How to Get Started with Deep Learning for Natural Language Processing (7-Day Mini-Course)

Deep Learning for NLP Crash Course.

Bring Deep Learning methods to Your Text Data project in 7 Days.

We are awash with text, from books, papers, blogs, tweets, news, and increasingly text from spoken utterances.

Working with text is hard as it requires drawing upon knowledge from diverse domains such as linguistics, machine learning, statistical methods, and these days, deep learning.

Deep learning methods are starting to out-compete the classical and statistical methods on some challenging natural language processing problems with singular and simpler models.

In this crash course, you will discover how you can get started and confidently develop deep learning for natural language processing problems using Python in 7 days.

This is a big and important post. You might want to bookmark it.

Let’s get started.

How to Get Started with Deep Learning for Natural Language Processing

How to Get Started with Deep Learning for Natural Language Processing
Photo by Daniel R. Blume, some rights reserved.

Who Is This Crash-Course For?

Before we get started, let’s make sure you are in the right place.

The list below provides some general guidelines as to who this course was designed for.

Don’t panic if you don’t match these points exactly, you might just need to brush up in one area or another to keep up.

You need to know:

  • You need to know your way around basic Python, NumPy and Keras for deep learning.

You do NOT need to know:

  • You do not need to be a math wiz!
  • You do not need to be a deep learning expert!
  • You do not need to be a linguist!

This crash course will take you from a developer that knows a little machine learning to a developer who can bring deep learning methods to your own natural language processing project.

Note: This crash course assumes you have a working Python 2 or 3 SciPy environment with at least NumPy, Pandas, scikit-learn and Keras 2 installed. If you need help with your environment, you can follow the step-by-step tutorial here:

Crash-Course Overview

This crash course is broken down into 7 lessons.

You could complete one lesson per day (recommended) or complete all of the lessons in one day (hardcore). It really depends on the time you have available and your level of enthusiasm.

Below are 7 lessons that will get you started and productive with deep learning for natural language processing in Python:

  1. Lesson 01: Deep Learning and Natural Language
  2. Lesson 02: Cleaning Text Data
  3. Lesson 03: Bag-of-Words Model
  4. Lesson 04: Word Embedding Representation
  5. Lesson 05: Learned Embedding
  6. Lesson 06: Classifying Text
  7. Lesson 07: Movie Review Sentiment Analysis Project

Each lesson could take you 60 seconds or up to 30 minutes. Take your time and complete the lessons at your own pace. Ask questions and even post results in the comments below.

The lessons expect you to go off and find out how to do things. I will give you hints, but part of the point of each lesson is to force you to learn where to go to look for help on and about the deep learning, natural language processing and the best-of-breed tools in Python (hint, I have all of the answers directly on this blog, use the search box).

I do provide more help in the form of links to related posts because I want you to build up some confidence and inertia.

Post your results in the comments, I’ll cheer you on!

Hang in there, don’t give up.

Note: This is just a crash course. For a lot more detail and 30 fleshed out tutorials, see my book on the topic titled “Deep Learning for Natural Language Processing“.

Need help with Deep Learning for Text Data?

Take my free 7-day email crash course now (with sample code).

Click to sign-up and also get a free PDF Ebook version of the course.

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Lesson 01: Deep Learning and Natural Language

In this lesson, you will discover a concise definition for natural language, deep learning and the promise of deep learning for working with text data.

Natural Language Processing

Natural Language Processing, or NLP for short, is broadly defined as the automatic manipulation of natural language, like speech and text, by software.

The study of natural language processing has been around for more than 50 years and grew out of the field of linguistics with the rise of computers.

The problem of understanding text is not solved, and may never be, is primarily because language is messy. There are few rules. And yet we can easily understand each other most of the time.

Deep Learning

Deep Learning is a subfield of machine learning concerned with algorithms inspired by the structure and function of the brain called artificial neural networks.

A property of deep learning is that the performance of these type of model improves by training them with more examples by increasing their depth or representational capacity.

In addition to scalability, another often cited benefit of deep learning models is their ability to perform automatic feature extraction from raw data, also called feature learning.

Promise of Deep Learning for NLP

Deep learning methods are popular for natural language, primarily because they are delivering on their promise.

Some of the first large demonstrations of the power of deep learning were in natural language processing, specifically speech recognition. More recently in machine translation.

The 3 key promises of deep learning for natural language processing are as follows:

  • The Promise of Feature Learning. That is, that deep learning methods can learn the features from natural language required by the model, rather than requiring that the features be specified and extracted by an expert.
  • The Promise of Continued Improvement. That is, that the performance of deep learning in natural language processing is based on real results and that the improvements appear to be continuing and perhaps speeding up.
  • The Promise of End-to-End Models. That is, that large end-to-end deep learning models can be fit on natural language problems offering a more general and better-performing approach.

Natural language processing is not “solved“, but deep learning is required to get you to the state-of-the-art on many challenging problems in the field.

Your Task

For this lesson you must research and list 10 impressive applications of deep learning methods in the field of natural language processing. Bonus points if you can link to a research paper that demonstrates the example.

Post your answer in the comments below. I would love to see what you discover.

More Information

In the next lesson, you will discover how to clean text data so that it is ready for modeling.

Lesson 02: Cleaning Text Data

In this lesson, you will discover how you can load and clean text data so that it is ready for modeling using both manually and with the NLTK Python library.

Text is Messy

You cannot go straight from raw text to fitting a machine learning or deep learning model.

You must clean your text first, which means splitting it into words and normalizing issues such as:

  • Upper and lower case characters.
  • Punctuation within and around words.
  • Numbers such as amounts and dates.
  • Spelling mistakes and regional variations.
  • Unicode characters
  • and much more…

Manual Tokenization

Generally, we refer to the process of turning raw text into something we can model as “tokenization”, where we are left with a list of words or “tokens”.

We can manually develop Python code to clean text, and often this is a good approach given that each text dataset must be tokenized in a unique way.

For example, the snippet of code below will load a text file, split tokens by whitespace and convert each token to lowercase.

You can imagine how this snippet could be extended to handle and normalize Unicode characters, remove punctuation and so on.

NLTK Tokenization

Many of the best practices for tokenizing raw text have been captured and made available in a Python library called the Natural Language Toolkit or NLTK for short.

You can install this library using pip by typing the following on the command line:

After it is installed, you must also install the datasets used by the library, either via a Python script:

or via a command line:

Once installed, you can use the API to tokenize text. For example, the snippet below will load and tokenize an ASCII text file.

There are many tools available in this library and you can further refine the clean tokens using your own manual methods, such as removing punctuation, removing stop words, stemming and much more.

Your Task

Your task is to locate a free classical book on the Project Gutenberg website, download the ASCII version of the book and tokenize the text and save the result to a new file. Bonus points for exploring both manual and NLTK approaches.

Post your code in the comments below. I would love to see what book you choose and how you chose to tokenize it.

More Information

In the next lesson, you will discover the bag-of-words model.

Lesson 03: Bag-of-Words Model

In this lesson, you will discover the bag of words model and how to encode text using this model so that you can train a model using the scikit-learn and Keras Python libraries.


The bag-of-words model is a way of representing text data when modeling text with machine learning algorithms.

The approach is very simple and flexible, and can be used in a myriad of ways for extracting features from documents.

A bag-of-words is a representation of text that describes the occurrence of words within a document.

A vocabulary is chosen, where perhaps some infrequently used words are discarded. A given document of text is then represented using a vector with one position for each word in the vocabulary and a score for each known word that appears (or not) in the document.

It is called a “bag” of words, because any information about the order or structure of words in the document is discarded. The model is only concerned with whether known words occur in the document, not where in the document.

Bag-of-Words with scikit-learn

The scikit-learn Python library for machine learning provides tools for encoding documents for a bag-of-words model.

An instance of the encoder can be created, trained on a corpus of text documents and then used again and again to encode training, test, validation and any new data that needs to be encoded for your model.

There is an encoder to score words based on their count called CountVectorizer, one for using a hash function of each word to reduce the vector length called HashingVectorizer, and a one that uses a score based on word occurrence in the document and the inverse occurrence across all documents called TfidfVectorizer.

The snippet below shows how to train the TfidfVectorizer bag-of-words encoder and use it to encode multiple small text documents.

Bag-of-Words with Keras

The Keras Python library for deep learning also provides tools for encoding text using the bag-of words-model in the Tokenizer class.

As above, the encoder must be trained on source documents and then can be used to encode training data, test data and any other data in the future. The API also has the benefit of performing basic tokenization prior to encoding the words.

The snippet below demonstrates how to train and encode some small text documents using the Keras API and the ‘count’ type scoring of words.

Your Task

Your task in this lesson is to experiment with the scikit-learn and Keras methods for encoding small contrived text documents for the bag-of-words model. Bonus points if you use a small standard text dataset of documents to practice on and perform data cleaning as part of the preparation.

Post your code in the comments below. I would love to see what APIs you explore and demonstrate.

More Information

In the next lesson, you will discover word embeddings.

Lesson 04: Word Embedding Representation

In this lesson, you will discover the word embedding distributed representation and how to develop a word embedding using the Gensim Python library.

Word Embeddings

Word embeddings are a type of word representation that allows words with similar meaning to have a similar representation.

They are a distributed representation for text that is perhaps one of the key breakthroughs for the impressive performance of deep learning methods on challenging natural language processing problems.

Word embedding methods learn a real-valued vector representation for a predefined fixed sized vocabulary from a corpus of text.

Train Word Embeddings

You can train a word embedding distributed representation using the Gensim Python library for topic modeling.

Gensim offers an implementation of the word2vec algorithm, developed at Google for the fast training of word embedding representations from text documents,

You can install Gensim using pip by typing the following on your command line:

The snippet below shows how to define a few contrived sentences and train a word embedding representation in Gensim.

Use Embeddings

Once trained, the embedding can be saved to file to be used as part of another model, such as the front-end of a deep learning model.

You can also plot a projection of the distributed representation of words to get an idea of how the model believes words are related. A common projection technique that you can use is the Principal Component Analysis or PCA, available in scikit-learn.

The snippet below shows how to train a word embedding model and then plot a two-dimensional projection of all words in the vocabulary.

Your Task

Your task in this lesson is to train a word embedding using Gensim on a text document, such as a book from Project Gutenberg. Bonus points if you can generate a plot of common words.

Post your code in the comments below. I would love to see what book you choose and any details of the embedding that you learn.

More Information

In the next lesson, you will discover how a word embedding can be learned as part of a deep learning model.

Lesson 05: Learned Embedding

In this lesson, you will discover how to learn a word embedding distributed representation for words as part of fitting a deep learning model

Embedding Layer

Keras offers an Embedding layer that can be used for neural networks on text data.

It requires that the input data be integer encoded so that each word is represented by a unique integer. This data preparation step can be performed using the Tokenizer API also provided with Keras.

The Embedding layer is initialized with random weights and will learn an embedding for all of the words in the training dataset. You must specify the input_dim which is the size of the vocabulary, the output_dim which is the size of the vector space of the embedding, and optionally the input_length which is the number of words in input sequences.

Or, more concretely, a vocabulary of 200 words, a distributed representation of 32 dimensions and an input length of 50 words.

Embedding with Model

The Embedding layer can be used as the front-end of a deep learning model to provide a rich distributed representation of words, and importantly this representation can be learned as part of training the deep learning model.

For example, the snippet below will define and compile a neural network with an embedding input layer and a dense output layer for a document classification problem.

When the model is trained on examples of padded documents and their associated output label both the network weights and the distributed representation will be tuned to the specific data.

It is also possible to initialize the Embedding layer with pre-trained weights, such as those prepared by Gensim and to configure the layer to not be trainable. This approach can be useful if a very large corpus of text is available to pre-train the word embedding.

Your Task

Your task in this lesson is to design a small document classification problem with 10 documents of one sentence each and associated labels of positive and negative outcomes and to train a network with word embedding on these data. Note that each sentence will need to be padded to the same maximum length prior to training the model using the Keras pad_sequences() function. Bonus points if you load a pre-trained word embedding prepared using Gensim.

Post your code in the comments below. I would love to see what sentences you contrive and the skill of your model.

More Information

In the next lesson, you will discover how to develop deep learning models for classifying text.

Lesson 06: Classifying Text

In this lesson, you will discover the standard deep learning model for classifying text used on problems such as sentiment analysis of text.

Document Classification

Text classification describes a general class of problems such as predicting the sentiment of tweets and movie reviews, as well as classifying email as spam or not.

It is an important area of natural language processing and a great place to get started using deep learning techniques on text data.

Deep learning methods are proving very good at text classification, achieving state-of-the-art results on a suite of standard academic benchmark problems.

Embeddings + CNN

The modus operandi for text classification involves the use of a word embedding for representing words and a Convolutional Neural Network or CNN for learning how to discriminate documents on classification problems.

The architecture is comprised of three key pieces:

  • Word Embedding Model: A distributed representation of words where different words that have a similar meaning (based on their usage) also have a similar representation.
  • Convolutional Model: A feature extraction model that learns to extract salient features from documents represented using a word embedding.
  • Fully-Connected Model: The interpretation of extracted features in terms of a predictive output.

This type of model can be defined in the Keras Python deep learning library. The snippet below shows an example of a deep learning model for classifying text documents as one of two classes.

Your Task

Your task in this lesson is to research the use of the Embeddings + CNN combination of deep learning methods for text classification and report on examples or best practices for configuring this model, such as the number of layers, kernel size, vocabulary size and so on.

Bonus points if you can find and describe the variation that supports n-gram or multiple groups of words as input by varying the kernel size.

Post your findings in the comments below. I would love to see what you discover.

More Information

In the next lesson, you will discover how to work through a sentiment analysis prediction problem.

Lesson 07: Movie Review Sentiment Analysis Project

In this lesson, you will discover how to prepare text data, develop and evaluate a deep learning model to predict the sentiment of movie reviews.

I want you to tie together everything you have learned in this crash course and work through a real-world problem end-to-end.

Movie Review Dataset

The Movie Review Dataset is a collection of movie reviews retrieved from the website in the early 2000s by Bo Pang and Lillian Lee. The reviews were collected and made available as part of their research on natural language processing.

You can download the dataset from here:

From this dataset you will develop a sentiment analysis deep learning model to predict whether a given movie review is positive or negative.

Your Task

Your task in this lesson is to develop and evaluate a deep learning model on the movie review dataset:

  1. Download and inspect the dataset.
  2. Clean and tokenize the text and save the results to a new file.
  3. Split the clean data into train and test datasets.
  4. Develop an Embedding + CNN model on the training dataset.
  5. Evaluate the model on the test dataset.

Bonus points if you can demonstrate your model by making a prediction on a new movie review, contrived or real. Extra bonus points if you can compare your model to a neural bag-of-words model.

Post your code and model skill in the comments below. I would love to see what you can come up with. Simpler models are preferred, but also try going really deep and see what happens.

More Information

The End!
(Look How Far You Have Come)

You made it. Well done!

Take a moment and look back at how far you have come.

You discovered:

  • What natural language processing is and the promise and impact that deep learning is having on the field.
  • How to clean and tokenize raw text data manually and use NLTK to make it ready for modeling.
  • How to encode text using the bag-of-words model with the scikit-learn and Keras libraries.
  • How to train a word embedding distributed representation of words using the Gensim library.
  • How to learn a word embedding distributed representation as a part of fitting a deep learning model.
  • How to use word embeddings with convolutional neural networks for text classification problems.
  • How to work through a real-world sentiment analysis problem end-to-end using deep learning methods.

This is just the beginning of your journey with deep learning for natural language processing. Keep practicing and developing your skills.

Take the next step and check out my book on deep learning for NLP.


How Did You Go With The Mini-Course?
Did you enjoy this crash course?

Do you have any questions? Were there any sticking points?
Let me know. Leave a comment below.

Develop Deep Learning models for Text Data Today!

Deep Learning for Natural Language Processing

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…with just a few lines of python code

Discover how in my new Ebook:
Deep Learning for Natural Language Processing

It provides self-study tutorials on topics like:
Bag-of-Words, Word Embedding, Language Models, Caption Generation, Text Translation and much more…

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21 Responses to How to Get Started with Deep Learning for Natural Language Processing (7-Day Mini-Course)

  1. PoCheng.Lin November 7, 2017 at 2:02 pm #

    Hi, thanks for the useful blog.

    Here’s 10 impressive NLP applications using deep learning methods:

    1. Machine translation
    Learning phrase representations using RNN encoder-decoder for statistical machine translation

    2. Sentiment analysis
    Aspect specific sentiment analysis using hierarchical deep learning

    3. Text classification
    Recurrent Convolutional Neural Networks for Text Classification.

    4. Named Entity Recognition
    Neural architectures for named entity recognition

    5. Reading comprehension
    Squad: 100,000+ questions for machine comprehension of text

    6. Word segmentation
    Deep Learning for Chinese Word Segmentation and POS Tagging.

    7. Part-of-speech tagging
    End-to-end sequence labeling via bi-directional lstm-cnns-crf

    8. Intent detection
    Query Intent Detection using Convolutional Neural Networks

    9. Spam detection
    Twitter spam detection based on deep learning

    10. Summarization
    Abstractive sentence summarization with attentive recurrent neural networks

  2. UNNI KRISHNAN R November 8, 2017 at 2:16 am #

    Hello sir,
    Im new to NLP,MachineLearning and other AI stuffs. I know this will be helpful to me. I always used to tweet your articles. Good work sir. And i will try my level best to update you my learning, since im running a business too, i may get a lil busy :). Thanks a ton for tutorial anyway.

  3. Danh November 9, 2017 at 6:53 pm #

    Before I get some rest, here is one interesting article I found as an example of NLP
    Perhaps the biggest reason why I want to learn it: to train a network to detect fake news.

  4. Aman Garg November 9, 2017 at 11:43 pm #

    Hello Jason,

    Are you soon going to publish a book for NLP?

    I am really looking forward to it

  5. Abkul November 10, 2017 at 4:28 pm #

    Hello Jason,

    As always thanks for your great, inspiring and distilled tutorial.i have bought almost all your books and looking forward to dive into new NLP book.

    I want do machine translation from English to a rare language with scanty written resources so that native speaker can get spoken or written contents from Internet.

    kindly advice or do a tutorial on specific approach in your future blogs.

    • Jason Brownlee November 11, 2017 at 9:17 am #

      I hope to have many tutorials on NMT.

      I would recommend getting as many paired examples as you can and consider augmentation methods to reuse the pairs that you do have while training the model.

  6. Danh November 10, 2017 at 5:54 pm #

    Here is the code used to tokenize ‘A Little Journey’ by Ray Bradbury. Ray Bradbury is one of my top favorite classic sci-fi authors. Unfortunately, Project Gutenberg didn’t have any Orwell so I went with him. I’m using the most basic way to tokenize but I will add onto it some more. Included in the repository is the text file containing the tokenized text.

    • Jason Brownlee November 11, 2017 at 9:18 am #

      Very cool Danh, thanks for sharing!

      Well done for taking action, it is one of the biggest differences between those who succeed and those that don’t!

  7. Ravi Bodkai November 13, 2017 at 1:09 am #

    Thank you very much Jason. This is quite concise and crisp. Would like to hear more

  8. Gilles November 30, 2017 at 9:43 am #

    Hello everyone

    Here’s 30 impressive NLP applications using deep learning methods:

    It is a map with links. Download this and open this on XMind.

  9. Kyle December 18, 2017 at 3:24 pm #

    Hey Jason. Just wanted to say thanks for the great tutorial. This provided the inspiration and help to actually complete an actual, working machine learning project. Granted, my model could use some improvement. But I was actually able to walk through the above steps to create and evaluate a model and then actually use it to make predictions on an unseen piece of data that was not used to train or test. Now, I want to go and try to get it even more accurate! Thanks again and keep up the great work!

  10. Hussain January 21, 2018 at 10:46 pm #

    Hi Jason,
    Here’s the code that I’m trying to implement for this entire tutorial . I’ve finished till theTokenisation Task for . A Tale of Two cities by charles dickens which is also one of my favourite books :


  11. Arjun January 23, 2018 at 2:16 pm #

    Hi Jason,

    Thank you for this wonderful tutorial, it was really helpful. I learnt a lot by following your tutorials and additional information which you have provided.
    In lesson 2 – I was able to see the difference between manual and NLTK approaches. There weer lot of tokens in NLTK approach. In manual approach the symbols are considered as a part of the word preceding it. This was my analysis.
    In lesson 3- I used different versions of the betty botter tounge twister and was able to clean up the data. It was easy to implement since I followed the steps you provided.
    In lesson 4- I did word embedding on A Little Journey, by Ray Bradbury from project Gutenberg and I was able to plot common words. I had to zoom in on the graph to see the words since they were all bit congested.
    In lesson 5 – I implemented the task similar to your code, used ten docs on my own providing the labels . I didn’t face any troubles in doing that.
    In lesson 6- I was able to achieve accuracy of 85 pc! I guess i did a mistake somewhere and I am looking to fix it.
    Lesson 7- I am still working on it. I am done with the clean up part. The next step would be implementing Deep learning model.

    I will share my learning once I am completely done. Thanks a lot for clear and concise material. It was indeed a great pleasure in reading and implementing your tutorials.


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