The link between laughter and language.

Listening to the radio this week confirmed for me that laughter is the one form of communication that is universal to humanity. What about smiles? I hear you asking. Despite some claims, smiles are not understood as universally equivalent, and can mean very different things around the world.

Laughter is not just human, not just primate it is mammalian. It is interesting then that babies smile before they laugh.

Does laughter have an accent? If you hear someone laughing can you tell where they are from? Or what language they speak?

Does laughing truly transcend cultures, and languages?

Eddie Izzard famously did stand up in Paris – in French and about learning French and French comedy.

One thing that is fairly widely accepted is that not all jokes translate well into all languages. For some humor especially puns and wordplay, this seems quite logical. But surely, some jokes are funny in all languages, situations, cultures. Think about this would you tell a ‘mother-in-law’ joke to your own mother-in-law, a ‘lawyer joke’ or a ‘blonde joke’ to a blonde lawyer you just met? Humor is one means of forming connections and sharing group identity, typically the butt of the joke is left out on finding it funny. Think of the schadenfreude of physical humor. Many cultures enjoy the silent films of Buster Keaton and Charlie Chaplin. But the people who make those prat-falls are rarely seen laughing.

I first saw Lost in Translation in Poland, the subtitles were running very slightly fast. I was sitting near the front, (not out of preference, out of being late). I laughed very slightly before the rest until one scene. I laughed, the rest of the audience waited to laugh… but didn’t get the joke as the humor was quite literally lost in translation.

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With a little help, we’re your friends.

A new semester is about to begin and it’s time to think about help. Student support specifically. At Winchester we’ve taken a broad approach to helping international students get the results they deserve. (We’d like to help you get the marks you want, but you have to do the work, we can only help you develop your English so that you get the marks you’ve earned. Which is better than losing grades over small mistakes, which you can easily fix. Here’s what we’ve thought of, but if there is something you think would help you that isn’t here, let us know. We delight in diversity and international students add much diversity to the university.

We offer one to one tutoring (search the uni site for ELSAC) for your work and related to your subjects. We can’t proofread or correct your scripts (before they’ve been marked) but we can read and comment on them. Including telling you about specific grammar errors and slips that you tend to make.

Once you get assignments back we can do a limited amount of reformulation with them, especially if there are passages that attract specific criticism from your reviewers over your use of English. Reformulation helps you notice where you could write better, with more accurate grammar, improved use of appropriate academic phrasing, and a wider range of expression. Many people are surprised at the things they don’t notice about their own work. Reformulation is a powerful technique enabling you to write better for the next assignment, even if it’s not related to the past one.

There are also several options for group sessions, especially good if you want to improve but aren’t sure exactly what needs improving.

Our weekly surgeries help you develop general and academic English across a range of skills and associations. It’s also a time when you can drop in and: chat about any issues which have come up over the last week; share and discuss any experiences from a cultural, academic or language topic; ask any questions about language you’ve heard or seen which doesn’t quite make sense; meet other international students studying at other levels and or in other programmes, departments or faculties.

We also run workshops on a variety of topics with either language or academic foci. Workshops are an opportunity to improve your skills within a supportive language tutoring environment. While workshops are less spontaneous and focus on a pre-determined topic there is still an opportunity to hang out with other international students and ask the tutors questions that have arisen in you studies or life.

For higher level students we offer a yearlong mediated writing group specially designed to help you improve your writing as you step it up to your dissertation, thesis or other more extensive, (and independent) formats. This is our Thesis and Dissertation Writing Group, by sharing and commenting on each other’s work you gain a range of feedback and expression as well as ensuring your work is clear, concise & academic. However, the main benefit from writing groups is in the confidence you gain in your ability as a writer, through understanding your writing process. Many writing group participants also find they write more easily and comfortably.

Lastly, for those of you involved in lectures we offer a series of one of talks where you can gain exposure to a range of ideas, research and work from around the University community. Called 1Talk, and designed to give you practice adjusting to different styles of delivery, and exposure to interdisciplinary ideas and methodologies. These talks are open to all members of the university community so can also be a chance to interact with students from a wide range of backgrounds. If you’re graduateing soon why not give one of these talks?