Sentence mining with Tatoeba

A new resource ‘Tatoeba’ has joined our Practice Online site of language learning links from across the web. You can use it to learn new vocabulary and find out how it is used in context. It is useful for learning dozens of languages, including English.

Learning vocabulary is obviously a hugely important part of learning a language. We encounter new words in many situations such as in textbooks, graded readers, news articles, and during both online and face-to-face conversations. If you look up a new word you can probably guess whether you will come across it often or not. If you think it’s a common word, or is related to you or your interests, it’s probably worth learning. But how do you remember how to use it?

Sentence mining

One way is via what’s called ‘sentence mining’. As the name suggests, this focusses on entire sentences, rather than words and their definitions. A word and its meaning is so easy to forget, but if you can find sentences which are interesting or relevant to you, these are likely to be much easier to remember.

You can copy the new word in its sentence from your textbook or online chat conversation etc. into your vocabulary notebook or smartphone app such as Anki or Quizlet. This is a great start, but maybe not enough to remember how to use it, especially if it’s not just a noun but a verb or other part of speech. Also many words have more than one meaning, and so it is really important to find some more examples.

How to find example sentences online

One option we have recommended for some time is using Linguee. This offers over a billion example sentences created by human translators. These are predominantly from official online texts e.g. European Union websites, and so tend to be rather formal. If, however, you are looking for more informal sentences that you might use in everyday conversations, Tatoeba is a fantastic option. Its sentences are user-generated and much simpler. They are therefore much more likely to be useful examples for speaking or for those getting to grips with a new language.

Using Tatoeba, you can find two or three extra example sentences which you understand and then write these down. You could put them on flashcards and then practise translating them into your native language or vice versa. You could also try recording an mp3 (try using your phone or Audacity) where you say each sentence in your native language, leave a pause and then say the sentence in your target language. You can then have your very own personalised learning resource to use with earphones on your phone whenever you get a spare moment. Since the sentences on Tatoeba are authentic, you will also sound more authentic when you come to use them.

The Language Learning Centre offers an extensive range of web links called ‘Practice Online’ which includes hundreds of free and useful resources for language learners. You can find Tatoeba as well as many other language resources here.

Article by Benjamin Swale