Top 5 Best RNN In NLP Simplified & How To Tutorial In Python With Keras

by | Jan 7, 2023 | artificial intelligence, Machine Learning, Natural Language Processing

Best RNN For NLP: Elman RNNs, Long short-term memory (LSTM) networks, Gated recurrent units (GRUs), Bi-directional RNNs and Transformer networks

What is an RNN?

A recurrent neural network (RNN) is an artificial neural network that works well with data that comes in a certain order. RNNs are useful for tasks like translating languages, recognising speech, and adding captions to images. This is because they can process sequences of inputs and turn them into sequences of outputs. One thing that makes RNNs different is that they have “memory.” This lets them keep data from previous inputs in the current processing step.

To do this, hidden states are used. They are changed at each time step as the input sequence is processed and stored in memory. RNNs can unroll a sequence of inputs over time to show how they dealt with them step by step.


Natural language processing (NLP) tasks like language translation, speech recognition, and text generation frequently use recurrent neural networks (RNNs). They can handle input sequences of different lengths and produce output sequences of various sizes. This makes them great for NLP tasks.

In NLP, RNNs are frequently used in machine translation to process a sequence of words in one language and generate a corresponding series of words in a different language as the output.

Language modelling, which involves predicting the following word in a sequence based on the preceding terms, is another application for RNNs. This can be used, for instance, to create text that appears to have been written by a person.

RNN in NLP is useful because it has memory

One thing that makes RNNs different is that they have “memory”.

One thing that makes RNNs different is that they have “memory”.

RNNs can also classify text by determining whether a passage is positive or negative. Or identifying named entities, such as people, organisations, and places mentioned in a passage.

RNNs can capture the relationships between words in a sequence and use this knowledge to predict the next word in the series. This makes them an effective tool for NLP tasks in general.

Types of RNN used in NLP

Recurrent neural networks (RNNs) can take many different shapes and are often used for natural language processing (NLP) jobs. Here are the most commonly used RNNs.

1. Elman RNNs

An Elman recurrent neural network (RNN) is a simple RNN that bears Jeffrey Elman’s name after the person who created it. It is one of the most basic types of RNNs and is often used as a foundation for more complex RNN architectures.

An Elman RNN processes the input sequence one element at a time and has a single hidden layer. The current input element and the previous hidden state are inputs the hidden layer uses to produce an output and update the hidden state at each time step. As a result, the Elman RNN can retain data from earlier input and use it to process the input at hand.

Elman RNNs are frequently employed for processing sequential data, such as speech and language translation. They are easier to build and train than more complicated RNN architectures like long short-term memory (LSTM) networks and gated recurrent units (GRUs). However, they may not perform as well.

2. Long short-term memory (LSTM) networks

Recurrent neural networks (RNNs) of the type known as long short-term memory (LSTM) networks can recognise long-term dependencies in sequential data. They are beneficial in language translation, speech recognition, and image captioning. The input sequence can be very long, and the elements’ dependencies can extend over numerous time steps.

“Memory cells,” which can store data for a long time, and “gates,” which regulate the information flow into and out of the memory cells, make up LSTM networks. LSTMs are especially good at finding long-term dependencies because they can choose what to remember and what to forget.

Elman RNNs and gated recurrent units (GRUs) are two examples of other RNNs that are typically simpler and easier to train than LSTM networks. However, LSTM networks are generally more powerful and perform better across various tasks.

3. Gated recurrent units (GRUs)

Long short-term memory (LSTM) networks and gated recurrent units (GRUs) are two types of recurrent neural networks (RNNs), but GRUs have fewer parameters and are typically simpler to train.

Like LSTMs, GRUs are effective for speech recognition, image captioning, and language translation because they can identify long-term dependencies in sequential data.

Update gates and reset gates are the two different types of gates found in GRUs. The reset gate decides what information should be forgotten, and the update gate decides what information should be kept from the previous time step. As with LSTMs, this enables GRUs to remember or omit information selectively.

GRUs are an excellent option for many NLP tasks, even though they are typically less effective than LSTMs due to their simplicity and ease of training. Also, they use less energy to run, which can be crucial in places where resources are scarce.

4. Bi-directional RNNs

An RNN that processes the input sequence forward and backwards, allowing the model to capture dependencies in both directions, is known as a bi-directional recurrent neural network (RNN). This is helpful for tasks like language translation and language modelling, where the context of a word can depend on both past and future words.

One RNN processes the input sequence in the forward direction, and the other RNN processes the series in the backward direction, making up a bi-directional RNN. At each time step, the forward and backward RNNs’ outputs are added together, and the resulting sequence is the final output of the model.

Bi-directional RNNs are more complex and potentially more challenging to train than uni-directional RNNs, which only process the input sequence in one direction. However, they are typically more powerful. Therefore, they are generally employed when a word’s context depends on previous and upcoming words.

5. Transformer networks

Transformer neural networks process sequential data using self-attention instead of recurrence, as in conventional recurrent neural networks (RNNs). They have recently become more popular for natural language processing (NLP) tasks and have beaten many benchmarks with the best results available today.

Transformer networks are a stack of self-attention layers for both the encoder and the decoder. First, the encoder processes the input sequence, which creates a fixed-length representation that is then given to the decoder. Next, the decoder uses this representation to produce the output sequence.

Using self-attention, transformers can efficiently process very long sequences by recognising long-term dependencies in the input sequence. As a result, they are a good option for tasks like machine translation and language modelling because they are also very efficient to train and are simple to parallelise.

There is no single “best” type of RNN for all NLP tasks. The best type will depend on the particular task and the resources available (such as computational power and data).

How to implement an RNN in NLP

An overview of how to use a recurrent neural network (RNN) for natural language processing is given below:

  1. Before using the data, you need to tokenise the text; this can be done with stemminglemmatizationword embeddings or sentence embeddings.
  2. Build the model: This entails specifying the RNN’s architecture, including its layer count, the size of its hidden states, and the recurrent unit type (such as an LSTM or GRU).
  3. Train the model: To minimise a loss function, such as cross-entropy loss, the model’s parameters must be optimised while being fed the preprocessed data.
  4. Evaluate the model: This entails evaluating the model’s performance on a held-out test set using metrics like accuracy or perplexity.
  5. Use the model: The model can carry out the desired NLP task, such as text generation or language translation, after being trained and evaluated.

The specifics of how to do this will depend on the task and the library or framework you choose; this is just a general outline. For example, RNNs are often used in NLP, and PyTorch, TensorFlow, and Keras are all popular libraries and frameworks.

An implementation of an RNN in NLP using Keras

Here’s an example of how to use the Python Keras library to set up a simple recurrent neural network (RNN) for natural language processing (NLP):

from keras.preprocessing.text import Tokenizer
from keras.preprocessing.sequence import pad_sequences
from keras.utils import to_categorical
from keras.layers import Embedding, LSTM, Dense, Dropout
from keras.models import Sequential

# Preprocess the data
texts = ['This is the first document', 'This document is the second document', 'And this is the third one', 'Is this the first document?']
max_words = 20000
max_len = 100

# Tokenize the texts
tokenizer = Tokenizer(num_words=max_words)
sequences = tokenizer.texts_to_sequences(texts)

# Pad the sequences to a fixed length
padded_sequences = pad_sequences(sequences, maxlen=max_len)

# Convert the labels to categorical variables
labels = to_categorical([0, 0, 1, 1])

# Build the model
model = Sequential()
model.add(Embedding(max_words, 128, input_length=max_len))
model.add(Dense(2, activation='sigmoid'))

# Compile the model
model.compile(loss='binary_crossentropy', optimizer='adam', metrics=['accuracy'])

# Fit the model, labels, epochs=5, batch_size=32)

This example uses an LSTM layer to create a straightforward binary classification model. First, a list of texts is tokenized and then padded to a predetermined length. This is provided as input to the model.

After that, the labels are changed into categorical variables. The model has an embedding layer, an LSTM layer, a dropout layer, and a dense output layer.

The Adam optimisation algorithm and a binary cross-entropy loss function are used to construct the model. The model is then fitted to the padded sequences and labels for five epochs.

This is just a simple example. You will need more complicated preprocessing and model architectures for more complicated models and tasks. But this should give you a general idea of using Keras to implement an RNN for NLP.


Recurrent neural networks (RNNs) are powerful for natural language processing (NLP) tasks like translating languages, recognising speech, and making text. They can handle input sequences of different lengths and produce output sequences of various sizes. This makes them great for NLP tasks.

NLP tasks often use different RNNs, like Elman RNNs, LSTM networks, gated recurrent units (GRUs), bidirectional RNNs, and transformer networks.

Using a particular RNN type will depend on the specific task and the available resources because each RNN has its strengths and weaknesses. Such as computational power and data.

RNNs are a valuable and popular tool for NLP tasks. They will likely continue to be a big part of how new NLP systems are made.

About the Author

Neri Van Otten

Neri Van Otten

Neri Van Otten is the founder of Spot Intelligence, a machine learning engineer with over 12 years of experience specialising in Natural Language Processing (NLP) and deep learning innovation. Dedicated to making your projects succeed.

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