Title: Yadda, yadda, yadda: Repetition as Humor in Seinfeld
Andrew Flanagan firstname.lastname@example.org
Hampshire College TESOL Certificate Course
Understanding the subtleties of humor can be a large part of navigating a new language. Being able to see the humor in the tone of an L2, can help a new speaker in various personal interactions. This listening activity uses the sitcom Seinfeld to illustrate the use of comedic tone in an otherwise traditional exchange between a car rental employee and a customer.
The clip, as well as the activity, would best be suited for an advanced beginner class. They would have enough vocabulary to be able to understand the directions, but they still might need a lot of repetition to understand natural language, and if there is one thing that Seinfeld excels at, it is repetition and the semantics of the language. This particular clip compares two similar concepts through Jerry’s emphasis on word choice: the difference between taking a reservation and holding a reservation. It is here that the use of linguistical comedy serves a second purpose for ELLs — understanding the subtle difference between these two concepts.
At the start, give the class a bit of background to the scene, and some context. First, explain that this is from a TV show called Seinfeld and the scene we are about to listen to is meant to be funny. Then explain that in this scene, Jerry is going to talk to a woman at the desk of a rental car place.
From that prompt, the class can discuss renting vehicles and understand the procedures required to do so. As a group, the class would brainstorm not just the renting process but what kind of conflicts that could arise from this situation.
Once the students have a firm grasp on the concept, begin the first play-through of the clip.
While listening to the audio for the first time, the students can take notes to see what words the recognize.
After the clip is played, give the students these questions to prompt discussion:
What word do they think is said most often?
What is the tone of the scene?
What are the character’s feeling in this scene?
Students can use these questions to consider the main conflict of this scene.
In the second play-through, the students listen for the answers to their prompts and concentrate on the more difficult parts of the scene.
After the clip has been played again, ask the students:
What is Jerry is angry about?
What are some polite or apologetic words the characters are saying?
Why might this be a funny scene?
For the last play-though of the scene, give the students a transcript of the scene to read along with.
After listening, discuss the kind language used in the scene. Reinforce the difference between “taking” and “holding” a reservation. Help identify any colloquial language they are getting stuck on. Use prompts like, “are these people actually being polite to each other?”
Evaluation & Planning
After the listening is over, students write about what they got out of the clip. They will describe the situation in the scene, and identify the conflict, the humor and the vocabulary they might have learned, which can them be opened up for class discussion.
In this short clip, there is plenty to talk about for class discussion: polite vs condescending tone, passive aggressive behavior, humor, and the subtle differences in language. Seinfeld relies on repetition of specific words as a source of comedy. Often Jerry and his friends will debate a subject from all directions using the same word over and over. When implemented well by the teacher, this feature of the show can make an entertaining language tool for new learners.