technical english

Technical English for EFL / ESL  -  Resources for learning English

Page index:  What is technical English? Index of technical texts

What is technical English?

Technical English is a variety of written English with which a majority of English teachers are not particularly familiar.. or imagine that they 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.
  The styles 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 English).
   As for the vocabulary 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 office environment.

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 English.
   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 two different things.
   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 types of document:
  1. 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.
  2. Documents that are aimed at specialists in a given field, and therefore do require a specialist familiarity with the technicalities of the subject matter.
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 doctors or nuclear-scientists, or oil-industry engineers.
   In most 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 .

That 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:
  1. The use of passives,
  2. The use of compound words,
  3. A predominance of non-count nouns
  4. Less or no use of human subjects.
These features are present even in easy-intermediate level texts.

Technical English on

Index of articles in technical or semi-technical English for use with students, technical or not.: ( See also Texts on the environment 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
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