Lindsay McMahon
"The English Adventurer"

Do you sometimes hear jokes in English and don’t understand them?

Today you’ll learn vocabulary and tips on how to navigate this situation.

This way, you can come out of the party feeling confident and connected.

Did you get the joke?

Today’s episode is inspired by a question from a listener.

We are going to be talking about jokes.

Michelle asks Lindsay if she has experienced not getting a joke.

Lindsay answers and says yes, it does happen to her sometimes.

She just giggles along so that it is less awkward for her.

She continues to share that it can happen to her when the conversation includes media references.

When you are learning a new language, there are many reasons you might not get a joke.

It is a really important skill to be able to connect and understand conversations and jokes.

Here is the question from a listener:

My name is Asami and I’ve been a listener of AEE for 5 years. I recently listened to episode 1892, which is about “Why English Inside Jokes Can Build or Break the Connection”. I could relate a lot to it in a lot of way. When I was in Canada, I had opportunities to meet a lot of people. But then I often found myself feeling excluded because they were talking about inside jokes and laughing. Since there were many of these jokes and I didn’t want to kill their fun, I didn’t ask anything and fake laughing. It would be great if you could make an episode about what I can do or say in a situation where I’m the one who doesn’t understand their content or joke. Love you guys!

It is easy to be uncomfortable in a group of people when you don’t get what they’re talking about.

This is a great question and you can listen to the episode mentioned by Asami which is AEE 1892: Why English Inside Jokes Can Build or Break the Connection.

Another episode you can listen to is AEE 1545: How to Understand a Fast and Funny Story in English.

How to get the joke

What can you do if people start talking and you don’t get the joke?

Here are two things you can do when this happens.

#1: Decide if you want to put the effort in

You have to understand if the joke they are saying is referencing something that has happened in their childhood or something cultural.

You can take a second and think if it’s worth it to admit that you don’t understand and you’d like them to explain the joke.

Often, the best course is to just smile and let it go.

It is really your personal choice on what you want to do if you’re in this possibly uncomfortable situation.

#2: Say something if the answer is yes

It matters what type of group you are connecting with.

At times you will decide to put the effort into understanding.

If it’s not worth it, you can always say, “I don’t get it, but okay.”

If you’re at a party where there are different groups of people, you can also move to another group politely.

However, if you decide to speak up and say you don’t get the joke there are a lot of ways to do that.

What can you say?

So you now decided that you want to understand the joke.

Here are examples of what you can say to get you up to speed on the conversation:

  • I don’t get the joke. Can you explain it to me?
  • Wait, what do you mean by that? I’m trying to understand jokes more in conversations. Let me know!
  • Is that from a __________________? (movie, TV show, song)
  • Can you slow down a bit? I want to understand the joke!

Be honest!

It’s vital to be honest and it can be endearing to the people you’re talking to.

There is nothing wrong with clarifying things and it can help you boost your confidence to speak up.

Another piece of advice is to pick the jokes you want explained.

Don’t ask for clarification for each and every joke you don’t get.

Pick the moment and focus on the connection.


Lindsay and Michelle show you with roleplays how to use these tips to help you understand a joke in English.

Here are two roleplays to see the difference between asking about the joke with just letting it go.

Lindsay: Oh that’s so funny. How YOU doin’? (talking to another friend)
Michelle: Is that from a movie?
Lindsay: Oh no, it’s from a TV show. It’s from Friends.
Michelle: Ohhh I need to watch that more!

Here is another example.

Michelle: (talking to someone else) Oh my gosh remember Mr. Paul and the frogs?! (laughing)
Lindsay: I don’t get it, but okay!
Michelle: Ah it’s just some silly joke from high school.

The point of all the tips shared here is to be honest.

Don’t be afraid to tell someone you don’t understand a joke.

People will appreciate that you are interested in understanding what they are talking about.


In these situations, decide if it’s worth it to speak up and have someone explain a joke to you.

It is important to be honest, especially when you are trying to connect with new people and you want to make a good impression.

It’s okay to say you want to learn more about jokes.

You have learned a number of ways you can go about and start using it in your conversations today.

When was a time you were in a group and you didn’t get the joke?

We’d love to hear the story so share it in the comments below.

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