Stever's Adventure With German


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NLP was developed in the mid-70s by John Grinder, a Professor at UC Santa Cruz and Richard Bandler, a graduate student. NLP, as most people use the term today, is a set of models of how communication impacts and is impacted by subjective experience. It's more a collection of tools than any overarching theory.

Much of early NLP was based on the work of Virginia Satir, a family therapist; Fritz Perls, founder of Gestalt therapy; Gregory Bateson, anthropologist; and Milton Erickson, hypnotist.

      I have been using the Pimsleur tapes, which I am very impressed with. You can try them too, at The Pimsleur Web Site. There are even instructions for downloading the Real Audio player and listening to a sample tape!

February 24, 1997.

I haven't written here in almost two years (gulp! How has so much time gone by?) My German learning pretty much plateaued with the end of the third series of tapes I was using. Much to my surprise and delight, by the end of the third tape set, the word order was 95% unconscious. I simply understood the sentences and constructed new ones using the proper word order. In fact, speaking with a German friend was a lot of fun because he speaks English using German syntax. I'd always noticed that in the back of my mind, but never paid it much attention. Now I know what's going on.

At this point, what's lacking is vocabulary. I'm fluent in the vocabulary presented on the tapes, but I've discovered that I learn words from repeated use in context. An English/German dictionary doesn't help much (especially since the context is missing from the translations). I'm also still pretty weak when it comes to word gender. Lots of people have tips on how to remember gender, but it still doesn't come easy to me.

The tapes also left the conjugation rules and declinations(?) implicit. So there are gaps in my learning, but I don't know where the gaps are. It would have been nice if tape set three had come with a book which explicitly laid out the grammar and vocabulary they taught for review.

Now, it would greatly help if I had some patient, fluent German speakers to converse with. Unfortunately, the only German I know has no patience for helping me learn. Playing "Gabriel Knight II: The Beast Within" was a nice confirmation that I could follow some amount of spoken German at conversational speed, but right now, I need practice. (And I'm much slower in a real conversation when I'm thinking about content than in the tape conversations, where they tell me what to say [in English] and I just say it.)

September 13, 1995.

I am now on lesson 32. We have explored a little of the past tense, and I'm starting to get seriously confused in places:

  • First of all, it seems like they mix up word order in several ways, under several circumstances. While I can mix them up the right way in the exact circumstances given in the tape, I'm not sure the rules are generalizing, yet.
  • Aside from some of the gross word order changes (e.g., when do you swap the noun and verb), the little word order changes are also stretching me.

    Sometimes it seems like they say: Would you like with me something to eat?

    Other times, it is: Would you like something with me to eat?

    In English, there are several word orders that are perfectly normal in daily speech. As a native speaker, I instinctively know them. In German, I'm still very "procedural" (in the NLP sense): I know exactly precisely the examples I've been given, and don't have any sense for when and how things might be changed.

  • These endings on the nouns and articles... When do they happen? Which happen where? Never having studied Latin, I haven't the faintest idea what a declination(?) is, nor do I intend to delve into the grammar explicitly. But picking it up without a native speaker around to play with is a real challenge. I'm never sure when to use which form of a given noun or article. For example, I still am not sure which of the following require noun or article ending changes:
    • He is my friend. / She is my friend.
    • I like my [male] friend. / I like my [female] friend.
    • I like my friends.
    • I have a [male] friend. / I have a [female] friend.
    • I have friends.
    • My [male] friend is here. / My [female] friend is here.
    • With my [male] friend. / With my [female] friend.
    • I buy something for my [male] friend. / for my [female] friend.
    • I like you. / I buy something for you.

All in all, it's a LOT of fun! Sometime in the last three days, my brain started chunking noun phrases, prepositional phrases, and the like. It is a lot easier to deal with the large-level word order now that whole chunks are being generated together.

For listening, the same thing is happening. I still often need to replay the conversations on the tape, but once I correctly understand the word boundaries, my brain is starting to chunk and manipulate the language to derive meaning. Once it's better at the meaning-making, I imagine I will have enough attention left over to begin paying attention to all the variations of word and phrase order. That will start solving the challenge I discuss above.

... and I left my first German phone message, yesterday. It was halting, and a bit disorganized [especially when I found I didn't have the word I wanted], but it was a real live message, composed on the fly. How exciting! The brain learns! Now I just need some German three year olds to play with and I'll be all set!

September 4, 1995.

I was asked how I've used NLP to help me learn German. Here are a few things I've done. The underlying principle is that I am trying to duplicate the cognition of a one year old learning their first language.

  • Using Pimsleur spoken-only tapes. I want to engage my natural language-learning mechanisms. Learning by grammar and vocabulary explicitly adds a left-brain linguistic step between the German and the English. So I've decided to learn by auditory repetition with NO exposure to reading or writing until much later.
  • Disengaging English. I used hypnotic age regression to return to a pre-linguistic state and build a separate learning state for German. Whenever I catch myself thinking in English while doing the tapes, I switch my mental voices to German, letting them fill in English words for vocabulary I don't have yet.
  • Thinking in order. An described below, German seems to require sorting information in a different order when constructing sentences. I've practiced sorting by time, person, place, and action for German. In English, I sort by action first and don't know what I sort for after that.
  • Future pacing German. I mentally put myself into situations where I would use each lesson and word, and practice it in many voice tones, with as many grammar variations as I am confident of.
  • Being OK getting it wrong. I originally stressed when I would repeatedly get a word or construct wrong, lesson after lesson. Then I remembered that kids don't do that, so I stopped. Now, when I make a mistake, I shrug mentally rehearse the right answer, and keep going. Besides, it gives me questions to ask my imaginary German tutor...

It is amazing how many people have been blithely willing to tell me how my theory of language learning is totally wrong and couldn't possibly work. The one thing they all seem to have in common is that none of them have learned a second language to the level of fluency of a native speaker. Yet they are intent on insisting I buy into the strategies which have worked so poorly for them. I will follow my instincts on this one. If there is one thing I seem to have great instincts for, it's learning. (And much of my learning-to-learn has been based on NLP-inspired strategies and trancework during undergraduate years and beyond.)

August 30, 1995. This is scary. I'm only on lesson 25 and already speculating about how to do Ericksonian hypnosis in German. From an e-mail exchange with Thies Stahl:

> > Very, very much so. It's something I have practiced extensively, both in
> > the realm of Ericksonian hypnosis (scope ambiguities and punctuation
> > ambiguities allow you to do verbal swish patterns), and in the realm of
> > comedy improvisation.
> Thanks for this hint. I will practice it.

I've already figured out a couple of questions about German translation of 
Hypnotic language patterns that only a native speaker could answer.

Keep in mind that I only know a couple of grammar constructs in
German, but it seems that you could do punctuation ambiguities when
transitioning from a helping-verb sentence ("I can drive") to a
direct command ("drive to the store"), since the infinitive and the
imperative seem to be the same for many verbs. I don't know, however,
if this mentally "flows" for a native speaker. 

Depending on which constructs can and can't be merged, certain kinds of
transitions may be impossible (or possible). For example, 
	People can go to the STORE your problems away.
In German, if I want to keep the modal operator of possibility (mhich, 
when doing trance work, is a fairly important mode to work in), this won't 
work.  Leaving aside the question of whether STORE is ambiguous in German 
the same way as it is in English, your word order makes this example 
             People can to the store TO GO

The modal operator of possibility sentence won't end with a noun.
Since that form of sentence ends in the infinitive, only a sentence
starting with the infinitive (or phonetic equivalent) form of the
verb can be merged into it.

(You know, the amount of agreement that a grammar has makes certain forms
of ambiguity and linguistic sloppiness impossible. I wonder how all this
translates to other languages where there are different forms of

One thing this depends on is whether you have separate imperatives for the 
plural "you." the formal "you," and the familiar "you." If they are 
different, you could have problems with the punctuation ambiguity forcing 
a jarring change in voice.

A lot of audience work with embedded commands in English really play off 
all these cases being the same in English. (They are also the same as the 
informal version of the third person neuter pronoun "one.")  For example:

     "You know what it's like when someone feels comfort?
       I mean *you feel it* in one place, growing more and more thorough..."

The embedded command "you feel it" works because we give commands using 
the word "you." That's also the word that means "you" in the plural, AND 
the word that means "one" (as in "one feels it growing..."). The ambiguity 
makes it very easy to establish a context of talking to an audience, and 
then begin shifting into a personal trance induction.

In a language which gives commands to relax using a different pronoun than 
the plural "you", it might be more difficult to do this smoothly.

I'm also thinking there is the room for some great verb tense
stuff. German doesn't distinguish tenses the same way as English
(your verb doesn't change form based on the tense, at least not for
the future tense stuff we've learned so far).  I really don't know
enough to speak intelligently on the subject, but I'll bet it changes
the ways in which you can do pseudo-orientation in time:  "You want to
make changes, HAVEN'T you?"

One of my favorite English maneuvers is using the future perfect
as a stepping stone to the present:
  Of course, some day you WILL HAVE finished working through this,
  and the changes WILL BE made.  And when the changes ARE MADE,
  you can FEEL GOOD about them HAVING BEEN MADE.  So NOW, when
  you feel good about it ALL BEING IT THE PAST...

I actually move through several verb tense shifts while moving the
representation of the problem solution from the future into the past.
I don't know what the German equivalent is, but I'm looking forward
to finding it out!

Week 5: I'm beginning to exhibit the "Leetha" effect. Once upon a time, they discovered that a young girl (around 2 or 3 years old) names Lisa pronounced her name, "Leetha." When the experimentors said, "Is your name Leetha?" She would say, "No, no! LEETHA!! LEETHA!!"

The conclusion: She could distinguish the "S" sound in Lisa, but couldn't yet make the sound herself.

I'm having similar things happen with the vocabulary and grammar. I can understand certain things and distinguish certain sounds, but don't yet have the ability to create them myself. Not a comfortable situation, but I'm learning to enjoy it. (I think the secret to this is just to relax and take it as it comes.)

People are beginning to write me about German, and some are actually writing in German. As I mention below, I don't read or write it, so while the letters look really pretty in my mail reader (at least in an Olde English font), it's helping me become aware of just how much opportunity for learning I still have!

I am now on my third week of learning German. It's fascinating!

It is no wonder at all that Germans are stereotyped as being so organized. The language is really forcing me to become more organized!

At least with the constructs we've learned so far, the verb comes at the end of the sentence, and modifiers come in the middle. In English, the verb comes rather quickly, and I add modifiers at leisure, as they occur to me.

This doesn't work in German. You have to know all the ways you will modify the sentence before you get very far. This requires pre-planning your modifiers, which requires a bit more organization than English. We just need the verb, and the rest can be improvised.

This leads me to conclude one of two things: (1) if Germans think like I do, with emphasis on the verbs of life, then they have to be organized, just to pre-plan their sentences. OR, (2) they actually organize their underlying thought around the modifiers--a concept I find mind-boggling.

A random NLP observation... Whichever scheme they use cognitively, the grammar makes certain hypnotic language impossible. Some scope and punctuation ambiguities rely on adding modifiers to the end of seemingly complete sentences, thus changing the meaning. If German puts modifiers before the verb, that doesn't leave any way to change meaning by adding additional clauses.

All that said, I am only in week three, and may be prematurely analyzing. I'm rather curious about what patterns will be available in German that aren't available in English.

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