Jokes for EFL students
September 20, 2007 8:09 PM   Subscribe

I`m looking for jokes to tell my (not so advanced) EFL students. They`ve got to be clean, and I`ve found any thing dark doesn`t go over too well.

They love half-Japanese / half-English riddles, the cheezier the better. As an example of what works-

Q: 500 cars go north-east from Hiroshima, 500 cars go south from Aomori. Where do they meet?

A: Sendai
posted by Sar to Writing & Language (25 answers total) 7 users marked this as a favorite
posted by LobsterMitten at 8:14 PM on September 20, 2007 [1 favorite]

Response by poster: I`ve read through all those joke threads. Because my students aren`t native English speaking, they don`t have the same cultural knowledge that even most 6 year old native speakers have, so almost all those joke will fall flat. Their vocab is also limited in a certain direction - not much casual, slangy language.
posted by Sar at 8:28 PM on September 20, 2007

Okay, you're gonna have to clue us gringos gaijin in on the punchline. If I had to guess, I'd say that "Sendai" is not only the name of a city halfway between Hiroshima and Aomori, but it also sounds similar to the word for "thousand". Am I even close?
posted by Myself at 8:48 PM on September 20, 2007

How about these?

When I taught ESL, I always found knock-knock jokes a great intro to lessons on Western etiquette.
posted by YamwotIam at 9:22 PM on September 20, 2007

So a man is sitting in his house watching tv and he hears a knock on the door, he gets up and goes over and he opens the door and no one is there, he looks all over, to the left, to the right, up and finally he looks down and he sees a snail. He's annoyed and he picks up the snail and throws it as hard as he can and goes back inside his house to watch tv.

About a month later later he's sitting again watching tv and he hears a knock on the door, so he goes over and opens the door and once again no one is there, he looks in every direction and there's nobody there, finally he looks down and sees a snail and he's annoyed so he picks it up and looks at it, right before he's going to toss it away, the snail says "What was that all about?"

I know that's not a play on words, but it's my best clean joke.
posted by Divine_Wino at 9:29 PM on September 20, 2007

I found wordplays to work the best, like this one:

What do you call a deer with no eyes?
No idea.

What do you call a deer with no eyes and no legs?
Still no idea.
posted by cwhitfcd at 10:19 PM on September 20, 2007 [1 favorite]

You might try to track down some old Bennett Cerf collections. His stuff is witty and generally fairly clean, although some of it is kind of dated nowadays. You'll want to avoid his puns, of course.
posted by Johnny Assay at 10:20 PM on September 20, 2007

Best answer: I teach English in Japan and years ago, when I was but a rookie teacher, I planned a great joke lesson and told all my students that week to have a joke for next week to tell. Anything--a riddle, a story, whatever. Next week came and not a single student had a joke. This wasn't because they were all lazy, but simply that no one could think of one. It's hard to wrap your head around, but in Japan they don't really tell jokes. No "lightbulb" jokes, no "guy walks into a bar" jokes...thinks we English speakers assume all cultures must have. They do have rakugo, but that's a really old-fashioned type of storytelling (think Garrison Keillor).

Here's a good example of jokes lost in translation: The Simpsons. Japan imports a lot of Western and American movies and TV shows, but The Simpsons, while generally known, isn't popular at all. Most Japanese are surprised when I tell them how popular the show is in the US. The slapstick of course works in any culture, but the jokes are so culturally specific, each one would take a short explanation.

That said, I do remember a good joke that could lead to a mini-grammar lesson: What gets wetter as it dries? A towel.
posted by zardoz at 10:32 PM on September 20, 2007

What about a "make up a funny caption to this picture" contest?
posted by LobsterMitten at 10:45 PM on September 20, 2007

Best answer: I taught English to Greek students for a couple of years, and they always liked "play on words" sorts of jokes that had to do with homophones, homonyms, etc. Examples: Q: Why was Six afraid? A: Because Seven Eight (Ate) Nine. Q: Why will you never starve in the desert? A: Because of all the sand which is (sandwiches) there.

They also loved all the "frayed knot" and "long face" walked-into-a-bar jokes: 1) A pony with a sore throat walked into a bar and asked the bartender for a drink. The bartender says "What? I can barely hear you; you're going to have to speak up!" and the pony says "Sorry, I'm just a little hoarse (horse)." 2) A sandwich walks into a bar and asks the bartender for a drink. The bartender says, "sorry, we don't serve food here." Etc.

We also had much fun and hilarity will silly little poems in the "Purple Cow" tradition, goofy songs and tongue twisters:
Fuzzy Wuzzy was a bear;
Fuzzy Wuzzy had no hair.
Fuzzy Wuzzy wasn't very fuzzy, was he?
Ooey gooey was a worm,
a mighty worm was he;
he crawled up on the railroad tracks,
the train, he did not see...

Also, the "Mairzy Doats/Mares eat oats" song, "Guess I'll go eat worms" song, "Little Bunny FooFoo"... and all manner of silly songs. Plus torturing young children with tongue twisters is great. My Greek kids had a lot of problems with "S" versus "SH" sounds (because there isn't really an equivalent in the Greek language), so we would have lots of sadomasochistic gigglefests with "She sells seashells..." and especially when I would tell them how important it was not to mix up "sit" and "shit" ("I sit on the bus" versus "I shit on the bus", for example. heh.)

Almost all of these have to be set up with information beforehand (what is "Fuzzy"? What is "Frayed/Afraid" etc.), but once they get the principle on which the joke/song/poem turns, they love the wordplay. Though, as mentioned above, this may be a cultural thing. Also, I always hammed it up with this sort of stuff: silly voices, body language, acting it out, and so on, and usually used these bits to break up the tension after a difficult lesson, before the class ended (so they wouldn't have to go back to more concentration-heavy stuff afterwards). Lots of laughing and antics were encouraged. :)

Just pray they don't ever ask you to tell them the meanings of words in rap lyrics.
posted by taz at 11:20 PM on September 20, 2007 [1 favorite]

What about jokes like this one? Is that (too) racist?
posted by philomathoholic at 11:24 PM on September 20, 2007

How about elephant jokes? (for your EFLant students!)
posted by Guy Smiley at 11:32 PM on September 20, 2007

What do you get when you cross an elephant with a rhinoceros?

'ell if I know.
posted by iconjack at 11:36 PM on September 20, 2007 [1 favorite]

Why did the dog wag his tail?

Because nobody would wag it for him.
posted by iconjack at 11:36 PM on September 20, 2007

Response by poster: Myself: yep, you're on the right track. The counter for cars is ~dai, so 1000 cars is sen dai.
posted by Sar at 2:24 AM on September 21, 2007

Did you hear that engineers built a wooden car? It had wooden wheels, a wooden body, wooden chassis and a wooden engine, there was only one problem - it wooden go.
posted by biffa at 3:43 AM on September 21, 2007

My all time favourite joke:

Q. What's yellow and invisible?

A. (hold out empty hand) This lemon!
posted by Pallas Athena at 4:43 AM on September 21, 2007 [6 favorites]

あゆはFish? Are you a fish?

You could ask them if they've ever had 四字熟語 on a quiz that looked like this: _肉_食. Though the answer is 弱肉強食 I thought 焼肉定食 was a pretty hilarious cop-out answer.

A riddle I saw on "challengers of fire" that stuck with me was an elimination quiz-type game for little kids. I think the last kid was eliminated when he was asked "In what country do the people not ever want anything you could give them?" and the answer was "イラン." There were some others, too, but I don't remember them well. One went "日本語 is for Japan, and フランス語 is for france, but what go is for dessert?" and the answer was 食後 or something.

Wish I could remember more. While we may assume all languages have joke conventions, I think it is the opposite for riddles/brain teasers. I was surprised to find them at all.
posted by GooseOnTheLoose at 4:58 AM on September 21, 2007

I'm not sure if this qualifies as a joke, but I always liked the, "What's got two thumbs and likes sushi? This guy! [point at yourself with your thumbs]" gag. Of course, I subsituted 'sushi' for what's normally there, but you get the idea.

I know, it's dumb; but it always cracks me up.

Here are two pirate jokes I frikkin' love.

A pirate walks into a bar with a steering wheel attached to his penis. The guy at the bar next to him says, "Hey, you know you have a steering wheel attached to your penis?" The pirate says, "Argh, I know. It's drivin' me nuts."

Q: How much does a pirate pay to get his ears pierced? A: A buccaneer.

posted by Pecinpah at 6:54 AM on September 21, 2007

cwhitfcd's joke took me a minute to parse because it only works for certain pronunciations of "deer" and "idea".
posted by speedo at 8:22 AM on September 21, 2007

I don't know where these jokes come from, but my parents and I used to tell them when I was about 5 years old and they're still kind of funny (to me).

They all start the same way and its important to say the whole thing for comedic effect.

"What do you call a man with no arms and no legs who is.."

"..floating in the ocean?" - "Bob"
"..hiding under a pile of leaves?" - "Russel"
"..lying in a hole in the ground?" - "Phil"
"..stuck under a truck?" - "Jack"
posted by dobie at 9:44 AM on September 21, 2007 [1 favorite]

Seconding zardoz. I've not taught in Japan, but have had Japanese students on a few occcasions. Sitting down over beer one night we had an extended discussion about this, how they don't really have "jokes" in Japan. One of my Japanese students pulled his arms into his jacket and wiggled around spazzing out, and all the Japanese at the table loved it. Very physical / slapstick sort of stuff. To me it was very much like Borat and the walking chair.
posted by Meatbomb at 10:43 AM on September 21, 2007

What did zero say to eight?
"Nice belt!"
posted by Pater Aletheias at 10:56 AM on September 21, 2007 [1 favorite]

Here's one I always found a sad sort of comfort in, as a student of Japanese. It's about how the simplest things can be totally obnoxious in another language. It's best if you tell it like a shaggy dog story, adding extraneous stuff about New York, and works equally well in Japanese (except for the English phrases, obviously).

"It's this Japanese guy's first day in New York, after studying English for a year. He gets off the plane at 10PM, takes the subway to the hotel without incident, is booked in, and finds his room, all using English! He's triumphant, but tired, so he goes right to bed.

In the morning, he goes down to the hotel diner, and the waitress comes over. He's a little worried about whether it'll be hard to order in English, but he has something ready just in case.

"Hi, what'll it be?" (in a New York accent if you can do one)

And he gives her his prepared answer:

"Apple pie, coffee". (say this part like it's gairaigo written in katakana). And lo and behold, she comes back with a slice of apple pie and a coffee! He is really pleased, eats his breakfast, pays, and goes out to see New York.

The next three days, he gets breakfast again -- "Whatta you want", "Apple pie, coffee"; etc. On the fourth day, the morning he's supposed to go back to Japan, he's really sick of apple pie, and he figures he can handle something else, since his English has been going so well. So, he arms himself with a new phrase, and when the waitress says, "What would you like today," he proudly says:

"Eggs and toast!" (katakana again)

And she says:
"OK, how do you want your eggs: scrambled, poached, Benedict, hard-boiled, over hard, over easy, medium, or omelette? And for the toast we have sourdough, wheat, white, or rye?" (say this fast, as if she rattles it off 200 times a day)

The poor guy looks down at the table for a long second or two, looks back up, and says sadly:

"Apple pie, coffee".
posted by vorfeed at 2:05 PM on September 21, 2007 [4 favorites]

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