Teaching technical English
What is technical
English is a variety of written English with which a majority of
English teachers are not particularly familiar.. or imagine
are not familiar.
In reality, technical English is just a form of standard English that uses technical vocabulary and certain
features of style and grammar.
and grammar of technical English are not specific to technical writing,
they are generally used in formal English writing on any subject (see Styles
of technical English, there are a few core words that are common to
technical writing across multiple fields (words like analysis, result, product, or process), but most technical
vocabulary is specific to one or more fields. So we have the technical
vocabulary of computing, medical vocabulary, the vocabulary of
economics, and so on. One other point to note concerning technical
vocabulary is that "ordinary" words sometimes take on a specific
meaning when used as technical terms. For example in everyday English
the word mouse designates
a small animal with a long tail; but in the technical vocabulary of
computing, it is something that we use in order to make a pointer move
round a computer screen. And the word scanner
designates two quite different things, depending on whether it refers
to a big machine in a hospital, or to a small electronic box in an
Technical English in
the EFL / ESL class
Most language teachers are
linguists, graduates with arts or humanities qualifications, not with
scientific or technical degrees. This is perhaps why many EFL or ESL
teachers are often a bit worried about dealing with texts in technical
In actual fact, there is no need to imagine
that the language side of documents written in technical English will
be any harder to master than the language side of non-technical
documents. Language ( the medium) and subject-matter (the message) are
Additionally, when talking about "technical
English"; it is important to remember that "technical English" is not
something monolithic. There may be a lot of different fields of
technical English, but across these fields there are two essential
- Documents that are aimed at a general reading public,
and do not require any high-level understanding of technical matters. These are sometimes called semi-technical texts.
that are aimed at specialists in a given field, and therefore do
require a specialist familiarity with the technicalities of the subject
In the framework of the EFL/ESL class, studying the second
type of document is generally inappropriate – unless, for
instance, one is teaching professional English to a homogenous class of
nuclear-scientists, or oil-industry engineers.
cases, the only technical documents that can be advantageously studied
in a class of English for non-native speakers – particularly
for student-age learners and at
intermediate level – are texts written for a non-specialist
readership; documents that talk
about scientific or technical topics in a language that shows the
characteristics of technical English, but can be
understood by all.
This is the type of technical English article
presented on Linguapress.com .
being said, there is some good news. Whatever type of technical English
document is being studied, at whatever level, it will tend to show the
same distinctive language features, in relation to articles or
documents of a
non-technical topics. And thankfully there are only four main
distinctive features of technical English, which are:
- The use of passives,
- The use of compound
- A predominance of non-count
- Less or no use of human
These features are present even in easy-intermediate level texts.
Index of articles in technical or semi-technical English for use with
students, technical or not.: (►
See also Texts on the
for more teaching resources)
Low intermediate level
Intermediate level English
Advanced level English
Technical texts accessible to a general reading public. Specialist
knowledge not required
And for teachers...
is "technical English"? Is it different from other kinds of
English ? If so, how different? Linguapress takes a short and simple
look at the answers to these questions.
Free to view, free to use, free to print, but not free to copy
except by teachers for their own classes.
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