29 May 2013

Patterns and language learning


Language learning depends on recognizing patterns says this recent study. Yes, yes yes!!! No to Chomsky’s Universal Grammar nonsense that has occupied linguistics students and professors for so long. When it come to learning languages, we need to de-emphasize complicated grammatical explanations, as well as grammar drills and questions. We need to put more emphasis on feeding the brain lots of examples of the patterns of a language, in context, through massive input, and for reinforcement, in isolation, in the form of basic phrase patterns. Of course some explanations can also help the brain to recognize patterns, but in my view these should not be overdone.

I have started creating a list of pattern sentences for English. I have recorded them and uploaded them to the LingQ library. I have had these translated and recorded in Romanian, for my Romanian study, and added them to the LingQ Romanian library. I regularly listen to and read these patterns, and vary that activity with listening to and reading more interesting content, from Radio Romania podcasts, for example. This trains my brain to notice the patterns of the language.

I am hoping to get other members at LingQ to do the same so that we can build a vast collection of basic patterns sentences in different languages, with audio and text. As we learn a language, the brain picks up on patterns, but only gradually, and not necessarily in response to specific curriculum goals nor deliberate instruction. Perhaps some people are better at recognizing patterns in general, and therefore better at recognizing patterns of pronunciation or structure in a language. However, I also feel we can help the process along, and help learners to improve their ability to notice patterns, bu providing a rich collection of basic phrases and sentences that learners can choose from and mix in with their regular input activities.

Here is my initial list of the categories for which I will continue to develop pattern sentences for different languages and encourage others to do the same at LingQ. The list will fill itself out and grow. I encourage you all to add to it by either creating example sentences or adding to the subject headings.

Subject headings for patterns sentences:






6)How many



9) Therefore

10)To, by with, of, from , for

11) Whenever, however

12) What kind

13) What if

14) Which

15) Should, must, could

16) Even if

17) Although

18) However,

19) It seems to me

20) Since when

21) Want to, plan to,hope to

22) Try to

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  1. Rashel
    Posted May 29, 2013 at 4:04 pm | Permalink

    can you please post the link of the pattern sentences which you have put on LingQ. Thanks

  2. Posted May 29, 2013 at 6:27 pm | Permalink

    Great Idea Steve!

    When reading and listening (I almost exclusively study dialogues), I add sentences with a new word or interesting structure into my Anki deck for review. I figure it allows maximum exposure to new concepts, as the stuff I know is ‘filtered out’ by virtue of not being added to my Anki deck. Sometimes, as I know you do, I just enjoy reading for pleasure, though.

    I know you use LingQ’s flashcard system – but do you use Anki at all? What about Cloze sentences? I haven’t heard you talk much about sentences, actually.

    • Posted May 30, 2013 at 6:54 pm | Permalink

      Daniel, I am not a great user of SRS systems, Anki or others. I mostly read and listen. Reading at LingQ at the computer, or on my iPad/iPhone, I am reminded of all the words I have looked up. They are highlighted in yellow. Eventually they stick.


      • Posted May 31, 2013 at 1:38 am | Permalink

        I definitely think the unique feature of LingQ of being able to create ‘LingQ”s that show up yellow in texts is highly effective. It seems to increase the importance of the word in your subconscious mind, and does seem to make it stick a little easier.

        I don’t have Twitter, but for your #asksteve summer series, I was wondering whether you would consider giving your opinion of ‘shadowing’, or repeating individual sentences/recording and comparing yourself to native speakers. I know you are not an advocate of output from Day 1 – but do you think there are benefits to be had in imitating in such a way, even from the start?

        • Posted June 2, 2013 at 11:15 am | Permalink

          I have tried shadowing but could not stay with it. I found that it interfered with my enjoyment of what I was listening to.

  3. Emma Tsai
    Posted May 31, 2013 at 12:57 am | Permalink

    Hi Steve,

    It’s fabulous. This is exactly the material that I have been looking for. Thank you so much for what you have done for us.

    There are more students going to join my LingQ class this coming July. I am so excited. Allison has been helping me a lot and Jason as well.

    It’s been a long time that I didn’t have any chance to talk to you. Hope to talk to you soon.

    Best regards,

  4. Rashel
    Posted June 1, 2013 at 2:46 am | Permalink

    Hi Steve,

    where can I find examples for pattern sentences on LingQ ?

  5. pensioner
    Posted June 1, 2013 at 9:46 am | Permalink

    Hi Steve

    A.S.Hornby spent decades studying sentence patterns in English and his work might give you a few ideas. Like you he was a diplomat in Japan. He was there in the 1920s. Judging by your photo he might have been a contemporary of yours. Only joking. You are an inspiration to eager but backward language students like myself. Here is a link to his work :

    Hornby lecture


  6. Posted June 2, 2013 at 11:17 am | Permalink

    Thanks pensioner. I will look into this. I donwloaded the file to read on the plane today.

  7. Posted June 2, 2013 at 12:04 pm | Permalink

    Hi Steve, Have you seen “50 languages” already?


    They have 100 categories of sample sentences recorded in many different languages.
    You pick out the language you know, and then the language you’re trying to learn.
    Really cool endeavor.

    You can download free audios of all the sentences for any language pairs. You can get exposed to a lot of patterns that way.

  8. Sarunas
    Posted June 5, 2013 at 2:01 am | Permalink

    I found this page I think is very useful for pattens http://www.manythings.org/audio/sentences/ people who learning English.

  9. Cindy
    Posted June 5, 2013 at 6:39 pm | Permalink

    As someone who has studied French, Russian and German, I looked for so long for dual-language reading material…even now with the internet, they’re difficult to find…so I ended up creating a (free) dual-language website as a hobby. For the content I write in English, I’m very conscious of repeating words and phrases, even within a short article, to help readers learn through repetition. I’m a big believer in: more input through the eyes and ears makes the target language flow out of your mouth a little easier.

    The Foreign Language Library Online

  10. Jay Allen
    Posted June 10, 2013 at 9:19 pm | Permalink

    Steve, if you’ve never seen it before check out JAPANESE SENTENCE PATTERNS FOR EFFECTIVE COMMUNICATION (aka JSPEC) by by Kamiya Taeko.


    It contains the types of categories to which you refer. It’s one of my favorite non-grammar grammar books, and an indispensable guide for many of us Japanese learners who have decided we’re ready to start speaking.

  11. Person from Poland
    Posted July 26, 2013 at 9:28 am | Permalink

    Dear Sirs,
    I would like to improve my English communication skills. Is there any option to get free English course via the Internet or something like this method? I am extremely interested in hard studying English. I am a very reliable person. I think that English makes me find better life opportunities.

    I permanently live in Poland, I am a native speaker of Polish. Unfortunately, nobody speaks English in my environment. I dream of pass CAE or TOEFL an exam.

    I believe that my dream come true soon.

    look forward to hearing from you.

    Yours sincerely,
    Person from Poland

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