Updated: Jul 30, 2021
Landscape architecture has a language of its own. Not only do we have a language around public and private spaces and how we use them, but we also have several things to learn when it comes to materials, plants, horticulture, conservation and the environment.
The vocabulary we use daily can range from different planting typologies, types of spaces --- playspaces, passive recreation spaces, transitional spaces, recreation spaces, and not to mention different materials and furniture types. When you know all these words and expressions in your own language, it's frustrating to learn them all again. So how can you do it quicker? The quick answer is exposure in the right context.
In this blog post, we will look at ways to improve your English skills as a landscape architect, starting with an intermediate level up to advanced levels of grammar and vocabulary. There are also some suggested books and resources at the end.
Landscape architects are often required to communicate with clients, contractors, and other professionals to convey their ideas clearly and concisely through images and words. If you want to be a successful landscape architect and English is your second language, it's important to understand how you can use the language to help you connect with those you work with more easily.
Here are my top 7 tips for improving your English in an interesting way in context.
Tip #1 - Brainstorm Ideas around what you think is important when it comes to public spaces and design
How do you define public spaces?
What are the characteristics of good public spaces?
What types of spaces do we find within public spaces? E.g. Playspaces, recreational spaces etc
What do you believe are good examples of good public spaces and why?
What are some potential problems and challenges you might come across in public spaces?
What would you do if you had to make changes to public spaces near you?
Spend some time writing down some of the answers to these questions in a journal.
A good place to explore this in more detail is to examine the work of Jan Gehl and the 12 Quality Criteria. It is a tool for researching how their users experience public spaces. More specifically, it's used to evaluate whether different public space features are protective, comfortable and enjoyable.
Knowing a little more about this helps you also understand what you value as a designer, helping you articulate your ideas more clearly. Other Resources - Jan Gehl
Jan Gehl is also someone who you should know if you don't already. I once saw him speak in Melbourne, and I knew he would be an important part of defining my values for the rest of my career.
Cities For People, Jan Gehl
Videos: How to Build a Good City Jan Gehl
Tip # 2 Watch various videos and listen to podcasts made by landscape architects and architects
Watching these videos and reflecting on the material in the content gives you a reason to express your ideas in response to what you see. Here are a few of my favourites:
Walter Hood - Landscape Architect
Kotchakorn Voraakhom - Landscape Architect
You'll find a list of my recommended podcasts here.
Tip 3 - Keep different Journal's for different vocabulary things
As a learner of English, you're more than likely learning new things each day. I suggest keeping a journal different things:
1. New vocabulary related to conducting and participating in meetings, such as questions and expressions for communicating with clients and colleagues. You can find my example of 32 questions here.
2. Technical vocabulary - where you can sketch examples and include details, terminology and material images. Diagrams are something you will be used to creating, so use the techniques you've used so that you can remember important vocabulary.
3. Plant journal - where you can keep the names of plants and expand your journal to more than just. the standard palette of plants. I suggest making different sections for different planting typologies: deciduous trees, evergreen trees, shade planting, screen planting, accent planting, grasses/tufting plants, groundcover, climbers, wetland planting, rain garden planting, drought tolerant planting, native planting
Tip #4 - Regularly check online publications such as Arch Daily, World Landscape Architecture, Dezeen, Land8
Stay current with design projects and publications in your region or an area of interest that might not be near where you live. This will give you new perspectives on the types of materials, plants, soils, construction methods and issues within the industry.
What are some of your favourite publications to follow?
Do you have any online favourites for the best designs in your region or an area that interests you? What do they cover or showcase?
List them out or create a library of links. Notion is a great tool to be able to do this online. I have been using a mix of Pinterest and Notion now to save links for images and materials and precedent images.
I like to do a task with many of my clients to find a small paragraph from a landscape architect or architects website or an online journal, and we try to find interesting verbs, adjectives, expressions, and jargon. Regularly doing this allows you to build your vocabulary while also keeping up to date with projects in the industry. It's also a good way to help you define what you value as a designer.
Tip #5 - What would you do...
Something I believe is important is to continually practice speaking about what you would do if this was your project. Putting yourself in a client's shoes or imagining that a particular park or open space in your project helps you articulate your ideas around how you might approach a design.
You could also do this for new designs you find in online publications. Ask yourself these questions:
What would you do differently?
What materials do you consider to be good choices or bad choices?
You could also create a materials palette or mood board with materials that interest you or have been used innovatively. Use this as a reference for explaining your choices and the positives and negatives.
Tip #6 - Practice explaining your designs as though you're explaining them to your grandma
Simplifying your language makes it easier for you to build your confidence, but it can also reduce misunderstandings.
When we think we need to use big words, we can overcomplicate the structure, and then get jumbled and forget what we need to say. When you stop doubting yourself and start believing your goal is to explain as simply as possible, it stops you from feeling overwhelmed by the need to be the most intelligent, rather the most clearly understood.
Instead, try explaining it to someone who has no background or prior knowledge. This doesn't mean you have to leave out powerful verbs and adjectives altogether, but keep the structure of your sentences simple and build to more complex when you feel more confident.
Tip 7 - Explore your ideas about other topics closely related to landscape architecture
Landscape architecture and architecture are multidisciplinary and transverse many disciplines. It's important to explore other topics and how they relate:
Climate change and the impact on urban development
Playspaces and Education
Urban Farming and Agriculture
Innovation in Software, Visualisation and AI tools
BIM software and 3D modelling
Art, Public Art, Street Art and Landart and how they relate Tip #8 Bonus - Give Pecha Kucha a go
A Pecha Kucha style presentation is a 20x20 presentation format where you show 20 chosen images, each for only 20 seconds. In other words, you've got 400 seconds to tell your story, and the visuals guide the way. PechaKucha means "chit chat" in Japanese, and it was invented in Tokyo in 2003 by two renowned architects. You'll find plenty of example presentations on the Pecha Kucha website.
Why is this a good way to improve your English? It's a good way to practice being concise with your words and making a powerful impact with your images and spoken words.
Some More Useful Resources:
6 Books for Landscape Architects:
Design with Nature, Ian McHarg.
Landscape graphics, Grant Reid
Drawing for Landscape Architecture: Sketch to Screen to Site, Edward Hutchinson
30:30 Landscape Architecture, Phaidon
The Big Asian Book of Landscape Architecture, Heike Rahmann and Jillian Wallis
Elements of Visual Design in the Landscape, Simon Bell
International Federation of Landscape Architects Final words
Improving your English doesn't have to be about studying things that are not relevant to you or so general that they don't really help you improve in the contexts where you really need to impact. I'd love to hear from you if you're a landscape architect who speaks English as a second language and you've been trying to uplevel your English. What has worked for you?