fun of your interlocutor. As everyone knows, as soon as you have to explain a joke, it is no longer funny. In such circumstances, how do you manage to laugh with beginner learners for example? A good rule of thumb is to listen to the other person and react naturally, to be familiar so not to force anything.

Pierre Desproges used to say that you can laugh at everything but not with everyone, I agree with this great idea.

In a classroom, not every learning situation necessarily are available for laughter, and yet it can arise at any time, without warning, sometimes accidental, sometimes conniving or sometimes purely nervous. The teacher is faced with personalities who are often very different and who are not necessarily going to laugh at the same things, but here too, there are surprises. What I take away from my experience as a certain form of generality is that we can start from a common base with principles that can be shared by all, such as cultural or linguistic stereotypes on which we will seek consensus. For example, I often have fun pointing out that, yes, French is a difficult language that is hard to pronounce and to build up sentences, but that it is not the only one. I often show them examples of other difficulties found in their own language, and we all end up recognizing that none of them is that easy to learn. This conclusion often brings some amusement to those who already know it or who end up understanding it.

In any case, for decades the playful aspect has been disseminated in the education of both children and adults. Play and fun are becoming more and more important in training and learning. As a proof, take a look at the lectures nowadays such as those made by speakers/entertainers on Ted-X as opposed to the older, more academic and often more boring version. From this point of view, it seems to me necessary to find a balance according to the public attending a language course. The teacher must know how to judge the place that humour can take in his classes according to the personalities he has in front of him and the subjects that are discussed. It is also necessary to do according to each personality and to be as natural as possible by avoiding wearing either the mask of austerity or the mask of the clown if these do not fit you. I am convinced of one thing, that the class dynamic face to face, in e-learning, in a group or privately (and even for self-learners) is always better when laughter, even smiles arise. Time seems to pass faster for everyone and there is a stronger imprint at the end. An ease in communication has developed, new data gets more digestible, a bond has perhaps been created, a “joie de vivre” in short.

As usual, I invite you to discover a number of links and documents on humour in learning.

-First of all, an excerpt from an academic article that deals very well with the subject, entitled: Pour une pédagogie de l’humour en didactique des langues :

https://www.persee.fr/doc/apliu_0248-9430_2000_num_19_4_3009

-Another very good article with many references on the following blog:

http://www.cahiers-pedagogiques.com/L-humour-dans-l-enseignement-Apprentissage-des-langues

-A link to a book of reflection in English with the title: How laughing leads to learning by Zak Stambor to explain the positive effects of humour on our psychology and physiology:

https://ottowijnen.nl/how-laughing-leads-to-learning/

-Finally, to give an inspiring example, here is a link to a series of professional videos to approach History from a humorous point of view with many significant linguistic aspects (French words of Latin, Greek and Arabic origin, modern and ancient idiomatic expressions), their subtitle is already quite funny: With Confessions d’Histoire, the floor is finally given to the great historical figures! : http://confessionsdhistoire.fr/

Once again, do not hesitate to bring your comments, experience or reflection on this question: “And you, do you find it funny to learn a foreign language? »

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