Want to work as an architect in an English-speaking environment? If so, there’s a great deal of highly specific vocabulary you’ll need to learn and master if you want to be successful.
As you might already know if you’re already training or working in the field, architecture seems to have a language of its own which some architects even define as downright ‘weird’.
However, despite what you might have heard, this isn’t just to sound clever or to confuse their architecture and design clients! It’s because architects and landscape architects need to refer to very specific design concepts and ideas. In some circumstances, the language we use can form part of a contract, such as in specifications and dealings with builders and contractors so it can be absolutely essential to get it right.
Learning this key vocabulary is essential if you want to succeed in the English speaking architectural world. It will help you communicate with other architects, advance in your career and also be taken more seriously by others in the industry.
If you’ve already trained in architecture in your mother tongue (or a language that isn’t English), you should already be familiar with many of these words. Learning this key English architecture vocabulary should be more straightforward as you can simply learn the English equivalents for what you already know.
However, if you’re starting your architecture or design from scratch, you’ll need to learn both the concept and the English vocabulary item. This may sound complicated, but by following a few of my language learning tips, this can be relatively pain-free.
Here are a few tips on how you can learn and master this specific vocabulary for success in the industry.
English architecture vocabulary for clients vs colleagues
As I’ve just mentioned, you’ll need to understand and use key architecture vocabulary if you want to succeed in your design career. But before I go any further, I need to mention a very important point: there’s a big difference in the language you use with your colleagues in architecture compared with what you should use with your clients.
Much of the time, when an architect attempts to explain their design concept, ideas or changes to the project with their client, they’re met with a blank look. Or the client appears to understand when in fact they don’t- they’re simply too embarrassed to ask for clarification because they believe they should understand.
Clear communication and architect-client relationships are vital to success in the design world. This is why it’s important to adjust your language according to who you’re talking to and the context.
If you’re speaking to your colleague, you can use specific architectural language to communicate your ideas. But if you’re speaking to a client, you’ll need to make adjustments. For example, speak more slowly, check that they understand and use a simpler word whenever possible, even when it comes to terms such as 3D models, concept drawings and CAD. If you’re struggling, think back to when you first started learning English, imagine explaining the concept to your former self and use this word instead.
How to learn key English architecture vocabulary
With all of this in mind, how do you get started learning that specific English architecture vocabulary? How can you identify what you need? And most importantly, how can you make sure you remember what you’ve learned? Here are a few tips.
1. Avoid long lists of vocabulary
Many self-motivated learners of English look for lists of vocabulary items that they can use to make flashcards and then memorise them. Whilst this approach can work, it can feel boring and before long, you’re dreading working on your vocabulary. At the beginning, you may feel like you’re learning quickly, but unless you’re using effective memory techniques and using the words often, they’ll often fade from your memory. There are better ways! We need to attach the meanings to concrete examples and in the real context.
2. Get lots of input
By far, the most effective way to learn English architecture vocabulary is by exposing yourself to lots of architecture materials in English. Subscribe to architecture and design podcasts, read architecture books and blogs, watch YouTube videos about architecture and then enjoy them. Because you’ll be coming across the words in context, you’re more likely to remember them when you need to use them. For best results, use an active listening approach and note key vocabulary items as you come across them that you can go away and learn.
3. Use flashcards
When used correctly, flashcards can be a great way to learn new vocabulary. You can buy a pack of index cards and write the English architecture vocabulary item on one side with a definition on the other or use one of the brilliant apps such as Anki and Quizlet. When you learn with flashcards, aim to use images instead of your native language wherever possible. To help improve how much you remember, you should also translate from your native language into English.
4. Be specific!
There’s a huge amount of architecture vocabulary you will need to learn, so it can help to categorise into topics. Depending on your level and your needs, this might include:
Types of building
Expressions for explaining the design
Parts of buildings and particular types of them (“thatched roof”, “partition wall” etc)
Building and decorating materials
Stages of the process of finishing a building
Verbs relating to what architects do (e.g. “estimate” and “model”)
Things they use in their job
Things other related people use and do, e.g. “lay foundations” and “estimate”
Vocabulary connected to rules and regulations
Colours, shapes, fittings and decorations
Positive and negative adjectives to describe buildings and people’s reactions to them
Actions that people do in buildings
Finance related to buildings (e.g. “mortgage,” “rent” and "budget")
Architectural styles and trends (“postmodern” etc)
5. Use Reverso Context
Another excellent way to boost your architecture vocabulary knowledge is to use the clever Reverso Context tool. You can use it to translate texts and provide clear definitions of vocabulary items with examples of their use in context, guidance on pronunciation, phrasal verbs and even synonyms. If you join up (for free), it even keeps track of what you’ve been learning.
One of my favourite things about Reverso is that fact you can also use it to translate subtitles on YouTube videos, Netflix, Amazon Prime and TED Talks automatically when you have added the Google Chrome extension. I’ve made a short video on how you can use it- watch here.
If you want to enjoy a successful career in architecture in an English-speaking environment, you must learn these key vocabulary items. They will help you communicate more effectively with your colleagues, express your design ideas more clearly and help you reach your career goals.
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