Academic journal article English Language Teaching

The Laughing EFL Classroom: Potential Benefits and Barriers

Academic journal article English Language Teaching

The Laughing EFL Classroom: Potential Benefits and Barriers

Article excerpt


The use of humor in EFL across the world has been widely discussed as an effective way to create a more comfortable, productive classroom environment in language learning. However, student-perceived benefits of both teacher and student-produced humor in the more specific context of a Japaneselanguage classroom have not been explored in any great detail. Two surveys of 104 Japanese high school students and a set of interviews revealedas expected positive feedback on general classroom humor usage, with noticeable positive effects perceived as improvements in retention, willingness to participation, enjoyment in learning and classroom atmosphere, as well as a lowering of anxiety.However, regardless of thisclear preference for humor inclusion in learning, several potential barriers were identified to help offer reasons why some students may not wish to use humor in class themselves. These included teacher disapproval, student confidence issues and language problems with being humorous in the L2. This study concludes with a suggested ten-step guideline for teachersto follow to harness humor as a potential catalyst for learningfor differing classes, based on this report's findings.

Keywords: humor, EFL, motivation, anxiety, retention, participation

1. Introduction

The idea of using humorous materials, gesticulations, anecdotes or jokes for example can seem appealing to teachers as a way to create a relaxed classroom environment with motivated learners. In fact, it has been shown that the incorporation of humor into the design of EFL classes and courses should, as one would expect, have just such positive effects on learning (Askildson 2005; Chee 2006; Golchi and Jamali 2011; Gorham and Christophel 1990; Schmitz 2002).

Differences between Japanese and non-Japanese styles of humor usage can sometimes be vast (Oda 2006: 15-26). Similarly, opinions and comprehension of humor in educational institutes in far-eastern countries such as Japan may vary greatly from that of in western nations for example (Bell 2007; Tamaoka and Takahashi 1994; Zhao and Fan 2010). This study considers the perception of Japanese learners (high school students in this case) of humor usage during class time.

Japanese learners may tend to be more familiar with the traditional teacher-centred classroom environment in learning, where the teacher will take up much of the speaking time and set the mood as to how students should be behaving or what they should be producing exactly in class. Japanese high school students sometimes lack any real experience of student-centred classes in language learning (where the teacher acts more as a facilitator and encourages more autonomy in the students).

When considering humor in the Japanese high school context, teacher-created and student-created humor should be separated as two differing sources. Students may feel that a humorous teacher(who makes them laugh with certain actions, dialogue, or materials they provide or show the class) is enhancing their learning with benefits such as helping students learnand retain difficult material (Aboudan 2009; Bell 2005; Ghaffari 2012). However, the same students may not feel that similar humorous contributions made by themselves to a class have the same effects on their learning. In fact, asking Japanese learners to be humorous in the L2 might not be as beneficial as first assumed if they feel a lack of confidence to do so for example. By looking at teacher and student humor usage separately in this study differences in the perceived benefits of both are explored. In doing so, teachers can become more aware of considerations needed for language classes and syllabus design when considering humor with Japanese learners.

As already stated, although the incorporation of humor into teaching practices, materials and syllabus design arguably has the potential to yield obvious benefits for learners (such as improved enjoyment in learning), it is not uncommon to see students hesitant to be humorous in class. …

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