Jokes Course Humour | Vocabulary | Listenings | Pronunciation


These English Activities are built around English jokes. The jokes may be old or new; they may be very funny or just amusing. The language of the joke is explored, and you will begin to understand a very important aspect of the English language - humour. Many students of English, be they students of English as a second language or of English as a foreign language, find it very difficult to "get" English jokes. British humour has a strong satirical element aimed at showing the absurdity of everyday life. A lot of English humour depends on cultural knowledge and the themes commonly include the British class system, wit, innuendo, to boost subjects and puns, self-deprecation, sarcasm, and insults. As well as this, English humour is often delivered in a deadpan way or is considered by many to be insensitive. A particular aspect of British English humour is the humour of the macabre, were topics that are usually treated seriously are treated in a very humorous or satirical way.


Did you know that there are over 600,000 words in English? That's a lot of words, and far more than any human being could ever manage to learn. Even Shakespeare only used around 55,000 different words in all of his works. Mind you, he did actually invent quite a few of them. To get a good mastery of English, you do need to expand your vocabulary as much as possible. The more words you know, the better your English will be. The Activities here will help you to quickly develop your vocabulary.


Reading is the easiest way to take in English. Listening is a much harder skill and one that has to be developed as you study the language. There are lots of speech features that arise when native English speakers speak English. These speech features, such as elision, simplification, intonation, stress, and rhythm, and the way in which speakers may miss out sounds or whole words, are important to understand if you are to be able to listen to and fully understand spoken English. These Britlish Library Activities will help you to develop you listening skills.  


No matter how good your English grammar and vocabulary may be, if your pronunciation is so bad that nobody can understand a word you say, then your English won't be much good as a means of communication. You might be good at grammar, have a broad vocabulary, and be able to explain all the aspects and tenses of English, but it's not much good if you can't be understood when you speak. I have designed these Activities to help you to improve your pronunciation, as well as other areas of your English.

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This Alaska joke gets its humour from the pronunciation features of British English. If you understand the rhythm of English and how weak and strong syllables behave when we speak, you will be able to understand the humour of this joke. The Britlish Library lesson explains how and why the joke is funny and gives you plenty of exercises to help you learn, remember, and use these pronunciation features.

Jokes Course


A. Where’s your friend from?

B. Alaska.


A. No, I’ll ask her myself.

From the OED

Alaska (əˈlæskə) 

The name of a State in the north-west of the United States, used attrib. to designate things connected with it in origin: as Alaska cedar, Alaska pine, trees indigenous to western N. America; Alaska sable, Alaska seal, used in the fur trade as spurious names for skunk and other pelts. 

   1884 Sargent Rep. Forests 7 The most valuable species of the northern Coast Forest [is]‥the Alaska cedar (Chamaecyparis [nootkatensis]).    1897 Boston Even. Transcript 11 Sept. 24/3 Skunk skins are one of the biggest items in the fur market. They go under the attractive name of ‘Alaska sable’.    1897 Sudworth Arborescent Flora 45 Tsuga mertensiana‥Alaska Pine [of] Northwestern lumbermen.    1910 Encycl. Brit. I. 475/1 The yellow or Alaska cedar, a very hard and durable wood of fine grain and pleasant odour.    1921 A. C. Laut Fur Trade of America iv. 43 Skunk as skunk simply wouldn't sell; so skunk became ‘Alaska sable’.    Ibid. iii. 33 Plucked otter is sold dyed for Alaska seal.

b.b baked Alaska, a dessert consisting of a centre of sponge cake and ice cream with a light covering of rapidly cooked meringue. 

   1909 Farmer Boston Cook Book 448 Baked Alaska.‥ Make meringue of eggs and sugar‥, cover a board with white paper, lay on sponge cake, turn ice cream on cake‥, cover with meringue, and spread smoothly. Place on oven grate and brown quickly in hot oven.    1954 Menu (M/S Stella Polaris) 13 Dec., Tenderloin Steak with Vegetables—Baked Alaska.


 Additions 1997

 Add: [a.]a Alaska Current, a surface ocean current that flows anticlockwise in the Gulf of Alaska. 

   1880 S. Jackson Alaska & Missions N. Pacific Coast i. 54 The former stream flowing northward has been named ‘the *Alaska Current’, and gives the great southern coast of Alaska a winter climate as mild as that of one third of the United States.    1984 A. C. & A. Duxbury Introd. World's Oceans vii. 226 The Alaska Current, fed by water from the North Pacific Current and moving in a counterclockwise gyre in the Gulf of Alaska.


Understanding another culture's humour can be one of the most challenging things for a student of any language to master. The lessons in this course are all typical English jokes which depend for their humour on word play, puns, and pronunciation. If you understand the humour in these jokes, you will be well on your way to understanding English humour in general.

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A lot of jokes in English depend for their humour on the way completely different words can sound identical due to the speech features we find in spoken British English. This is one of those jokes. Listen to the joke and then do the exercises so that you can learn about why it is so funny. English humour can be difficult for non-native English speakers. This is why simple English jokes are a very good way of teaching vocabulary, and why I’ve chosen a very simple joke for this lesson. I’m not going to write the joke here as it depends for its humour entirely on a homophone.       

Categories: Humour | Vocabulary | Pronunciation | Listenings

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Decomposing - English Joke

The British English vocabulary included in the exercises in the Britlish library includes deactivate, debrief, debug, decommission, decompile, decompose, decompress, deforestation, demoralize, demystify, denature, and desaturate. English humour can be difficult for non-native English speakers. This is why simple English jokes are a very good way of teaching vocabulary, and why I’ve chosen a very simple joke for this lesson. The joke goes: Good heavens! When you stand here next to Beethoven’s grave, you can almost hear his music, only it seems to be playing backwards. What on earth could be causing that? Well, it’s obvious, isn’t it? What is? He’s decomposing. This humour may leave many students scratching their heads. First, watch the video and see if you understand where the humour comes from in this British English joke. Then, do the exercises in the Britlish Library and learn why this joke is funny. The exercises will also help you with the vocabulary of words which begin with the Latin prefix de- meaning undoing or reversing the action of a verb.       

Categories: Humour | Vocabulary | Listenings

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