The use of humour in EFL teaching: A case study of Vietnamese university teachers and students perceptions and practices

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1 The use of humour in EFL teaching: A case study of Vietnamese university teachers and students perceptions and practices Hoang Nguyen Huy Pham B.A. in English Teaching (Vietnam), M.A. in TESOL (University of Canberra, Australia) A thesis submitted in fulfilment of the requirements for the degree of Doctor of Philosophy Faculty of Arts and Design University of Canberra, Australia August 2014 i

2 The use of humour in EFL teaching: A case study of Vietnamese university teachers and students perceptions and practices Abstract With the advent of Communicative Language Teaching (CLT) and language acquisition theories, it has been suggested that lowering the affective filter and providing a relaxing learning environment assist learners in their concentration, absorption of information and language acquisition (Brandl, 2008; Krashen, 2004). While it has been indicated in the literature that humour has beneficial effects in making learners relaxed and/or helping them acquire knowledge more efficiently (Askildson, 2005; Kaplan & Pascoe, 1977; Maurice, 1988), empirical studies on humour in education, especially in language teaching, are limited. What is more, there is negligible research of the roles of humour in the teaching and learning of English as a foreign language (EFL). EFL teachers wishing to employ humour in their teaching need a stronger body of research regarding humour upon which to base their decisions, while empirical findings would help to establish the rightful position of humour in teaching/learning in general and in language teaching/learning in particular. This doctoral thesis is one of the few empirical studies which investigated systematically the role of humour in the EFL classroom. Specifically, it examined university teachers and students perceptions of the roles of humour in EFL teaching, teachers practices of humour use, the reasons behind their use (or not use) of humour, teachers preferences regarding humour types, and students response to teachers use of humour. It investigated humour in English teaching/learning in the context of Vietnam a developing country in Asia where English had a prestigious position and the mastery of English was an advantage for success in many fields and professions. iii

3 A concurrent mixed methods design (Cresswell, 2008b; Punch, 2009) was used in this study. Data was collected from 30 classroom observations of teachers, 30 teacher interviews, 162 student surveys, and 11 student interviews. The results from the three data collection instruments were triangulated to arrive at the findings. The findings revealed that the majority of university EFL teachers and students in this study held positive views of and are in agreement about the roles of humour in EFL teaching. They believed that humour has affective and cognitive benefits for students, their learning, and the teacher-student relationship. All teachers used humour in their teaching, or claimed that they do so. The three most frequently used types of humour were humorous comments, jokes, and funny stories. Humour was used most often at the beginning and towards the end of a class meeting. The majority of the students welcome teachers use of humour especially humour in English, believed that humour helps to increase their interest and motivation in learning English, and preferred a humorous teacher to a nonhumorous one. Teachers and students also shared their experiences and opinions on how to use humour appropriately and effectively. The insights from this study confirm the potential of humour in EFL teaching, and provide empirical evidence for the recommendations concerning the appropriate use of humour in EFL teaching as well as the inclusion of humour use in teacher training syllabi. iv

4 Acknowledgements I would like to thank the following people who have encouraged me in numerous ways to complete this work. I owe my most sincere gratitude to them. First of all, I sincerely thank Dr. Eleni Petraki, who was my primary supervisor. She has guided me through the long process of doctoral candidature with enthusiasm, expertise, and genuine concern for my work, my development, and my well-being. I also thank Dr. Jeremy Jones, my secondary supervisor, for his essential guidance and support. Their supervision has contributed much to my enjoyment of the candidature as well as my professional development. The completion of this work would not have been possible without their expert advice, close attention, and inspiring guidance. Secondly, my thanks go to my family: my wife, Ms Trang Tran and my children, Dat and Nguyet. Wonderfully enduring the absence of the man in the family in those four long years, they have provided me with ceaseless mental and emotional support. Their understanding and sacrifice has always been a source of energy for me, even in the most difficult times along the way. I also owe special thanks to my parents, Mr. Hien Pham and Ms Van Nguyen, who have taught me never to stop learning and improving myself. I am also deeply appreciative to the participants of this study, teachers and students, for their immense contribution by sharing their valuable experience and insights. I also thank the rectors and heads of faculties of the universities and faculties where the research took place. In addition, I am grateful to Ms Beth Barber, the editor of my thesis, for her constructive comments. Last but not least, I thank the Ministry of Education and Training of Vietnam for providing funding for me to complete my doctoral degree. v

5 Table of Contents CHAPTER 1: INTRODUCTION The context of English as a Foreign Language (EFL) in Vietnam Background of the study overview of literature about humour Aims of the research and the research questions The significance and contribution of the present study Methodology Structure of the thesis CHAPTER 2: LITERATURE REVIEW What is humour? Mechanisms of humour The three plus one theories The superiority theory The incongruity theory The relief theory Morreall s Theory Definitions and classification Definitions Classification of humour types Benefits of humour Physiological benefits of humour Psychological benefits of humour Social benefits of humour Humour in education Direct benefits of humour in education Indirect benefits of humour in education The (virtually) missing link in a chain humour in EFL classes Chapter summary CHAPTER 3: METHODOLOGY Introduction Quantitative and qualitative aspects the mixed methods nature of the research Data collection methods Questionnaires Observations Interviews ix

6 3.4. Confidentiality and anonymity Piloting instruments Research sites and participants Data analysis and management Data management Data analysis Chapter summary CHAPTER 4: RESULTS FROM STUDENTS Introduction Results from surveys The relationship between humour and learning Students perceptions of teachers humour The role of humour in foreign language (FL) learning L1 and L2 humour Results from interviews Question 1: Students opinions of teachers use of humour Question 2: Students reactions and feelings towards teachers use of humour in a lesson Question 3: The effects of humour on a lesson Question 4: The importance of humour in foreign language learning Question 5: Students experience of effective humour uses by teachers Question 6: Students experience of ineffective humour use by teachers Question 7: Students preferred types of humour Question 8: Inappropriate types or content of humour Extras: What teachers should do to ensure the effective use of humour Chapter summary CHAPTER 5: RESULTS FROM TEACHERS Introduction Results from observations Teacher 1 (T1) Teacher 2 (T2) Teacher 3 (T3) Teacher 4 (T4) Teacher 5 (T5) x

7 Teacher 6 (T6) Teacher 7 (T7) Teacher 8 (T8) Teacher 9 (T9) Teacher 10 (T10) Teacher 11 (T11) Teacher 12 (T12) Teacher 13 (T13) Teacher 14 (T14) Teacher 15 (T15) Teacher 16 (T16) Teacher 17 (T17) Teacher 18 (T18) Teacher 19 (T19) Teacher 20 (T20) Teacher 21 (T21) Teacher 22 (T22) Teacher 23 (T23) Teacher 24 (T24) Teacher 25 (T25) Teacher 26 (T26) Teacher 27 (T27) Teacher 28 (T28) Teacher 29 (T29) Teacher 30 (T30) Summary of observations Results from interviews Teachers who did not use humour Teachers who used humour Chapter summary CHAPTER 6: DISCUSSION Introduction To what extent do Vietnamese university EFL teachers use humour in classroom teaching? xi

8 6.3. What are Vietnamese university EFL teachers and students perceptions of the role(s) of humour in classroom teaching? What types of humour do Vietnamese university EFL teachers use and in which contexts? How effective do Vietnamese university EFL teachers find their use of humour in class? How do students respond to Vietnamese university EFL teachers use of humour in class? Chapter summary CHAPTER 7: CONCLUSION Research questions and research design The extent to which Vietnamese university EFL teachers use humour in classroom teaching Vietnamese university EFL teachers and students perceptions of the roles of humour in classroom teaching Types of humour that Vietnamese university EFL teachers use and the contexts in which humour is used The effectiveness of Vietnamese university EFL teachers humour Students response to Vietnamese university EFL teachers humour Recommendations Limitations of the study Implications for further research Conclusion REFERENCES APPENDIX 1: LETTER OF ETHICAL CLEARANCE APPENDIX 2: INFORMATION SHEET AND CONSENT FORM APPENDIX 3: STUDENTS QUESTIONNAIRE APPENDIX 4: OBSERVATION SHEET APPENDIX 5: INTERVIEW QUESTIONS APPENDIX 6: TRANSCRIPT OF A TEACHER INTERVIEW APPENDIX 7: HUMOUR COLLECTION xii

9 List of tables Table 2.1 Dictionary definitions of humour Table 3.1 Teachers' features Table 3.2 Students' features Table 4.1 Learning requires a serious work environment with little time for humour Table 4.2 In Vietnamese education, a student initiating humour in class is a disruption to learning Table 4.3 Humour is a waste of precious learning time Table 4.4 If my class is laughing and joking, we are not learning Table 4.5 The use of humour during a lesson is distracting Table 4.6 Humour helps me to concentrate better on the lesson Table 4.7 Humour is an important characteristic in a teacher Table 4.8 My teacher's use of humour makes me feel closer to him/her Table 4.9 A teacher using humour a lot is not professional Table 4.10 Humour is important to FL learning Table 4.11 Humour in FL increases my interest in learning that FL Table 4.12 Humour improves my ability to learn a foreign language Table 4.13 I can learn better when FL teachers using humour Table 4.14 Humour makes me more relaxed in my language class Table 4.15 Humour is not a measurable characteristic, and has a questionable role in language learning92 Table 4.16 I would like my teacher to use Vietnamese humour in my English class Table 4.17 I would like my teacher to use English humour in my English class Table 4.18 I find it difficult to understand English humour Table 4.19 I learn about the culture of FL by being exposed to native humour of that FL xiii

10 List of figures Figure 3.1 Visual research design xv

11 List of abbreviations and acronyms ELT EFL CLT L1 L2 MOET ESL FL T S English Language Teaching English as a Foreign Language Communicative Language Teaching Mother tongue/ First language Second language The Ministry of Education and Training English as a Second Language Foreign Language Teacher Student xvii

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