Technical English, or more precisely English for technical purposes is part of an ever-growing sector of English Language Teaching (ELT) referred to as ESP (English for Specific Purposes) which caters for every specific language need a learner may have ranging from 'English for Customer Care' to 'English for Rocket Science'. It is in a constant state of change. New technologies, scientific advances and breakthroughs constantly demand the use of new vocabulary.

Engineering professionals, in a word - specialists, use their own language that is usually totally unintelligible to lay people. In order to speak with your overseas colleagues, clients or business partners effectively you need a wide range of highly specialist vocabulary. What does it mean to use specialist vocabulary? It means to know

  • how to spell words you use, e.g. urea formaldehyde , aluminium (BrE) / aluminum (UsE), brittle ;
  • how to pronounce them, e.g. composite , turbine , gauge , durable ; envisage and anchorage rhyme but fuselage is different and rhymes with garage . To be precise 'garage' may end with the same sound as both 'envisage'/'anchorage' but also as 'fuselage'. Pronunciation in technical contexts is crucial for intelligibility. For example 'wear and tear' [=der Verschleiß] does not rhyme with, say, 'fear' or 'mere' but with 'pair' or 'pear' . Pi , in turn, is pronounced like the word 'pie' and not like 'pee'. Talking about angles, do not pronounce the word employing the sound as in ' gentleman ' because the result - 'angels' [= die 'Engel'] - would be totally incorrect.
  • what's the difference (if any) between BrE and UsE, e.g. anticlockwise / counterclockwise , polystyrene / styrofoam , flat / dead (of batteries), respectively, or even such a curiosity: trapezium (BrE) = trapezoid (UsE), but trapezoid (BrE) = trapezium (UsE);
  • which words they collocate with, e.g. [verb + a screw] to turn a screw clockwise / to tighten a screw ; to turn a screw anticlockwise / to loosen or slacken a screw , [adjective + a process] complex , arduous , painstaking , laborious , time-consuming , lengthy , natural process ;
  • which words are 'safe', i.e. can be used in neutral situations when communicating expertise to the general public, and which ones are highly field-specific understood only by specialists in a given field.

Although a great number of technical words coincide with those used in other languages because they are derived from Latin or Greek, their pronunciation and spelling, however, have been altered over the years in a process of Anglicization.

Nowhere else is precision of language so crucial as in technical contexts. This is where little things, let alone errors, cannot slip through. This is also where hard facts rule the roost. At face value, however, language may not always look logical, hence it requires all the more constant work on the part of the learner. Consider the following:

A carpenter , for instance, has nothing to do with cars or catamaran with cats. A set square is far from being square-shaped [a set square ( BrE ) = a triangle ( UsE )], exhibitor is not a former hibitor because there is no such word, nor is excess a former cess . Similarly, resign has nothing to do with signing again (this is spelt with a hyphen: re-sign ), though the act often requires your signature. Similarly dismantle [take apart] is not the opposite of 'mantle' but of 'assemble' [put together], or re-record is not the doubling of cord but a new act of recording; asterisk has nothing to do with a risk; ingenius is not the negative of 'genius' , similarly inflammable is not the opposite of 'flammable' but its synonym; hydrologists don't deal with terrain , nor do parents have anything to do with transparent or, jokingly, does tripod have anything to do with ipod . Textile has nothing to do either with a text or with a tile . Electricity is not something you can find exclusively in a city. And if hungry you won't find a trace of 'ham' when you feel like a hamburger. A ton is not the same as a tonne . Furthemore a ton is one thing in the USA and still another in the UK. You will get more in the US if you ask for a gallon, than if you ask for the same in the UK. The rule of thumb is:

| Never forget that the devil is in the detail. |

Using technical language we are involved in a number of activities from presenting how things work, through demonstrating charts, diagrams or other visuals, drafting instructions, describing processes, explaining specifications, clarifying minutiae, troubleshooting defects or extracting information. We do it by means of a whole plethora of sector-specific vocabulary, phrases or abbreviations, using a mixture which constitutes its technical jargon. Unlike general English, or even business English which employ tact, subtleties, interferences and emotions, technical English is straightforward, brief, and very precise. The world of science and technology must be described with utmost precision and accuracy. Human language, however, is not as precise as mathematical language. That is why tackling anything technical in a foreign language is twice or more as difficult as dealing with language for non-technical purposes. As a technical specialist you should know, among others, the basic technical concepts such as fulcrum, leverage, friction, pivot, lubrication, alloy, pulley and so on; how to read mathematical formulae, pronounce the names of chemical elements or the letters of the Greek alphabet, know the words which describe properties of materials, names of tools, geometrical shapes (in their noun and adjectival forms), describe a device or a process. You should know how to read both cardinal and ordinal numbers as well as you do in your own tongue. You should easily distinguish between words and expressions like the circle, vicious circle, and to square the circle . You should know the names for ways of joining materials, e.g. to weld, to solder, to braze etc. You should know how to describe technical drawings, charts or figures that allow data to be presented easily in visual form. See, for example, the language of DESCRIBING TRENDS . Furthermore, you should know how to describe situations when things go wrong, e.g. dented bumper, crushed box , worn belt and so on. All this must be done in a way that sequences actions by using sequencing language ( first, after that, next, at the final stage and the like). It goes without saying that you should be at ease with the grammar and you will need to use the passive voice, the effect/cause relation or, for example, know why we say 'to go on foot' but
'a pump operated by foot '.

So if you are at the intermediate level (B1) or post-intermediate level (B2+) and are interested in getting acquainted with the world of technical English and the field you specialize in, do not hesitate to CONTACT me for further details. For the list of professional fields I have been involved in please see MY PROFILE . As technical communicators you will improve not only your oral and writing skills in technical contexts but will be familiar with the English technical terms used in your field. You will learn how to write technical documents, give technical presentations or get involved in purposeful communicative activities. Furthermore, you will acquire a large vocabulary which will allow you to describe shapes, colours, compositions, textures, and configurations of technical devices or the roles, meanings, purposes and results of various processes.