How to Learn Spoken English Through Humor
Understanding English jokes means understanding more than just the words—it means you “get” the culture as well.
And that’s a big deal! You get to laugh and enjoy how much you’ve progressed in your understanding of spoken English!
Below are a few types of English humor that might make you laugh—they’ll “tickle your funny bone” which is an English idiom that means they’ll “make you laugh.”
5 Hilarious Methods to Learn English Through Comedy
You’ve probably watched a sitcom before. The word “sitcom” is actually the combination of two words: situation comedy. You can recognize a sitcom by the sound of laughter every time something funny is said or done.
Sitcoms show characters in a shared environment—a home, an office—and put humor into the everyday situations they encounter. Some examples of popular sitcoms you might know are “Friends”, “How I Met Your Mother”, and “That ‘70s Show.”
Additionally, there are many sitcoms with many different kinds of humor, so it’s easy to find a kind of humor that you can enjoy and understand.
Watching a sitcom is a great way to learn English through humor since they often show real, everyday situations and conversations. They add humor to these common life moments and sometimes help us see them from a different point of view.
At the very bottom of most sitcoms, though, are the interaction between the characters and how their personalities deal with the world. Even “Friends” has some serious moments in between the laughter, like this dramatic moment between Rachel and Ross, or the time Phoebe gives away her triplets.
Sitcoms also give you hints about where the jokes are thanks to the laughter. If you hear laughter but aren’t sure why, you might have missed something funny! Characters on sitcoms often speak fast too, so if you’re having trouble keeping up, try to watch them on a streaming service like Netflix or Hulu where you can watch one difficult part a few times or turn on subtitles.
Stand-up comedy is exactly what it sounds like: A comedian stands up (or sometimes sits) in front of an audience and tells jokes.
Usually these jokes are the kind of jokes you’d tell to a friend. Stand-up comedians comment about everyday things like relationships, going through security at an airport and video games.
Stand-up comedy and sitcoms are very similar: Both have actors performing in front of an audience to make them laugh. Some famous stand-up comedians have even gotten their own sitcoms, like Tig Notaro. For the sitcom “Seinfeld,” the comedian Jerry Seinfeld actually did stand-up comedy before every episode of his well-known TV show.
Most of the time, stand-up comedy is more deliberate (slower and more thoughtful) than sitcoms. Comedians choose their words carefully and lead up to their jokes with lots of information, using pacing (how quickly or slowly they speak) and even pauses to make their material funnier. Even the British comedian Russell Brand, who’s snappy and energetic in his movies, uses this kind of pacing during stand-up comedy routines.
Many stand-up comedians take things that are common and look at them in a different way, which makes it extra funny. These are things that have probably happened to you in your daily life, or little things that you’ve noticed.
For example, in this clip, Steve Hofstetter talks about the difference between dogs and children. When he says “You should know the difference between dogs and kids,” you don’t expect him to follow it up with “Dogs are way smarter than kids.”
You can even write your own stand-up comedy! Think of something that you do every day, an experience you had recently or something that you care a lot about. It can be shopping, cleaning, having children, buying a new phone, cats—anything works as long as it’s something other people share and understand.
A good stand-up joke has a few sentences of “set up” when you give the audience a hint of what’s coming. Then the last sentence gives the “punch line,” which is the funny part of the joke—the part that makes people laugh.
Try to look at your topic from a different point of view or have a strong reaction about it.
Here’s a great example of a comedian turning something pretty boring—getting a wrong number—into a funny moment by doing something unexpected.
Stand-up comedians sometimes rely on anecdotes, personal stories of things that happened to them or someone they know.
We all have funny stories about things that happened to us. You might have even gotten good at telling these stories by now—they’re stories you love sharing because they make people laugh. They might not have been funny when they were happening, but looking back on it after some time makes it amusing.
Anecdotes are often told in the present tense, to help put the listener in the story. Anne Hathaway, for example, starts her anecdote with the words “So I’m at this party…”
A great place to find anecdotes are late night shows like the one Anne Hathaway was on. These shows invite celebrities to sit and talk about upcoming movies, music and just share stories about themselves.
You can find clips for many late night shows like “The Tonight Show Starring Jimmy Fallon” and “The Late Show with Stephen Colbert” on YouTube.
Think of a funny anecdote of your own. Can you say it in English? Look up any words you don’t know so you can tell the story they way you would tell it in your native language. You now have a great story to share at a social gathering!
Puns are jokes that play with the different meanings and sounds of words. For example, a joke is funny but a joke that has a pun might be “punny.”
A lot of times, puns are called “groaners,” because instead of making you laugh they make you groan at how terrible the joke is. Some jokes are so bad that they’re good! Here’s one example of a joke that uses a pun:
How do you count cows? With a cowculator!
Of course, that should say calculator, but since the word “cow” can sound like the “cal” part of “calculator,” it turns into a joke. Here’s another:
A teacher asked her students to use the word “beans” in a sentence.
“My father grows beans,” said one girl.
“My mother cooks beans,” said a boy.
A third student spoke up, “We are all human beans.”
The pun in this joke is playing with the words “bean” and human “being,” which sound similar when you say them out loud.
If you can understand jokes that use puns or make your own puns, that means you really know your English vocabulary! To play with words, you need to understand and know plenty of words.
Since puns are so much fun, you can find many videos on YouTube with them. Here’s one example, where Evan Edinger tries to fit as many puns as possible into one video (he speaks fast!). Here’s an awesome video of a lot of vegetable puns in one song. How many puns can you find?
Skits are somewhere between sitcoms and stand-up comedy: They’re short funny scenes, usually used to parody (or make fun of) popular culture. Sometimes they follow a script, and sometimes they’re ad-libbed, meaning that the actors make up the lines right there.
Many skits are done with just a few actors taking on different roles. You’ve probably seen many skits before, but you just didn’t know what they were called in English!
“Saturday Night Live” is famous for its ridiculous skits (watch out for some crude language in these clips!). Stephen Fry and Hugh Laurie (famous for “House MD”) were a team who made skits many years ago. “Portlandia” is an entire TV show made up entirely of skits.
There are also skits and comedic content available in FluentU’s library of authentic English videos. Since FluentU is a language learning program, each of its clips have interactive subtitles so you can click on a word or slang for in-context information about its meaning, pronunciation and usage. There are also quizzes that include questions for speaking practice.
Skits usually take one topic and draw it out as long as possible, turning it into something ridiculous. They can be very fun to do with a friend!
Try this next time you are with a friend (or a few friends) and you want to practice English: Make your own, ad-libbed skit!
Start with a place and an idea, for example, waiting for a bus during a storm. Then choose a character for each of the “actors”—that’s you and your friend(s). Throw your characters into the situation and start talking. See how they react! You might be surprised at how creative and funny you are.
If you have trouble coming up with things to say, you can add some basic rules, like “every sentence needs to be a question” or “start every sentence with the letter A.” See how long you can keep it up. You’ll probably need to stop because you’ll be laughing too hard!
Humor and laughter are all around us. If we know how to look at the world, everything can be funny.
Add some laughter into your studies by learning English with jokes. You’ll be getting practice with spoken English and learning a little about the culture as well.