How To Teach English For Architects

By Alex Case
A summary of issues and solutions for an area that there is little specific material for.

English for architects is perhaps the most neglected kind of ESP (English for Specific Purposes). Architects need English for all kinds of reasons, and your first job as a teacher and/or course designer will be to work out what they are and which are priorities.

English that architects need

Common needs include:

  • Speaking with prospective or actual clients, suppliers, business partners and colleagues
  • Reading rules and regulations, catalogues, architecture journals and textbooks
  • Writing emails, proposals, reports (e.g. progress reports) and essays
  • To pass exams and to join professional associations
  • Attending and presenting at conferences
  • Giving presentations

If they are spending time in an English-speaking country, they might also have to deal with government representatives (e.g. health and safety inspectors).

Functions that are likely to come up while speaking are (in no particular order):

  • Negotiating
  • Dealing with enquiries
  • Explaining why things have changed
  • Explaining why things are impossible
  • Responding to complaints
  • Asking for more information
  • Making arrangements

There will also be things specific to emailing, teleconferencing etc if (as is likely) they have to do those things. A lot of the language above can easily be adapted from ESP and Business English books by replacing words like “balance sheet” and “corporate restructuring” with more relevant vocabulary.

Vocabulary they might need includes:

  • Types of building (“old people’s home”)
  • 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
  • Things architects do (e.g. “estimate” and “model”)
  • Things they use in their job (e.g. “set square”), especially if they have foreign colleagues
  • 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” and “rent”)
  • Architectural styles and trends (“postmodern” etc)

The grammar they need will obviously be more general, but in the same way as a Technical English or Business English textbook will vary the order and priority given to grammar points, you can do the same for your English for Architects classes. For example, time expressions and future tenses are likely to be even more important for architects than for other professionals. Depending on what exactly your students do, the same may be true for numbers and quantifiers.

How to give them that language

Thinking about how you can use all the information above, in a rather idealised ESP approach you would design a needs analysis to find out what their priorities are (probably along with a placement testing system to test their level and strengths and weaknesses). You would then use that to design a syllabus based on those needs. If all those needs were in the future this could be a graded step-by-step syllabus similar to textbooks, but if they were already using English every day it would probably be based much more on doing the most important things first. In any case, the syllabus would change as the course progressed, based on feedback from the students, changing job roles, emerging weaknesses, etc.

I call that system “idealised” because in reality the HR department might demand a syllabus before you even see the students, there might be a very general Business English textbook already decided or started, the students might not want to spend all the time talking about their jobs, it might be impossible to find suitable materials with an architecture bent, etc. The two main approaches that help cope with these more realistic situations are:

  • Add one or more architecture-themed stages to a more general lesson
  • Base a lesson around suitable and interesting materials you can find, e.g. a topical news story about architecture, and try to bring relevant language into it

Interesting topics related to architecture include:

  • Celebrity architects
  • Health and safety gone mad
  • Resistance to particular materials in certain countries, e.g. trying to sell wooden houses in the UK or brick houses in Japan
  • The most beautiful and ugliest buildings, e.g. in one city
  • The influence of one country on another or on the world
  • Cultural differences, e.g. differences in status of thatch in different countries
  • Cultural similarities, e.g. disguising the material used to make a house with fake bricks in Japan and pebbledash in the UK
  • Identifying historical influences on postmodern buildings
  • Explanations for why buildings are a certain way, e.g. why certain traditional features originally came about
  • The revival of traditional architecture in one country
  • Resistance to modern architecture, e.g. British domestic housing
  • How much your neighbours should be able to comment on what you do with your own house (planning regulations)
  • Positives and negatives of the protection of old buildings and towns, e.g. Battersea Power Station
Written by Alex Case for Teflnet September 2012
Alex Case is the author of TEFLtastic and the Teaching...: Interactive Classroom Activities series of business and exam skills e-books for teachers
© Teflnet


  • Alex Case says:

    Materials for these kinds of students are here:

  • Rosina Alonso says:

    I would like to receive material to work with people that are studying to become architects. Thank you

  • papa Amath sambe says:

    Would like to have resources for my students in architecture

  • Weronika says:


    I teach English to a few architects. May I know more about your course? Thank you!

  • leila says:

    I’m an English teacher and I’m teaching architecture to my students .Can I have information about your course please ?
    thank you

  • Maha Riahi says:

    i would like to get the course if it is posible

  • leila says:

    I’m teaching architecture to my students .Can I have information about your course please ?
    thank you

  • leila says:

    I’m an English teacher and I’m teaching architecture to my students .Can I have information about your course please ?
    thank you

  • Camila Brest says:

    I am an architect from Argentina. Actually I am working on a BIM Engineering studio. I treat with USA clients. I would like to take this course. Please let me know the info to do it.

  • sylvie says:

    I’m interested in your course.Is it online ? Can we have access to the documents used.
    Give me information about it.
    Yours sincerely,
    Sylvie Cabut

  • Tara says:


    I teach English for Architects here

  • Tara says:

    I’m not sure if all the people who have already commented will see this but I am a landscape architect and I’m designing a course of English for Architects and Landscape Architects. You can connect with me on LinkedIn Tara Cull

  • sylvie says:

    I’m an English teacher and will have to teach architecture to my students next year.Can I have information about your course ?
    Yours sincerely

  • Diallo Abdoulaye says:

    I find this course very interesting i’ve always wished to be one of the products of this formation
    To inprove not only my quality but to share it with others.

  • Editor says:

    @Sebastiano This is a site for teachers of English, and Alex wrote for teachers who might be teaching English for architects. We are not running a course, sorry…

  • Sebastiano Cannarella says:

    I am an architect living in England
    I would like some information regarding the course.
    Need to know how long is the course,and also the cost and what aerea of England can be done.
    Regards S C

  • Gabriella Seminara says:

    I am interested in English For architects. I working in London in an Architectural Company and I need to improve my communication skill to develop my productivity.

    Please give me a feedback soon

    thanks for your time

  • Rana Hassan says:

    I’m interested but need more infoplease

  • Francesco says:


    I wish to know more about the course of English for Architects. Please send me all relevant information.

    Kind Regards

  • Nathaly Rodriguez says:

    I’m interested in English for architects to get a job opportunity into the USA. I would prefer an online course if it is possible.

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