42 Cultural Frame of Reference

These students may also lack a common cultural frame of reference. If you think about it, in order for you to fully understand a play on words, a joke that’s being told, or even a story that’s being shared, you have to understand the references that the speaker uses. If you’ve always lived in a small town in a rural area, a visit to New York City might be exciting, but it could also be overwhelming. Asking directions from the New Yorkers that you encounter might seem logical, but if you don’t know the landmarks that are used to provide the directions, the references are useless to you.

When individuals do not share a similar culture or do not come from a common background, it can be difficult to communicate; their life experiences have been different, and they have little in common. These individuals may see the world in a different way than you. Your childhood may have little resemblance to the childhood of someone from a war-torn country. While you may recall trips to the fair and birthday parties, these pastimes may be foreign to them. Your childhood was, hopefully, safe and protected; theirs was full of danger and constant anxiety. Naturally, it would be difficult for either of you to completely understand the other’s view of life. It may be that your only chance to truly get to know that person is through conversation, sharing your experiences through language. The use of language to connect is a wonderful reminder of the power of language.


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