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Dr Klaus Bung
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Teachers tell you what to learn, IDYLL shows you how to learn it

Klaus Bung:
The Sentence Algorithm (SENTAL)
(Compact version)

How to eradicate your mistakes in English
- or any other language (grammar - vocabulary - idioms)

For intermediate and advanced learners

Note: This is the compact description of the procedure, which is an integral part of DYNAMIC LANGUAGE LEARNING (DYLL). It does not contain the theory behind, and full justification of, the method. For a more thorough treatment, see the full version of this description. Click here (will be uploaded shortly).



The basic procedure

Trying things out

Range of language skills

Range and Reliability (level of correctness)

Improving Range and Reliability

Objectives of the SENTENCE ALGORITHM

From writing to speech

Secret of success when learning with DYLL

DYLL techniques available for different kinds of learner

Time plan


Learning to SPEAK more correctly


THE SENTENCE ALGORITHM is designed to develop your communication skills, in speech and in writing.

We first practise to ***write*** about any given topic because writing is slower and easier than speaking, and it is easier to capture and correct written mistakes than spoken ones. We practise writing in preparation for speaking.

We practise writing about a topic until we can write about it as fast as our pen or keyboard will physically allow. That speed is the slowest speed that is bearable in conversation.

We then practise conversation on this topic or with these phrases until our speaking speed becomes normal and acceptable.

What we are really practising are our thinking skills. They are the same in speech and in writing. Speech and writing are the two media through which our thoughts can be expressed and in which our language mistakes can be observed, corrected and eliminated.

This method is ***not*** intended for the classroom. You, the learner, need one or several partners or informants, who know English (or your target language) better than you. Ideally they should be native speakers. Your language teacher is, in this respect, your informant or your partner. The informant knows what is good English and bad English, and sometimes he can tell you why. "He" = "he/she".

From now on we say "English" when we mean "target language", i.e. any language you are trying to learn.

The more eager you are to learn English and the more prepared you are to make the necessary effort, the more you will benefit from the SENTENCE ALGORITHM. Students who want to get by with the minimum of effort, or merely pass exams, or who need artificial (indirect) motivation, will not benefit at all.

The SENTENCE ALGORITHM will be very useful for students who are learning English through chatting and e-mailing on the Internet. These students often make very little progress, and keep repeating the same mistakes because neither they nor their informants have a well developed and well tested method of eliminating mistakes.

Find more than one informant, teach each of them the SENTENCE ALGORITHM, then they will be able to help you more effectively. Otherwise even hours of chatting will not noticeably improve your English.

If you have only one informant, the SENTENCE ALGORITHM may be too much work for him. You will suffer if you mistakes go uncorrected because your informant gets tired.

Do NOT use chat slang in such situations. Is imposbl to fyn ur mstks if u ryt lyk dis n l8r da exisyz wont b muts gud. ROFLMFAO

If all you wanna do is ta get ya meaning across, then this style is all right for you and your informant. However, your English will only get better if your objective is correct standard English, the sort of English that would get you a job writing letters for a respectable company in England or America.

You must therefore give correctness priority over communication (getting the meaning across, somehow and fast).

The basic procedure

Step 1: Write ten simple sentences (a composition) on a topic of your choice.

Step 2: Show the composition to your informant. Let him mark your mistakes, tell you the correct version and give you explanations if you need them.

Very often explanations are unnecessary because the moment you see your mistake, you know why it is a mistake. E.g. if in English you have written "their" instead of "there", you will probably not need an explanation. You just have to be told.

Step 3: For each of your mistakes, invent five sentences in which you try to demonstrate that you have understood what was wrong in your composition and that you now know how to use these words, this idiom or this rule correctly.

If you have chosen the wrong word from a pair of words (as in the their/there example), write five sentence for each of these words. You do this even if your mistake was accidental. So, in our example, write five sentences with "their" and five sentences with "there". For advanced students, if you have confused "to mitigate" and "to militate", write five sentences with each.

Show these sentences to your informant, etc.

Each of your sentences contains a "core" (the part which corrects your mistake) and a "context" (an expansion) (the part of the sentence which you need in order to pin down the meaning of the Core). You can make your "context" easy or difficult. If it is extremely easy, we call it trivial. E.g. if you write sentences like
a Their ball is red. or: This is their ball.
b My ball is there.
these are trivial sentences. Nothing can really go wrong with them.

But you might be ambitious or daring and write:
c If they had thrown their ball into the policeman's garden, he would have arrested them and sent them straight to Guantanamo Beach and forced them to play against Fidel Castro himself.

This is a difficult sentence. A lot can go wrong with it, and you can make many more mistakes, each of them resulting in five further sentences, and soon you will have 500 sentences or more to write, and you will need a week or a month to do it.

If you write:
d My brothers were looking for their ball.
e Where is our rabbit? - It is there, on the lawn.
then this is normal, medium difficulty. You might make a mistake there, e.g. in "looking for" (which will result in five more sentences), but not too many.

Some other types of mistake and sample sentences to rectify them:

Assume you have written "interested" instead of "interesting" or vice versa. Then you might prove that you understand the difference by writing the following sentences:

a "I want to know about your life. I am very interested in hearing your story." (and four more sentences like this)

b "You have read so many books and visited so many countries. You can talk well. You are a very interesting person." (and four more sentences like this)

If you have made a mistake with "teach" and "learn", you could write sentences like this:

a "Hello, Farhat. How are you? I want to travel to Egypt. Please teach me Arabic." (and four more such examples)

b I want to travel to Spain but I don't know Spanish. I must learn it now. But I have a Spanish friend, Pedro. He will teach me. (and four more such examples)

Such sentences are not easy to invent because you do not want them to be silly and mechanical. You have to think about them and consider carefully what you say. But while you are thinking, you will learn about the purpose of the sentence. That makes the SENTENCE ALGORITHM so effective.

Step 4: Decide: Did your composition contain "too many" mistakes, i.e. did it require "too many" sentences?

If yes, go to Step 5.

If no, go to Step 6.

Step 5: Make the sentences in the next exercise easier, i.e. risk fewer mistakes. If mistakes in the last exercise were ***overwhelmingly*** many, so many that you simply cannot risk making ***any*** more mistakes, make most of your next sentences "primitive". Otherwise make them normal.

When Step 5 applies, you use only those linguistic skills (words, phrases, constructions) of which you are absolutely sure, where you know that you will not make new mistakes (in the context). You do not try out anything new to see if it is correct, to see if your informant will let you get away with it.

Primitive sentence are those in which nothing can go wrong, but from which also you cannot learn anything new. (You cannot learn new things without risking mistakes.) You write primitive sentences as a sure-fire way of getting rid of an abundance of sentences which you have to write. An example of a primitive and largely irrelevant sentence appeared in an English dictionary of 1978, where the word "Rabbi" was illustrated by the sentence: "Have some more tea, rabbi."

Go to Step 7

Step 6: Make the sentence in the next exercise more difficult. Try out more new things (but not too many!), apply skills of which you are less sure. Make longer sentences (i.e. have more context). This gives you a chance to make more mistakes (mistakes relevant to your world, to what you want to express). These mistakes will lead to corrections, i.e. more knowledge, and confirmation of this knowledge in further sentences. The longer your sentences, the more mistakes you can make and therefore you can learn more as a result.

Step 7: Copy the faulty sentences in their corrected versions.

Step 8: Write five sample sentences for the correction of each mistake.

Go to step 2 (above)

??? Insert flowchart of Sentence Algorithm here

This is the gist of the SENTENCE ALGORITHM.

If you apply it literally and conscientiously. Your writing skill and your speaking skill will inexorably improve. Apply to all mistakes, not only to grammatical mistakes, or mistakes in word usage, but even to plain spelling mistakes, e.g. if you write "arrogent" instead of "arrogant". Whichever mistake you treat in this way will be more easily avoided in future, and you will gain the side-benefits from the Contexts (expansions) you develop. Each mistake is a chance of learning something new. That why mistakes are such welcome events - provided you have DYLL's great methods for dealing with them. For DYLL learners, mistakes are the rungs on the ladder to success.

??? insert picture of ladder here

When the task of having to write five sentences becomes too burdensome and time-consuming, do NOT solve the problem by not writing your obligatory five sentences for some mistakes, but solve it by making fewer mistakes in the next exercise, i.e. by writing easier sentences.

This approach will not only improve your knowledge of English, it will also make you aware of what you know, what you don't know and what you only half know.

Such knowledge (self-knowledge) is very valuable. If you find yourself in a situation where it is vital that you make a good impression and that you do not make any mistakes (e.g. during an interview, or when you meet your prospective in-laws for the first time), confine yourself to using words, idioms and structures of which you are absolutely sure. The SENTENCE ALGORITHM will have made you aware of what you know and what you don't know. Your English will then appear perfect even though it isn't.

Trying things out

You cannot be sure of anything in language until you have tried it out. A dictionary or a textbook can not tell you everything you need to know. You need an informant who knows your target language well. This applies to words, to idioms and to grammatical rules (structures).

A sentence structure may be dead easy in your own language, but complex in your target language, i.e. lead to mistakes until you have learned the necessary grammar. If you are English, then "I like him" appears as easy in English as "I kill him", and the two sentences seem to have the same structure. So they have, in English. But in French, German or Hindi the structures are different and more complicated. You will only find this out by trying, making a mistake, learning the structure (the grammatical rules) and practising the new expression. The SENTENCE ALGORITHM helps you to do that. It is part of the "trying out" procedure.

You select the topics and situations which appeal to you. This is often better than standardised dialogues in textbooks and courses, which are meant to have universal appeal and universal usefulness. You will learn more if you like the topics.

Practise whatever is useful until you feel confident in it.

Range of language skills

The SENTENCE ALGORITHM controls the speed at which your language skill (words, idioms, grammar) grows.

If you make too many mistakes, your Range is growing too fast.

If you make too few mistakes, your Range is growing too slowly. You are wasting your time with linguistic trivialities. This applies to intermediate students only, not to advanced students. Advanced students no longer have to extend their Range so noticeably.

Range and Reliability (level of correctness)

A student may know many rules, constructions, words and idioms (language elements) but he only half knows them. He makes many mistakes. It is a matter of chance whether he gets them right or wrong. Sometimes he gets them right, sometimes he gets them wrong. In that case we say that he has a wide "Range" (linguistic range).

The Range is the quantity of thoughts, expressions, words, idioms, rules, constructions which the learner expresses / uses more or less correctly or incorrectly.

If a learner makes only few mistakes with the language elements he uses, then we say that his Reliability is great.

The learner's Reliability can, in theory, be measured. However, we are quite content with estimates (instinct), since all we aim at here is to explain a useful principle, a perspective for looking at, and evaluating, different learning activities. Reliability is the number and seriousness of mistakes in relation to the length of a text.

Case 1: You can have a narrow Range and great Reliability. Perhaps you only know five phrases in a language but you always get those absolutely right. That means: small range and great reliability.

I have heard of foreigners, i.e. non-English people, who know only one English word. It is very short. It has four letters only. But they never make a mistake when using that word. They are perfectionists. They thoroughly practise their word. That is their starting point for learning English, and perhaps their main objective, the achievement of their intellectual life. They know it better than the indefinite article "a" (one letter) or "an" (two letters) or the definite article "the" (three letters).

They will only proceed to learning their second English word (presumably also four letters and starting with "a", "c" or "s") when they have have mastered the first one. They are thorough and cautious learners. They speak English fluently - within the limits of their Range. They form grammatically perfect sentences - one-word sentences. They are playing it safe.

That is an extreme example of narrow Range and great Reliability.

Case 2: You can have a wide Range and low Reliability. Many people in language chat rooms are in that situation. They try anything under the sun, they make themselves understood, but make many mistakes in the process.

This is fine in the chat room, but they could never get a job with that kind of English (e.g. a job in which they have to write letters and reports for a respectable company).

Some faults in speech are usually not so serious when you work for a company because they are more difficult to spot and are quickly forgotten. But what you write has to be perfect because many people may read it and they will notice your mistakes again and again. Your mistakes will reflect badly on the company.

The ideal is a wide Range and high Reliability. That takes a long time to achieve, but if you make that your objective, work patiently, and if you use the SENTENCE ALGORITHM in combination with other techniques for that purpose, you will succeed, like many other people have succeeded before you. What they have done, you can do.

The combinations are:

  • Narrow range, low reliability: That's really bad.
  • Narrow range, high reliability: That's good, especially for beginners. You should aim for that in situations in which you want to make a good impression. In such situations you do not experiment with new language elements, but you stick to what you know well and use it with perfection.
  • Then come many intermediate combinations of range and reliability, and then come the upper extremes.
  • Wide Range, low Reliability, as described above
  • Wide Range and high Reliability: the ideal

The SENTENCE ALGORITHM allows you to manipulate these variables and steer yourself towards your objective better than any teacher could.

This is a method which centres on the learner, where the learner is the driving force, not one where the teacher has to drag the learner along and the learner remains passive. The teacher is merely an informant. Having the learner as a driving force makes this method (and this attitude) much more effective than the traditional situation where the teacher is expected to do all, or most of, the work.

Improving Range and Reliability

The theory of DYLL (Dynamic Language Learning) distinguishes two types of activity:

  1. Practise and strengthen known language elements
  2. Try out and collect unknown (new) language elements (words, constructions etc)

How to collect new elements is described in a different chapter. New elements come from written sources (novels, text books, technical publications, newspapers, emails and chat rooms etc) and from spoken sources (conversations, radio, TV etc).

You can never be sure of a new element until you have tried it out on your informant. It may appear easy and simple in your source but you may make a mistake when you use it. Trying new elements (words, constructions) is an essential part of language learning. The SENTENCE ALGORITHM is your tool for trying out new things. You may also call the SENTENCE ALGORITHM exercises "creative exercises" or "communication exercises".

Creative exercises differ from mechanical exercises. Both are essential in DYLL. When you discover, for example, a new word which you want to add to your repertory (your Range), you first learn it through one of DYLL's mechanical exercises, the Pen-and-Paper-Algorithm (PAPA) and the mp3-Algorithm (both described in a separate chapter).

When you have mastered the mechanical aspects of a new element, you have to "try it out" through the creative exercises (the SENTENCE ALGORITHM), and eventually use it in "real life".

So we have two types of activity:

  1. Practise and strengthen known language elements (Type KNOWN)
  2. Collect and try out new language elements (Type NEW)

These two activities influence your Range and your Reliability.

  • Case 1: You do Type KNOWN and Type NEW.

    Result: Range grows, and Reliability grows.

    It is important to use the two types of activity in the right proportions, not too much of one and too little of the other. Otherwise the results become distorted. You decide which proportions are right. Understanding this chapter helps you to make the decision.

  • Case 2: You do TYPE KNOWN, but not Type NEW.

    Result: Your Range stays the same, but your Reliability grows.

  • Case 3: You do TYPE NEW, but not Type KNOWN.

    Result: Your Range grows, but your Reliability stays the same.

  • Case 4: You do neither TYPE KNOWN, nor TYPE NEW.

    Result: In theory your range and your reliability stay the same, but in practice your Reliability will decrease as a result of forgetting. This is like a battery which remains unused in your drawer. After some months or years it will be flat even though you have never used it.

You can set a target for your Reliability and vary your choice of activities (Case 1, 2 and 3) to get as close to that target as possible. There is no universally correct target. Your target depends on your learning objectives and your applications.

If you want to enjoy yourself in the chat rooms with as many nice and interesting people as possible, then Range is most important. Reliability does not matter, provided you can make yourself understood.

But if u wanna get a gud job in amrika or in da UK, then you had better stop using chat room grammar and turn to standard English and give high priority to Reliability. Keep your Reliability at 80% or 90% and only extend your Range when you can do this without Reliability sinking.

This is a personal matter. Only YOU can control this. Your teacher can only assist you by telling you what is right and what is wrong.

Objectives of the SENTENCE ALGORITHM

In the theory of DYLL, the SENTENCE ALGORITHM is also called the Communication Algorithm because it prepares you for communication skills.

The Communication Algorithm has three objectives.

  1. To widen your Range in accordance with your personal needs and abilities, i.e. with what you wish to express and what you are able to express.
  2. To make sure that you know which language elements you have mastered and which you haven't (Know your personal limits).
  3. To ensure that your Reliability remains the same or increases. (Set a target).

From writing to speech

When you are learning a language your *** brain *** is being trained. You are learning to *** think *** correctly. Writing and speaking are only the media through which your thoughts are being expressed. When your informant corrects what you have written or said, he is really correcting and training your thoughts.

Your thoughts can be trained and controlled through writing or through speaking, but writing is the better starting point. Once your thoughts have been trained through writing, it is easy to progress to speaking.

If you practise speaking before writing (especially at intermediate level), you are making your start unnecessarily difficult. In this respect, DYLL quite deliberately opposes the dogma which is fashionable in much of current institutional language teaching. These dogmas are often the result of insufficiently thorough analysis.


Writing is slower than speaking. You have unlimited time to think, to consider and try alternatives, to consult textbooks, grammars, dictionaries and other sources of information. You can change what you have written before showing it to your informant. Only when you have produced the best that you are capable of do you submit it to your informant. This procedure teaches you more and saves your informant time and energy.


The result of your thinking, your text on paper, is permanent. It is easy for your informant to check it and discuss it as long and as thoroughly as necessary. There is never any doubt about what you have written and why.

By contrast, if you discuss with your informant what you have said, after a while you will no longer remember what you have said and why it is being corrected.


You can gradually increase your speed of writing, and you can gradually reduce the number of mistakes. In writing it does not matter how slow you are. You can spend 23 hours on one sentence if you wish.

By contrast, in speech, if you speak too slowly and with too much hesitation (because you are thinking about how to say things correctly), your speech becomes unbearable (and perhaps incomprehensible) to the listener. Even if you talk at a regular speed (without stopping but very slowly), you must not produce fewer than x syllables per minute; otherwise your partner will find it very hard to bear and eventually he may not want to listen to you any more.

There is therefore a lower speed limit for acceptable speech. There is no lower speed limit for acceptable writing.

There is also an upper speed limit for acceptable speech, but that need not concern us here because very fast and perfectly correct speech is not a problem of most language learners. However, if you speak very fast because you want to hide your mistakes, you will become incomprehensible and you will damage your own progress as a learner.

You will also find that, when listening to native speakers, if they are educated that they can reduce their talking speed to suit you. If they are less educated, they are often unable to do that.

There is also an upper speed limit for writing. This limit exists regardless of the speed and correctness of your thoughts. The upper speed limit in writing is the fastest speed at which you can type or the fastest speed at which you can write with a pen.

Your objective in writing with the SENTENCE ALGORITHM is to use the same language elements (words, idioms, constructions) again and again, with topics in which you are interested, until your writing speed (your fluency) has increased to its upper limit. This means also that your thinking speed has increased to this limit.


"Max-writing-speed = min-talking-speed". This means: The fastest physiologically possible writing speed is the same, more or less, as the slowest psychologically acceptable talking speed. When you have reached, through the SENTENCE ALGORITHM, the max-writing-speed, you will be thinking fast and correctly enough to progress smoothly to the min-talking-speed. You will then increase your talking speed through other kinds of exercise.


Using and learning a language is not a skill of your tongue and your hands, but a thinking skill. When you learn a language, your brain is being trained. Your tongue and your hands are merely the instruments through which the performance of your brain becomes observable and can be controlled and adjusted.


Being able to write is usually a necessary, but not a sufficient, condition for being able to speak. What you cannot express in writing, you cannot express in speech either. (I am not thinking of the problems of spelling in this respect. They are comparatively trivial even in difficult languages, like English and French, and different exercises can cope with this task.)

An extreme and striking example of the truth of this assertion are the five tones (including neutral) in Chinese. In Romanised Chinese (pinyin) the tones can be expressed in a standard notation, through bars, accents and hooks on top of the vowel letters.

It may be difficult for the student of Chinese to hear and identify the tones. It may be even more difficult for him to produce the tones, but if he does not know WHICH tone he wants to produce to express a certain word (meaning), he is very unlikely to produce the correct tone. Therefore, strange though it may sound, DYLL's Pen-and-Paper-Algorithm (PAPA) which is used for written language learning is an essential tool for students coming to terms with the Chinese tones.

Secret of success when learning with DYLL

DYLL prescribes well-balanced use of different learning techniques which are suitable for different, precisely defined, purposes. Learning from a chat partner or other language friend may be useful and motivating but is in itself comparatively ineffective. The result of such relationships is often merely "incidental" language learning.

If, however, chat partners and language friends learn the principles of DYLL and utilise them, then such relationships can be extremely useful, sometimes even more efficient than learning in language classes. Similar thoughts apply to some fashionable language teaching as well, where the exact purpose of each operation has not been sufficiently thought through and where the good results can also sometimes be incidental rather than systematic.

DYLL techniques available for different kinds of learner


For beginners:

Primary techniques:

  • Pen-and-Paper-Algorithm
  • mp3-Algorithm

Secondary techniques:



For intermediate students
(i.e. starting with a vocabulary from, say, 850 words upwards,
plus corresponding amount of grammar):

Primary techniques:


Secondary techniques:

  • Pen-and-Paper-Algorithm
  • mp3-Algorithm


For advanced students:


Time plan

Make yourself a time plan. Decide how many hours per week you want to invest in language learning, and when you will do it. If you do not give priority to language learning and give it the same importance that you give to business appointments, you will never find the time, and you will never make much progress.

With DYLL you have the most efficient learning methods at your finger tips. Your talent (or alleged lack of talent) no longer matters. With DYLL ***everybody*** succeeds, regardless of talent. The only thing that matters is:

  • How much time you invest
  • Whether you follow the DYLL instructions to the letter

Therefore, decide in advance:

  • x hours per week, and when
  • How much time you want to invest into each technique:
    • Pen-and-Paper-Algorithm (PAPA)
    • mp3-Algorithm
    • time with informant
    • lessons or classes
    • conversation
    • reading
    • etc


If you are short of time, and even if you aren't, the solo-algorithms (those where you work on your own), i.e. PAPA and mp3-Algorithm and the revisions prescribed by the Retention Algorithm, must be done, in full, before you work with the SENTENCE ALGORITHM.

Learning to SPEAK more correctly

Most language mistakes in speech (apart from pronunciation) can be eliminated by the SENTENCE ALGORITHM applied to written exercises, especially if you follow up the written exercises by speaking about the same topics as often as you can. Use the written SENTENCE ALGORITHM to prepare yourself of conversations.

One method of applying the Sentence Algorithm *** directly *** to spoken language is to record a conversation between yourself and your informant. Then take, say, ten minutes of the resulting recording and analyse it in the same way in which you would analyse your written text. Listen to what you have said. When you informant points out a mistake, write it down. Discuss that mistake as you would discuss a written mistake and apply the SENTENCE ALGORITHM.

I suggested that you record your conversation for 30 or 60 minutes, to give you a chance to relax and get into the full swing of it. At the beginning, you may be self-conscious and inhibited if you know that you are being recorded.

However, you will never be able to analyse 30 or 60 minutes of speech in any reasonable amount of time. It will take far too long. Therefore I recommend that you then take only ten minutes from the middle of that recording and try to spot every mistake in it.