• Tara Cull

How to build technical vocabulary

Updated: Sep 23

Want to improve your technical vocabulary, but you don't know where to start?

Firstly, it's hard to point out precisely the vocabulary YOU need because everyone is different.

The thing is, everyone is different and you need to find ways that work for you.

Some people need external accountability to be motivated. If this is you, you need someone to encourage and check-in with you. Some people are motivated internally and externally so will do things they decide as well as listen to others. Some people will question the validity of the advice they are given and need more information ( this is why I base a lot of my advice on research studies and lots and lots of research). Others will just be a rebel and do things differently and that’s ok as long as it works for you. The ideas about motivation come from the work of Gretchin Rubin and her work around the 4 tendencies.

It can help tremendously to know how you're motivated to know which strategies will help you take action especially when it comes to knowing how to build your vocabulary.

Generally, what I do with my students is we read articles or watch short videos together, and we discuss the types of situations they find themselves in at work. We can discuss the technical vocabulary needed for each of those situations.

Learning technical vocabulary requires focused attention, more reading and keeping a notebook handy at all times. Here are my top 5 tips for improving your professional vocabulary.

1. Keep a notebook at your desk or an app on your phone

Always note down the words your hear or you come across when you're reading that you're not sure you understand. This is the best way to make yourself aware of the things you need to improve. Use this notebook or app to discuss the words you come across with your mentor.

I've made videos you can see about how to improve your technical vocabulary by using tools like Reverso Context and ReadLang to build your vocabulary lists based on reading articles on the internet or even PDF documents.

There is also a great site which has premade lists for Architecture and Landscape Architecture where you can practice the vocabulary you need to revise. Some features are paid but others are free. It will automatically set up practice questions for you based on these premade lists or lists you have made yourself. The great thing about it is all you need to do is type in the words you need and then it will automatically find the definition for you.

Here are some examples for you:

Landscape Architecture List

Architecture List

2. Read more

Reading will enrich your vocabulary. Studies show time and time again that people who read have a more extensive vocabulary than people who don't. Makes sense! I cannot stress this enough. Many people say to me they want to improve their technical vocabulary, but they just don't read.

I know what you're thinking - I don't have time! But would you make time if it meant your job would take less time and be less stressful? Probably!

Reading doesn't need to be novels. Short articles are perfect, but the import thing is to keep a record in your notebook of the new vocabulary you learn and try to make it a habit to use it more often.

Let's say for example you're working on a particular feature in a house or you're using specific detailing in paving design. You need to find a few articles related to this specific detailing and write down the vocabulary you learn.

3. Listen to or watch more industry-specific podcasts or YouTube videos.

I really cannot stress this point enough. I see students make huge progress with building their vocabulary when the material they watch and use for learning is relevant to their purpose for learning English.

I have made an enormous list of podcast episodes on my website here. Watching the YouTube channel of Grand Designs is an excellent way to improve technical vocabulary because they are always talking about the technical aspects of the building design, but it's done in such a way that makes it easy to understand plus you can put the subtitles and use Reverso context to translate the subtitles. Watch my video about Reverso Context here.

Again - you need to make a note of the vocabulary you learn in your vocabulary diary or using the apps you find the most useful.

4. Practice talking about a design or presenting your ideas to someone

Get the person listening to you to take note of the vocabulary you might be missing or could upgrade. I talk about how you can get people to help you with your English in this video.

For example with my students at the end of presentations, I always try to point out specific words they may have used, and we look at synonyms or different ways of explaining something in a more advanced and natural way.

5. A few book recommendations for you:

101 Things I Didn't Learn in Architecture School

Although the first edition of this book is set in the Australian context, if you're working in an English speaking office or you need to communicate in English, this is a good starting point to help you build your vocabulary. It's concise and well set out and organised. Sarah includes things such as vocabulary and terms, the ways a practice works, managing clients expectations and many more useful things.

The Oxford Dictionary of Architecture and Landscape Architecture 2nd or 3rd Edition.

This dictionary is explicitly made for Architects and Landscape Architects. It's a convenient reference book to have on hand for those times you need to look something up and leave a post-it note inside.

6. Sign up to my vocabulary email to get my vocabulary in your inbox every fortnight

For more information about building vocabulary why not signup to one of ArchiEnglish's free vocabulary builders.

7. How can I help you to improve your technical vocabulary?

I believe wholeheartedly in personalised learning. That's why I think the best way to help you improve is a 1:1 coaching program if you're dedicated to making the difference. It's much more effective to have the help of someone who can give you specific and personalised feedback to help you improve quicker. The greatest benefit of the program is you won't have the pressure of having to perform in front of colleagues and your boss.

With me, you will:

Practice speaking about real designs and projects, and I'll give you feedback on the ways you use the language but also how much of your message is coming across.

You will answer questions about designs and projects to give you practice thinking on your feet

Read articles, listen to podcasts or watch videos you're interested in watching

Record the vocabulary in a journal, and we will discuss some of your questions

Contact me if you want to learn more about my coaching programs. You can also do my free 5 lesson vocabulary builder, which gives you some practical advice for you to start building your vocabulary.

Happy vocabulary building and don't forget its a marathon, not a sprint!


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Here you can find information about teaching English for architects, landscape architects and designers. 

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