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12 Things I’ve Learnt from Working As an English Language Coach for Built Design Professionals

In episode 29 of Think Big Podcast I summarise 12 of my biggest learnings after spending the last two years coaching Built Design Professionals. I discuss:

✨ My most important learnings with references to particular episodes; and

✨ My plans for season 2 of the podcast I'm taking a short break from the podcast to regroup and gather my thoughts to start writing episodes and my ideas for season 2.

Tara's details:

✨ Connect with me on LinkedIn Tara Cull


Extended Show Notes




to open doors - create opportunities for success to take something one step further - to add something more, to develop a point (in a discussion); to advance.

put yourself out there - doing things you are afraid of

get the message across - send the right message

bridge the gap - reduce differences that separate things or groups

dress something down - make something less formal

bring something to the table - share an idea with a group

food for thought - a thought or an idea to think more thoroughly about

put ideas to paper / put pen to paper - start writing or drawing ideas

Phrasal Verbs

put something together - make something by assembling different parts or people.

get into something - to discuss something

run through something - to look at, examine, or deal with a set of things

come across - meet or find someone or something by chance. catch up with someone - to meet or talk about what has been happening

follow up on (smth) - to try to get more information about (something)


Note: If you find any errors with this transcript please send me an email here.

Tara Cull 0:00

You're listening to think big episode 29.

Tara Cull 0:13

Hello, big thinkers and welcome to episode 29 of Think Big English for architects. I'm your host, Tara Cull Australian language teacher, coach, and landscape architect. And I'm bringing together all these things these interests to help you build more outstanding communication skills. If English is your second, or your third or your fourth language, and you're an architect or landscape architect, or you work in the built environment, then you are definitely in the right place. To find out more about my coaching programs, you can go to And find out more. Today will be the last episode in Season One. And it's been a great chance for me to reflect on the things I've learned in the last two years of my work with Aki English. I still remember the day that I was brainstorming all my ideas for this business, sitting on the kitchen table thinking about what change and impact I wanted to make on the world. And here I am almost 30 episodes into the Think Big podcast. And I've learned so much already. I'm incredibly grateful for the work that I've been able to do over the last two years, I've worked with some amazing and incredible professionals and students, and I'm forever inspired by their talent. So thank you to everyone who's reached out to me, spoken to me, worked with me or just followed along. I'm currently preparing for season two podcast, but I'm going to take a short break. Because I really want to give myself the time to make Season Two even better. But don't worry, I'll be back in September. And I'm going to be putting together a number of episodes, through requests from my students from my clients, and also thinking about some of the things that I've been helping people with over the last two years. But before we get into that, let's get into the episode for today. And the episode, I'm going to tell you the 12 things that I've learned working as a landscape coach for architects and landscape architects, and also people within the built environment as well. So let's start and get into today's episode.

Tara Cull 2:37

Well, the first thing that I've learned, number one is that confidence isn't always about having the perfect grammar and saying things right. It's also about feeling valued, and to be able to share your thoughts and ideas in your own unique way. So when I work with people, I really try to focus on and concentrate on giving them that space to be able to practice what they need to do at work. So for example, to give them the opportunity to run through a meeting, or to present a design concept. And through doing that, by providing that space, we're trying to understand what is the type of language that they might need to use? How can we elevate it and make it even better, not just about learning the structure of the grammar or the structure of the sentences, we're really taking that one step further, because we're using what you already know. We're using your presentations, what you do at work, to really think about how we can make it even better. So for you, confidence isn't always about making sure it's right. It's about providing yourself with those opportunities to be able to build your confidence. So whether or not that's having regular meetings with a mentor, somebody who is your colleague who you can ask for feedback. But the important thing is, is to create that situation, or to seek out opportunities where you can practice using the language that you need to use in your job every day. So this is why I really like to focus on the practicing of the language, giving options, giving ideas, giving sentence stems, and then helping you build from there. So as I said, confidence isn't always about having the perfect grammar. It's about putting yourself out there and

Tara Cull 4:35

being in a safe situation where you can get feedback, and it's going to take you forward. Number two is it's really important to know what you value and what you want out of a job or in your work so you don't just settle for the first thing that you're offered. So very often, many of the people that I've worked with they may be looking for a job for a very long time. Or they may just settle for what is offered to them.

Tara Cull 5:03

But in doing that, sometimes they don't actually know what they really care about in a job. So I think it's really important as a learner of English, but also, as somebody looking for a job in the profession to actually really understand and connect with what it is you care about in a job. Otherwise, you might be going to work every day feeling like it's just not for you. When you know what you care about, then you are going to be able to work in those jobs that are more closely related to what you care about. And I think in Episode Six, when I spoke to James, we talked about cover letters, and we talked about when he does interviews, he really wants to know that the person that he's speaking to, really has an idea of what they care about. So I think that even if English is your second language, if you have done the work to understand this, and to know what you care about, and if what you care about connects to the company that you're applying for, then you really have a stronger connection, and feeling more confident, and the making of mistakes. And the grammar errors don't tend to be as big of a challenge or big of a problem for you. And also Sarah Lebner spoke about in her episode when I spoke to her about how for her the most important thing is that you can write well, and that you show that you have put in the effort to make sure that your writing is correct, and that you've made a good effort to correct it with something like Grammarly. But her speaking is not as important. So while I think that speaking is still important, particularly when you have to present concepts and ideas, I think this idea that if you can use the right tools, and you have done the work beforehand to understand, if you're writing correctly, and you know what you value, then that's more important than being 100% correct all the time.

Tara Cull 7:13

Number three is building presentation skills is important, especially if you want to make a greater impact on your career. And if you want to come across as more assertive, you want to feel more confident when you're presenting your ideas. So I present a lot of different ideas in Episode Seven, eight, and nine. So I did an interview with Steven Rubio and also Saneia Norton. And I also had an episode episode nine where I went over some of my thoughts about what I'd learned through those conversations. And I think these are really valuable episodes, if you want to think about how you might need to build your presentation skills, and the type of language that you might need for presentation skills. So often, when I work with people, some of the things that come up for me are things like the language of cause and effect, or the language of comparison. So if you're thinking about wanting to improve your vocabulary, looking at examples of comparative language, or language for comparison, is really important because you're trying to convince somebody about why one thing is better than the other. So comparative language would be things like, while this concept, while in this concept, we have used this material, in this concept, we've used this material. And you might be talking about why it's better, which one is better, what colours you think, are better, for example, and other things, too. I think it's really important with presentation skills in particular, to think about a very simple structure as to how you're going to present something. So something that I work a lot with people on is to try and get them to say, what is it that you're doing? And why is it important? Because when you tell somebody why it's important and tell them your idea, it helps to make it sound more convincing. So building presentation skills is a really important skill to build, just as in terms of trying to increase your authority as a professional.

Number four, learning phrasal verbs for meetings and knowing how to use signposting language to convince an audience is important. Many people say to me, I don't understand phrasal verbs. I don't like phrasal verbs, I don't like learning them. In episode four, I did an episode about how to learn phrasal verbs and also why they are important. We tend to use a lot of phrasal verbs in business meetings or when we're explaining things. So for example, I need to catch up with you at the end of the day. So you need to have a meeting with somebody, I need to follow up on the work that I'm doing. So we use a lot of phrasal verbs. And the reason phrasal verbs are so important is because they don't always literally mean what they are. So something that I think is important is to also learn them in a situational sense. So we can make long, long, long lists of phrasal verbs, but how are you going to remember that? So, thinking about making it authentic is to think about put yourself in the situation where you're going to use them, and maybe learn three, four or five different phrasal verbs that are going to be useful for that situation. So if I was thinking about a situation, I might say, okay, what are the phrasal verbs I'm going to use in a client presentation, or what are the phrasal verbs I'm going to use when I need to update my boss and tell him what I'm working on or what tell her what I'm working on. Okay, so think about phrasal verbs learning them in a situational sense. So you can listen to episode four, if you want more ideas about how to learn that and also about signposting language. So signposting language I spoke about in presentation skills episodes, so seven, eight and nine. That signposting language for me is something I probably work on the most with people. So signposting language will be things like when you begin a meeting by summarizing exactly what you're going to talk about. So for example, today, I'm going to talk about this, this and this, and then you might go through the presentation and the signposting language will be would be things like, now I'm going to talk about this or Next I would like to address this and signposting language is so important in presentations because it helps to guide your audience through what you're trying to get them to do or what you want to convince them about. And it helps them to stay focused. Something that I think I've learned more recently is the power of using somebody's name. So when we were talking about when I was doing a workshop about inclusive language, something that came up was the power of using somebody's name. And so seeing somebody's name in a meeting could be very, a good way of signposting and also getting them more engaged in what you're talking about. And signposting also helps you as the presenter or the person speaking, to feel like you have some form of structure in your mind about what you need to say. And it also just really focuses the attention on what you're trying to put across to the to the client or the person listening to you. So signposting language is very important. The other thing that kind of comes under signposting language is thinking about structure. So something that I learned this year in terms of giving effective presentations and looking at lots of different features of TED talks, is that they use the power of three very often. So you often see in a TED talk, they'll begin by saying, Today I'm going to talk to you about three really important things. Or they might start by just saying three important things. For whatever reason, our brain likes these, to have three things. They're just simple things that helps us to think about what we're talking about.

Tara Cull 13:55

So another example of signposting language is you might use Episode 19, where I talk about persuasive language.

Number five is practicing the language of comparison and cause and effect. So I talked about that earlier. But I think it's really important to have this as a standalone lesson is that the language of comparison and cause and effect is important, especially if you're presenting concepts to clients or consultants. And you have to make several comparisons. So often, as architects, landscape architects, designers, we have to present different options. And we have to try and convince the client that the option that we prefer is the best solution. And this is also important when it comes to trying to use more persuasive language. So as I said, Episode 19 I speak about what's the sort of language that we need to use when we need to persuade a client and something that I think comes up a lot is trying to use more emotive language. So for example, significant is a really good way of increasing somebody's emotions around something, this is a really significant aspect of the design. And through doing that persuasive language, we also have to think about English in terms of English is a stress timed language. So, compared to other languages syllable time languages, like a lot of Asian languages, Brazilian Portuguese is syllable timed language.

Tara Cull 15:39

We use stress and pause and intonation in English to really get our message across. And this is also this also comes under persuasive language. So when I work with people, and I do shadowing exercises with them, I try to show them different examples of texts and how I might read it compared to how a different language that's more syllable timed, would read it and to get them thinking about how the use of stress and pause and emphasis really helps to convey the message. So if you're at a level of your language learning, you're maybe a high advanced or you're an advanced learner, thinking about how you can engage in audience more, it's really important to think about things like stress and the rhythm of the language. So I would highly recommend thinking about shadowing exercises. So a shadowing exercise would be listening to a native speaker or a highly proficient speaker of English,

Tara Cull 16:51

speak about a topic and trying to repeat what they're saying. And when I say repeat what they're saying, trying to mimic the way that they say something, the rhythm in which they say something, because as, as a somebody listening to presentations a lot, these are the sorts of things that I'm trying to pick up on, when I'm listening to people give their presentations for their concepts.

Tara Cull 17:19

Number six, is understanding cultural differences. And the ways that we communicate is so important. So in Episode Five, I spoke to Vanessa Paisley, about the importance of cultural differences, and understanding cultural differences. And this comes up a lot in many of my sessions in terms of trying to understand diplomatic language, but also trying to understand why certain people might say things in a in a certain way, and maybe why your colleagues might think you're being quite direct, when you're not trying to be direct, you're just trying to get to the point. So trying to understand where you come from, and the tendencies that your culture might have. And also trying to understand the tendencies of the culture that you're living in. And then trying to bridge that gap is really important. And I do this a lot with, with my coaching, when we use the book, the Culture Map, we try to map the culture that you're coming from, and the culture that you're living in. But then also, it's not absolute. So we are not just all the same person, we obviously have different personalities. So it's also interesting to think about, where do you personally sit in relation to the tendencies of your culture. So when I say tendencies, I mean that not everyone is the same way. But there is an overall overarching way that we might communicate in business. So to give you an example, in Australia, we are a very explicit culture. So we mean exactly what we say.

Tara Cull 19:00

And if we compare, say, China or Japan, Japan, a much more higher context, which means there's a lot more reading between the lines, there's a lot more trying to read the air to understand what is happening. And this can be difficult, particularly if you come from a culture where you must read between the lines, and it's higher context.

Tara Cull 19:23

And you go and live in a culture which is much more explicit. So the US and Australia are very explicit. And they say what they mean, essentially, even though there might be some layers or some things that might be difficult to understand, but cultural differences help us to navigate how we communicate in a in a work environment. And what do they really mean? Why are they using diplomatic language? Why are they presenting something in a certain way? And often that cultural difference can come up in things like diplomatic language

Tara Cull 20:00

Ah, but also, it comes up a lot in presentation structure. So in an explicit culture like Australia or the US, we tend to use a lot of signposting language, we tend to structure our presentations in such a way that, we're going to tell you what we're going to say we say what we're going to say. And then we repeat it. Whereas some other cultures tend to use a lot more facts and figures first, and then tell you the main takeaway from the presentation. But I think the important thing is, is to understand that culturally, we, we may have been taught different ways of doing things. And also, another thing that comes up quite often is the way that we deliver feedback. So when you have an understanding of how a culture might have a tendency to give feedback, it helps you to understand how you might adapt and bridge that cultural gap. And to give you an example, for me living in France, France is more direct negative feedback. So they will tell you straight away, if something is they don't like something, or if it's not good. Whereas in Australia, we tend to dress it down a bit. So when I say dress it down, I mean, we reduce the impact, we try to be more polite.

Tara Cull 21:19

Not as polite as people from the UK, but we do try to dress it down a little bit. So when I first arrived in France, that was a big shock to me, in terms of, if they don't like something they will tell you. But having adapted and tried to understand that I now understand why they do that, and why it might be efficient and effective to do that. But it stopped me from feeling like I have to take everything personally. So cultural differences are a very big impact. Number seven, is knowing what vocabulary you need to build isn't just about saying, oh, I need more architectural vocabulary.

Tara Cull 22:01

It has to be deeper than this. It's also about asking yourself, What am I interested in? What do I value? What's going to be useful for me. So there's no point learning more and more and more vocabulary, if you're not going to use it, because architecture is diverse and varied. And we all work in different capacities. You know, even in landscape architecture, we work in different capacities. Some people might work in residential landscape architecture, some people might work in big scale practices.

Tara Cull 22:35

And this comes up a lot. In a lot of my sessions, I want to learn more architecture vocabulary, but we have to ask deeper questions. What do I use English for? What do I use language for? Do you deliver meetings? Do you just observe meetings? So you in there, in that sense, you need to ask more questions? Do you present concepts to clients? Or do you observe those meanings? And in that meeting, you have to ask the questions. So ask yourself those questions in a deeper way. I need to learn architecture vocabulary. But I need to learn how to ask questions. Or I need to learn how to give my opinion, I need to learn how to compare things. So go a little bit deeper than thinking about architectural vocabulary. Or maybe you need to think about the technical vocabulary about something. So in Episode Six, when I spoke to James, we spoke about sustainability. And the way that he runs his practice. And this might be different the type of vocabulary that he might use it he might use, or somebody in his practice might use might be different to the interests, for example that Allah Saba had in Episode 26, when she talked about her work, and her work with BIM. So everyone has different interests and different needs.

Tara Cull 24:05

Number eight, is that diplomatic language is important. And I talked about this in Episode 16, with Simon.

Tara Cull 24:14

And this is a very big topic as well, because it will also depend on the culture that you're living in the culture of your office, and also thinking about how does how do your colleagues use diplomatic language? And what do they and what do they do? So I think it's really important to have those conversations with somebody to get feedback on if the language that you're using is too direct. How can you make it softer? How are people perceiving what you're saying? And so sometimes we have these conversations in my sessions about what is diplomatic language? How does it fit in your culture in, in the culture of your practice or the or your work?

Tara Cull 24:58

Number nine we have diverse interests. And it's important to share to network to reach out to others, join communities share your stories. Can you do things like starting a blog, share your ideas, your portfolio on a blog? Can you join a community to reach out to other people who are like you? In episode with Sarah Lebanon, we spoke about the power of community and how important it is to be able to share with other people, and how sometimes that opens doors. So when I say opens doors, it allows you to work with people within the profession. And you just never know what opportunity might come your way by reaching out to others. By sharing your stories. One of my clients has been writing a blog, and through that blog has been able to connect with a number of different people and share their work. And I'm sure that in the future that this blog is going to help them to create more opportunities for them and create more relationships with people within the industry. And even if English is your second language, you can still do these things to help you progress in your career.

Tara Cull 26:16

Number 10 is developing flexibility. And spontaneous speaking is especially important, because we do more unplanned speaking in the workplace than planned speaking. And I think it's really important to work this muscle, since we do more unplanned speaking in the workplace. So this might be for example, giving yourself the opportunity to talk at length about a subject. So if you're interested in sustainable materials, or if you're interested in the ways that people use software, you need to give yourself the opportunity to speak at length, to ask questions, to answer questions. And this is why I often as a teacher, do community conversation classes or communication classes, where we're looking at very specific topics that may come up in conversation that may came that they might come up in interviews, they might come up in when you're having conversations with your colleagues. And these are to help you flex that muscle of flexibility. And to be able to stay in the moment. And there's a great TED talk or a talk on YouTube by one of my favoUrite podcast hosts.

Tara Cull 27:37

And he talks about developing your spontaneous speaking skills. And he talks about how structure is important. But also being able to develop that living in the moment. Attitude. So I'll put a link to that in the show notes. It's by Matt Abrahams from think, what's his name of his podcast, it's from the Think Smart Talk Fast Podcast.

Tara Cull 28:04

Number 11 Is that mental health of many people, the mental health of many people in architecture really suffers. Because expectations are big, many people work long hours. I don't know what it is about design. But we just feel like we have this need to continue to work. And most clients want things yesterday. So we have, we sometimes put a lot of pressure on ourselves. But I really want you to think about your mental health as somebody who speaks English as a second language, who maybe puts a lot of pressure on yourself to suffer through something.

Tara Cull 28:46

But sometimes it's important to take a break, to really rethink what you need and what's important for you. And there have been times myself when I've really had to do that as well. Even working with Aki English, I have to step back. I want to do as much as I can, as much as I can, but have to look after your mental health as well. And I think it's really important to stay refreshed, to stay interested and motivated to do what you want. And if you need to reach out to somebody reach out to somebody who may have been in a similar situation to tell them that you're struggling, ask them for help. There's always going to be someone there that can help you.

Tara Cull 29:28

Finally, number 12, which I think is the most important for me, the most important lesson that I've learned. Having and sharing your voice is what you really want as a professional as a student. So in annual reviews and meetings and being able to present to clients. If you really want to share your voice and have a platform to speak. You need to figure out how you're going to do that in your way. And this is something that I will encourage many of my clients, you don't have to be like a native speaker, you don't have to be like the person sitting next to you because their experience is different to yours. Yes, sometimes it's not fair that it's much easier for them. But your experience is different. And I want you to think about how your voice is important you bring to the table, you bring many ideas to the table, often very different ideas. Because you, you sit at an intersection, where you've come from a different culture, you've come from a different background, you have these really interesting creative ideas. And you immerse them in a different in a different culture, and you have a different perspective. And I really want you to think about how you can make the most of that different perspective. And how can you use these things to teach other people about something different. So I think I'll leave that with you for food, food for thought. These are some of the most important things that I have learned by doing the podcast. I've also spoken to some amazing people over the season. I've spoken to people who own practices, who work in practices, who also speak English as a second language. And I've really appreciated all the conversations that I've had this season. It was such a great experience for me to do the podcast and to get people to reach out to me, and I'm super excited to share Season Two with you from September. So what is Season Two about? Well, firstly, I'm going to take a break, as I said earlier, from the podcast for a few months, to regather my energy, look after my mental health, and put together some ideas. And over the last few months, I've actually been studying authentic learning. And it's really helped me to see how learning can be more authentic, more practical and useful. And so I really want to put my ideas to paper and put them together. And to help think about some of these scenarios where we might need to use language in different situations. So I've put a list together of different scenarios and ideas that I want to discuss. And I'm going to get some help from some expert ESL teachers, and also content writers to help me make Season Two even better. And I'm also going to reach out to more architects and landscape architects in the field, just to ask them about their practices and their work. And also any advice that they would give to people coming from overseas what what would they say to them, to help them if they were looking for a job in an English speaking country. So I'm really looking forward to sharing Season Two with you in the coming months. Thank you again for listening to all the episodes for your support for your messages and just being a loyal supporter and follower of ArchiEnglish. So I am looking forward to speaking to you very soon, and I will chat to you then.

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Have any questions about anything you've heard in today's episode? Send me an email.

Want to uplevel your communication skills to present your projects with more confidence? Find out more about my 1:1 & coaching programs. Find more examples to help you feel more prepared in our Coaching Guide, Planner and Language Guides.

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