NLP and Natural Language Processing (confusingly, also known as NLP) are two very different concepts. And I mean completely different!
The NLP that this website is about stands for Neurolinguistic Programming.
And I certainly get where there may be some confusion around these terms, because at first they do sound very similar…
Neuro vs natural – neurons are a very natural feature of both brains and in a manner of speaking a feature of artificial intelligence as well.
Linguistic vs language – well, linguistic literally means “of language”.
And programming vs processing? Processing is what computers do with data, right? Which must be linked to computer programming?
Don’t worry, I’m going to explain everything.
First, I’ll explain in this article exactly what neurolinguistic programming is before then explaining what natural language processing is.
And by the end of the article, you’ll have a clearer understanding of both, and you’ll see exactly what I mean about them being two completely different concepts.
Let’s get straight to it.
What Is Neurolinguistic Programming?
Neurolinguistic programming actually has nothing to do with computer programming. Or computers, or artificial intelligence.
It is a teaching developed by John Grinder and Richard Bandler in the 1970s, and has been nick-named “The psychology of excellence”.
Basically, after studying the communication and influencing patterns of a wide range of successful people, Grinder and Bandler sought to identify behavior patterns that anyone could copy to achieve similar success.
They did this through analyzing and modeling their behavior.
NLP, where it refers to neurolinguistic programming, is actually a multidisciplinary subject that borrows from various models and disciplines. Including linguistics and verbal and non-verbal communication. But particularly, above all, psychology.
And let me reassure you, you don’t actually have to learn anything about neuroscience (the science of the nervous system) in order to understand and practice NLP.
Becoming a practitioner of NLP does not require knowing which neurons (brain cells) or which biological neural networks (also known as neurotransmitter circuits) are activated when carrying out NLP techniques.
That doesn’t mean to say that there’s no neuropsychological basis to some of the techniques. (It’s all about mirror neurons, but I won’t bore you with that because it’s beyond the scope of this article.)
That said, there are still those who describe neurolinguistic programming as a pseudoscience. And there are also those who describe it as a quasi-religion.
The simplest way to describe neurolinguistic programming is that it’s a specific approach to applied psychology.
And despite having so many ardent critics against it, you have to acknowledge that a great many people do seem to have benefited from it. What’s more, it’s perfectly harmless.
Neurolinguistic programming can be used in absolutely any situation requiring communication with at least one other person.
And this is where its broad range of benefits comes in. It can help with anything from leading a team, breaking bad news, motivating people, public speaking, and winning interviews. Not to mention helping in home and family life!
But above all, it’s an excellent tool for psychotherapy and dealing with changing unhelpful attitudes and behaviors.
There are several ways that this NLP can work to achieve its goals…
It can help practitioners to have clearly defined outcomes and goals, it can challenge their assumptions, it can help them to reframe their experiences, it can help them to discover alternative behaviors and respond to situations in new ways.
When an NLP practitioner is communicating with someone, they achieve a rapport with that person through various techniques, and they become very effective communicators.
They can also experiment with responding to the other person in different ways to achieve their intended outcome.
So that’s neurolinguistic programming in a nutshell.
What Is Natural Language Processing?
In stark contrast, natural language processing has a lot to do with computers!
NLP in this context refers to a specific branch of artificial intelligence.
The purpose of natural language processing is to give machinery (artificial intelligence, or AI) the ability to understand words (whether they are typed in or spoken aloud) in pretty much the same way us humans do.
When this article was written, we really began to ask a lot from artificial intelligence. We want it to process the text we type into a computer to check its spelling and grammar, for instance.
But it can only achieve this through deriving meaning from the words, and figuring out the intent and sentiment behind them.
Natural language processing actually came into common usage decades ago. For example, one of the first and most basic uses of NLP online was to identify spam and junk in emails.
It does this by having a little database of words and phrases that could signal a spam message, and sends them straight to your junk folder.
But its benefits don’t stop there. Not by a long shot!
There’s software out there, such as Google Docs and Microsoft Outlook, where the software attempts to predict what you’re going to type next, displays it for you, and you perform a quick action (such as pressing the tab button or swiping a touchscreen) to accept its suggestion.
This helps users to get their message across much more quickly, which is hugely beneficial when dealing with something urgent, and time is of the essence.
Then there’s how “speech to text” works. First, the software types what it believes you’re saying. Then it infers meaning, by examining the context in which those sounds are made, and corrects its own mistakes!
And that’s not all.
For example, When a publisher or blogger wants to outsource their content writer, they sometimes use the natural language processing capabilities of artificial intelligence to prepare a content brief, based on search engine optimization and so on, for a content agency, so it can be written by humans.
Alternatively, some artificial intelligence software featuring natural language processing can be used to write whole articles. And this is a thing in the here and now, not just in some distant future.
However, there’s certainly a case to be made that the natural language processing ability of artificial intelligence is not yet up to human standards.
In fact, there are a great many challenges that natural language processing still has yet to overcome.
For example, there are ambiguous words in many languages, there’s irony and sarcasm that artificial intelligence struggles to consider, there are contextual phrases, new words, slang, different synonyms, dying languages, and even cockney rhyming slang to contend with.
In short, natural language processing may have come a long way already, but it still has a long way to go.
So, I hope all the unfamiliar terminology in this article didn’t put you off, and that you read it right the way through.
If so, you should now be able to see how different neurolinguistic programming (NLP) is to natural language processing.
But, if you have decided to scroll straight to the conclusion at the end (that’s perfectly ok BTW), the key difference between the two is that neurolinguistic programming is to do with improving human behavior (some argue it can be used to manipulate people).
While natural language processing is a branch of artificial intelligence concerned with recognizing and understanding human language.
And now, you know. Thanks for reading!