‘I have no idea of British humour’: How 39 Chinese students accounted for their incomprehension of humour in British academic lectures

Research output: Chapter in Book/Report/Conference proceedingConference proceedingpeer-review


My research concerns Chinese students’ perceptions of humour in British academic lectures. It suggests that this neglected dimension of the experience of Chinese international students in Britain is significant for both their personal well-being and educational outcomes.
In the course of my research, nine academic lectures with a total duration of 12 hours and 50 minutes were recorded in two university departments in England. Interviews and group discussions were conducted with 39 Chinese students who attended these lectures regarding potential humour they perceived in the lectures. The lecturers of these lectures were also interviewed.
Data analysis shows that many of the Chinese participants encountered difficulty at various levels in understanding humour in the lectures. In many cases they attributed the lack of comprehension to their language problems in a conventional sense, e.g. in relation to vocabulary, speech speed and accents, but they seldom referred to difficulty caused by cultural allusions within the humour. Some participants claimed that ‘British humour’ was particularly perplexing, but there is recurring evidence in my data showing similarities between the lecturers’ and the Chinese participants’ humour, challenging the latter group’s accounts of the inherent difference between humour in the two cultures they represent.
Various studies have reported a particular pattern of socialisation of Chinese students in the U.K.: Chinese students experience much less interaction with British people than they expect, and fall into the habit of stereotyping British people and themselves. In my study, the Chinese students’ discrimination between two national categories of humour may be seen as an example of this habit in action. In my presentation, I will argue that this habit presents clear dangers, and that the students’ tendency to stereotype and to auto-stereotype is an issue requiring further academic attention.
Original languageEnglish
Title of host publicationProceedings of BAAL 2013
Subtitle of host publicationOpening New Lines of Communication in Applied Linguistics
EditorsBernadette O'Rourke, Nicola Bermingham, Sara Brennan
Place of PublicationLondon
PublisherBritish Association of Applied Linguistics
Number of pages16
ISBN (Print)978-0-9559533-6-1
Publication statusPublished - 2014
Event46th British Association of Applied Linguistics Annual Conference: Opening New Lines of Communication in Applied Linguistics - Heriot-Watt University, Edinburgh, United Kingdom
Duration: 5 Sept 20137 Sept 2013
Conference number: 46


Conference46th British Association of Applied Linguistics Annual Conference
Abbreviated titleBAAL 2013
Country/TerritoryUnited Kingdom


  • Humour
  • Classroom discourse
  • Chinese students in the UK
  • Academic discourse


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