First published in Rapport, journal of the Association for NLP (UK), Issue 52, Summer 2001
Clean Language as a Foreign Language
The French organisation NLPNL (which by some twist of Gallic logic
stands for 'Association francophone des certifiés en
programmation neuro-linguistique') had their 11th congress in
Paris in January. I went to assist Penny Tompkins and James Lawley on
an historic occasion, the first presentation of Clean Language as a
foreign language - English - in a foreign language - French. The
workshop was entitled 'Le Changement par les Métaphores:
Introduction a l'Utilisation du "Langage Propre"'.
So a new, and I think beautiful, phrase has entered the French
language. 'Langage propre' has a special sense in French. Not
only does 'propre' mean 'clean', as in 'proper' or
'accurate', it also has the meaning of 'own', as in 'voir
avec ses propres yeux' (to see with one's own eyes). I hope the
French will take their new double entendre to heart, for it
describes more precisely than English can the 'proper
ownership' of language in the therapeutic context. Those of us
who work in Symbolic Modelling and Grovian Metaphor believe it is the
client's own words that count, not the therapist's. And if a client's
language is the conscious symbolic expression of unconscious
sub-symbolic processing, asking Clean Language questions of their
symbols (and the aggregation of those symbols in metaphor) is an
entirely propre, accurate and appropriate means of honouring
their experience and facilitating them to self-model effectively.
This was the first time Tompkins and Lawley have presented Clean
Language in a foreign language. It was never going to be an easy
ride, but as you would expect from this pair they were never less
than brilliant. There were unusual challenges. In his demonstration
James asked questions in English of an English-speaking Frenchwoman
who answered in English, and for the benefit of the French-speaking
audience both questions and answers were repeated in French by an
interpreter. This meant that the bilingual client had no choice but
to process James's interventions and her own responses twice over -
doubly affirming, you might think, but it also prompted her to
interrupt her own process several times to correct the translation,
and by the time it came to ask the next question the facilitator
might have forgotten much of what the client had said in response to
the last. Despite these constraints the subject became deeply
involved in her own process.
In the break-out exercise I worked with NLPNL's President, whose
English is good but not perfect, while my French is basic. We agreed
that as client he would respond in English, but feel free to go into
French if English did not come easily. As facilitator I would reflect
as far as I could his exact words, English or French, after which my
questions could be in French or English as I chose. At the time it
felt - and may sound now - like a recipe for a disaster, but
strangely it went well.
I believe this is because Clean Language is clean, whatever the
language. It works uncontaminated by therapist supposition,
interpretation or personal metaphor.
In fact my client lapsed naturally into French as the ritual
syntax of the process took over and he found himself exploring the
deeper structure of his experience. I guess it would have been more
of a struggle if his answers had been long and complicated, and of
course it required us to have at least a smattering of the other's
language, but the experience has allowed me to appreciate David
Grove's innovative work in a new light. The underlying methodology of
Clean Language is strict, but as a medium of therapeutic
communication it works very flexibly and forgivingly. I would have no
hesitation now in facilitating someone in a two-language encounter
once a reasonable level of rapport has been reached.
Those interested in different languages will find working drafts
of the questions in other languages on the www.cleanlanguage.co.uk website. Have a browse, and send me or James
and Penny comments and suggestions, particularly if you have used
your own version with clients in these or any other languages.
Which French version of 'And what would you like to have happen?'
would you use - Et qu'est-ce que vous souhaitez qu'il se passe? Ou
et qu'est-ce que vous auriez voulu qu'il se passe? How would you
start in German: Und was möchtest du geschiehen haben? Oder
Und was möchtest du was geschieht? Any Spanish-speaking
therapists out there? Greek? Serbo-Croat?
© 2001, Philip Harland