Language and Humor

Language and Humor

The usage of different languages makes international communities dynamic. Wit and humor are fabrics of daily interactions.

  1. OFFER A PRAYER: When I was working at Asia-Pacific International University in Thailand, every time we had a flight, we booked the university van to go to the airport. On one occasion, we had to go to the capital city, Bangkok, before heading to the airport. Some of the Thai drivers speak English; some don’t. I have noticed that Thai people would talk to you in Thai and try to figure out if you got what they meant by reading your verbal and non-verbal reaction. Interestingly, it works most of the time. I assume that it may be one of the reasons why Thailand attracts millions of English-speaking tourists even though it is a non-English speaking country. After picking us up from our house, our van driver turned back and said something in Thai. I thought he was asking me to offer a prayer. In that campus, it is a customary to pray before starting a trip. I prayed. When I finished, he tried to clarify what he said. This time, I figured out that he was actually trying to confirm the address of the place where we were going. WHEN YOU DON’T UNDERSTAND IT, OFFER A PRAYER!

  1. CHECK ON YOUR WITNESS AHEAD: I was in the university cafeteria with an ESL teacher who was excited to tell me how his new English teaching method made a difference. He was telling me that his students were learning fast when he spotted one of them. He invited her to sit with us to have a little talk. To prove his claim, he asked her how much English she spoke when she came to the university. She took some time and answered, “Fifteen thousand, in my money (currency).” She thought he was asking her how much it costs to come from her country.

  • No technique works effectively under all circumstances. It may work in one context and fail in another. Don’t be overconfident about any method. Don't also underestimate the power embedded in the seed you plant. You may not see the fruit immediately. Give it time. This is true in planting a spiritual seed as well. No single approach will bring salvation to all. On the flip side, the same kind of spiritual seed may not come to fruition at the same times in all cases. It may take time for some people to grow spiritually. Our role is to spread the Good News at all times and leave the rest to the One who is in charge of its growth. "Sow your seed in the morning, and do not rest your hands in the evening, for you do not know which will succeed, whether this or that, or if both will equally prosper" (Ecclessiastes 11:16, BSB).

  • It is important to note that language is just a means of communication, not a measure of intelligence. We should not judge people's intelligence by their fluency in our first language. How much of their language do you know? How intelligent would you sound in trying to speak a new language. On the other hand, funny mistakes while trying to speak a new language is part of the process. Let the mistakes be part of the FUN! Don't be offended if your mistake makes others laugh. Join them. You want more laughter? Try teaching them your first language. You will have a reason to laugh together. The bottom line is all should be done with LOVE. If there is love, mistakes in speaking a foreign language will be shared fun experiences. If there is no love, the mistakes will be used as a weapon to belittle others. If I speak with the tongues of men and of angels, but have not love, I am become sounding brass, or a clanging cymbal (1 Corinthians 13: 1, ASV).

  • Do not get an impromptu witness! You do not know what they will say. The ESL teacher I was sitting with didn't expect the direction the conversation went. If you want someone as your witness, make sure you are on the same page with them before you bring them to the spot light. Sometimes, we may wonder why God's invitation to serve or be a witness to Him may not match the time we thought was right. At times, He may take time before He rescues us from our challenging circumstances and send us as His witnesses. There are times we think we are ready to witness for Him but the doors stay closed. One thing is for sure, when He thinks the time is right, nothing will stop you from standing as a witness for Him. Wait for His call! There may be things He still wants you to learn. We have His promise. "I will instruct you and teach you in the way you should go; I will counsel you with my eye upon you" (Psalm 32:8, ESV).

  • Answers don’t always match questions. Sometimes people respond based on what is more important and sensible to them. Even wrong answers have their implications. The ESL student's answer, though it didn't match the question, it wasn't meaningless. She answered about the cost of coming to the university. Anyway, it may be more important to know the cost of living than to speak English fluently. If you happen to be an educator, take note of people's answer even when it doesn't match your question. It may give you an idea about what they would like to talk about. You may be able to start a new meaningful conversation. Jesus met people on their ground. He talked to them using words they can relate with. He used words that might have been running in their mind when he met them. Jesus, the living water, met the Samaritan woman at the water well and started conversation about water (John 4). He made a call to his disciples to follow Him while they were casting their fishing nets. He told them he was going to make them fishers of men (Matthew 4: 19).

  1. Do You Know Me? A new student came to my office and asked, “Do you know me?” I replied jokingly, “You must be very popular to go to someone’s office and ask if he knew you.” No offense. I welcomed him and tried to help him.

  • His bold question wasn’t a lack of respect. It takes a while to internalize English and figure out what is the best way of presenting yourself. In such circumstances, trying to understand the context rather than focusing on the words can save us from unintended conflicts. It helps to anticipate love and respect by default than to be cautious assuming that people are naturally insincere or disrespectful.

  • People who think they are loved and respected by others focus on cues that confirm what they believe. People who run negative thoughts about others also focus on signals that match their views. Assumptions become self-fulfilling prophecies. You will see what you expect.

  • A positive attitude is contagious. In general, people reciprocate love and respect. If we make it a default thought that most people are friendly, we tend to interpret our communications positively. In His journey on this Earth, Christ met people from all classes. Nicodemus the rich man who came to met Jesus at night secretly, the cast out lepers Jesus healed, the blind men Christ restored their vision, the rich young man who wanted salvation, the centurion who asked healing for his servant, the child whom Christ put on His lap and used him as an example of innocence, the Roman soldiers who arrested Jesus, Pilate the Roman governor, the Jewish priests were all from different social classes. But Jesus took interest in all of them because He cared about their salvation. Christ could still see the image of God though marred and tarnished by sin. He knew His blood to be shed on the cross would cleanse and restore anyone who would accept Him. That is the kind of attitude we need to reflect when we deal with other people.


Do you remember any hilarious experience related with language? What kind of attitude do you maintain when you deal with people who don't speak your language fluently? What kind of attitude do you expect when you try to speak someone's language? How do you deal with the funny mistakes that may happen?

Prayer Journal

What is your prayer to have a Christlike interaction with other people? How would you like God to help you? What changes do you need to make? What are the things you need to learn to improve your relationship with others who are different from you? Are there things you want God to help you overcome?