Practice makes perfect

We’re often tricked into thinking that language learning can be done in private, simply using the many books or software available to do so. Although this can help with vocabulary and grammar, can it really ever make you a better speaker?

I thought of another example today: Jokes… How would you teach someone how to tell a joke? Let’s explore the textbook route:

Wikipedia’s definition of a joke is “something spoken, written, or done with humorous intention.” So creating humour is our goal, how do we go about that?

German philosopher Immanuel Kant suggests laughter can result “if a tense expectation is transformed into nothing.” Maltese author Edward de Bono states that the mind recognises familiar patterns in behaviour and stories, and that “when a familiar connection is disrupted… laughter occurs as the new connection is made.”

We’re beginning to understand the mechanics of what makes a joke funny, but it will never give us the natural ability to tell them ourselves. You know from experience, no matter how good the joke, some people are just not funny.

My point may be a little pretentious, but I hope you can see what I’m trying to say. Learning what something is is not the same as learning how to do something. If we want to be funny, we have to try and make jokes, no matter how bad. Through observing and learning from other people’s reactions, we can eventually develop this inherent ability.

Can we really say learning a language is any different? Studying grammar books and textbook activities may increase your language knowledge, thewhat of the equation, but as for the how – there is only one solution: get out there and practise.


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