Humour is International: Breaking Down Cultural Barriers in the Classroom

By Neil Root
Neil Root is a writer and London based English Language teacher with 10 years experience.

Humour is International: Breaking Down Cultural Barriers

By anuarsalleh [CC-BY-SA-2.0 (], via Wikimedia Commons

As in life, the greatest tool when teaching abroad you have to overcome difficult situations is humour, whether in the classroom or in your free time in that country. There will be times – every teacher working in another country has experienced them – when you feel a little alienated. Laughing and making others laugh can break down barriers and help you integrate quickly. Being able to laugh at yourself is a great advantage.

Taking yourself too seriously as a person in another country, when you don’t have your family, friends and usual social network at hand, only makes your integration into the new culture more difficult. You need to take your teaching and administrative school duties seriously obviously, but you can do it with a smile. Try to remember that you are the visitor and at a social disadvantage – I can remember several instances when humour got me out of situations I didn’t feel comfortable in. In class, I had a hostile student who made cutting comments about western culture, and instead of getting defensive (my first mental reaction), I said, ‘But we gave you Mr Bean!’ The rest of the class laughed, one or two said ‘Mr Bean!’ The difficult student didn’t laugh, but he was then the odd one out, not me. He never troubled me again.

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