ESL Architecture/Engineering/Construction vocabulary (Intermediate/Advanced)


Moon over the construction site” by Laura Cathey, 2016. CC-BY-SA

American jargon for Architecture, Engineering, and Construction fields can be tricky for a student of the English language to learn. HGTV provides a consumer’s perspective. Undergraduate study materials assume native English proficiency. Construction dictionaries list words without indicating how common or obscure they might be.

While teaching English as a Second (or in this case, Third) Language to an urban professional in this field, I wound up cobbling together vocab lists from various sources. This is not my professional background, but I think we covered a number of areas that will come up on-the-job in the student’s new English-speaking career path.

How was this list created?

As my contract supervisor said to me in her English Language Learning library, no one resource is enough to rely upon entirely, but good material from different sources can be combined. Using (free, online) visual dictionaries, I selected a fraction of the words listed and introduced those to the student as relevant vocabulary.

Additionally, a friend who has a civil engineering degree pointed out the importance of abbreviations and numeric references in fast-paced workplace conversations, and she directed me to the MasterFormat Division system referenced below.

Reinforcement and review

After reading through the list, the student practiced using the new terms and definitions with real world scenarios and especially images (as on Google Streetview). We discussed which vocabulary items were visible and the processes of how they might interact or need to be created.

This turned out to be more effective than using fill-in-the-blank questions describing the function or appearance of the items. The student was more engaged and recalled words more successfully with a visual to work from. I would have prompted discussion of the function of the pictured features, but the student I worked with initiated those conversations herself. We reviewed the vocabulary weeks afterward using the same technique, as well as by reading and discussing authentic documents that used the vocabulary.


Each text file below contains 5-10 vocab words, with links to pictures as often as possible. There are also suggestions for sites to use for review, practice, or real world examples for reading or listening.


What’s missing?

We did not cover materials, architectural styles or engineering systems, zoning/regulations, or nitty-gritty construction equipment (e.g. screws vs nails), but those could certainly be valuable lessons.

What would you add?

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