However, appreciating humor when you’re in a different cultural and language setting is no laughing matter. This is what I’m experiencing here in Costa Rica.
I just came from a 2-day pastors’ conference. All the sessions were in Spanish. All the speakers spoke Spanish. When I listened intently, I understood most of what they said. But with the jokes, it was different. I get excited as a speaker set up the premise of his joke, but when he delivered the punchline, I missed it altogether. I just ended up laughing–at myself, for laughing along with the other pastors even if I didn’t get the joke!
I guess understanding humor in a cross-cultural setting is the “last frontier” in my language learning. I did not understand the jokes of my new Latino friends because of two reasons. First, I noticed that when they delivered a punchline, they spoke so much faster. In a normal conversation, it feels like a Costa Rican speaks 8-10 words per second; and in a joke, he delivers the punchline in lightning speed! My brain is too slow to translate Spanish that is spoken that fast.
Second, and more importantly, I failed to understand the jokes because I still do not have enough background of the culture and experiences of these pastors. Obviously, their jokes involved information that they already knew and shared with one another, and I didn’t know any of that.
So, where do I go from here? How do I conquer this last frontier? Well, my options are:
- Option A: Increase my resolve to learn Spanish better–not just to learn more words, but to become more familiar with the background that influences the choice of these words in a story or conversation.
- Option B: Ask my Spanish-speaking friends to deliver their punchlines in English!
Any bright ideas?
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