While I was teaching at a language college in Korea, I sometimes taught pronunciation classes. My manager provided me with very good worksheets. One focused on ‘ch’ (/tʃ/) and ‘j’ (/dʒ/). Two of the words for practice were ‘choke’ and ‘joke’. I led into a joke. I said ‘Choke [action] … joke, funny story hahaha … choking [action] … joking … telling a funny story hahaha … I am choking [action] … I am joking, I am telling a funny story hahaha … A man rang the doctor and said “Help me, doctor. I’ve just swallowed a fishbone.” The doctor said “Are you choking?”. The man said “No, I’m perfectly serious.”’ There was dead silence from the students. I tried again with the next class and got one small guffaw.

This week, teaching in Australia, one of the topics in the chapter of the textbook was illness, injuries and medical emergencies, one of which was ‘choking’. I told the same joke again and got dead silence again. Either their English was/is not good enough to understand the joke, or they just don’t have a sense of humour, or I’m telling it badly, or it’s just plain not funny. (It might, in fact, be beyond a choke.)


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