Note: although this month’s book is very interesting, we will only discuss the Introduction (pp. 15-22).

Have you ever wondered why we think the way we do? According to George Lakoff, author of Don’t Think of the Elephant, this month’s reading, we use frames to make sense of the world around us. In Lakoff defines frames as “mental structures that shape [how we think]… the way we act,” and the views we hold on to. In other words, how we process information.

Here is an example. Let’s say Max spoke two languages as a child. As an adult, he moved to another country to learn a third language. Jess, on the other hand, grew up in monolingual household. By the time the opportunity to take a language class presented itself, she thought she was too old. When Jess and Max meet, she tells him it’s impossible to learn a new language “after a certain age.” He tries to tell her otherwise but they reach an impasse.

Max has a hard time convincing Jess that language learning can happen at any life stage because it contradicts everything she knows about language learning (AKA her frame). In turn, Jess has a hard time convincing Max that her perspective matters (his own frame is so natural to him that he cannot accept that someone would think about it differently). To make matters worse, they start to talk past each other, triggering opposing emotions.

This happens because “all words,” as Lakoff writes in the Introduction, “are defined relative to conceptual frames. When you hear a word, its frame is activated in your brain.” Like the politicians in the example video, Jess and Max keep enacting each others’ frames during their conversation. They are unable to consider each others’ frame (learn from each other).

Think of a polarizing issue that affects your community. When speaking about this issue, do people hold on to a particular frame, or are they open to opposing views? If they are open to new or opposing ideas, do they simply tolerate these views or do you think they might eventually change their mind? And, last question, based on the reading and your life experiences, is it possible to shape someone else’s frame?

Discussion Questions

  • What do you think the title of the reading means? Is it possible to not think of the elephant?
  • In which ways can we apply the concept of frames to language learning?
  • How can we apply the concept of frames to our daily lives? (i.e. socializing with others)

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