Thor's "English for Mechanics"

Paragraph Units on Topics in Automotive Mechanics
for teaching to NESB students
(non-English speaking background) and others

Thor (Thorold) May
© copyright Thorold May 1996-2013; All Rights Reserved 

published by

Thor May (downloadable PDF from

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The book will be supplied as a pdf (Acrobat) file) in an e-mail attachment after payment, as below. A zipped pdf  file is available on request. Note that each page of the download version of the book is clearly stamped with its licence status. The 1st edition lacks illustrations and a few other frills, but is otherwise complete.


Available on this site in PDF eBook format.

SAMPLES OF THE CONTENT are pasted below

The text book has been sold and used successfully in a number of industrial locations in Australia, US, Indonesia, Poland, Italy, Spain, Hungary, South Korea, and many other countries.

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Over ninety units of this material have been written and trialed with overseas trained mechanics who were learning English in Australia. It has also been used with unskilled immigrant men who are interested in mechanics. In 1996 it was licensed for use by a mining company in Indonesia. It has been purchased for use in Poland, Hungary, Italy, Spain, South Korea, Australia, USA and many other countries. The content has scope for further development to reflect continuing changes in automotive technology. However the existing material is still applicable in any workshop and sets an excellent foundation for both language and technical concepts.

Professionals who use English for Mechanics in classrooms may wish to supplement it with diagrams and extra learning activities, as well as relating the vehicle components described to actual vehicles on site (mechanics are very ‘hands on’ people). The student creation of technical diagrams to fit the descriptive units is also an excellent learning activity.Because it is intended to market English for Mechanics for commercial use, only sample extracts are provided on this web site.
English for Mechanics


(sample content below has a link)

Introduction // CHAPTER 1: Tools and Materials // 1.1 Equipment: shape, strength, complexity, design, function // 1.2 Tools (1) // 1.3 Jacks and Hoists //

CHAPTER 2: Welding //
2.1 Welding Safety (1) // 2.2 Welding Safety (2) // 2.3 Oxy Welding Components // 2.4 Oxy Welding: Torch Adjustments // 2.5 Welding Flames // 2.6 Gas welding processes // 2.7 Arc Welding Procedures //

CHAPTER 3 Friction Control & Seals // 3.1 Friction // 3.2 Lubrication //
3.3 Plain Bearings // 3.4 Anti-Friction Bearings // 3.5 Seals (1): Application; O-rings & Lip Seals // 3.6 Seals (2): Felt Seals, Wick Seals, Slings, Scrolls // 3.7 Gaskets // 3.8 Adhesives and Sealants //

CHAPTER 4 Fluid Systems // 4.1 Radiator Check // 4.2 Brakes // 4.3 Anti-Lock Braking Systems (ABS) // 4.4 Hydraulics (1): Overview & Pascal's Law // 4.5 Hydraulics (2): Brakes // 4.6 Hydraulics (3): displacement // 4.7 Pneumatics (1) // 4.8 Pneumatics (2): Vacuums & compressed air // 4.9 The Air Conditioning Cycle // 4.10 Refrigerant gases // 4.11 Heat transfer //

CHAPTER 5: Vehicle Body Construction & Paint // 5.1 Vehicle Specifications // 5.2 The Car Body // 5.3 The Instrument Panel // 5.4 Automotive paintwork (1) // 5.5 Automotive paintwork (2): From bare metal // 5.6 Automotive paintwork (3): Colour coats //

CHAPTER 6: Underbody & Suspension // 6.1 Tyres //
6.2 Suspension Systems // 6.3 Steering // 6.4 Power Steering // 6.5 Wheel Alignment //

CHAPTER 7: The Power Unit // 7.1 Engine Basics // 7.2 Pistons and Cylinders; Design & Measurement // 7.3 The Cylinder Head //
7.4 Engine Valves // 7.5 Engine Parts Reconditioning (1) //

CHAPTER 8: Mechanical Advantage & Transmission // 8.1 Leverage and Gearing // 8.2 The Manual Gearbox (1) // 8.3 The Manual Gearbox (2) // 8.4 Automatic Transmissions // 8.5 The Clutch // 8.6 The Differential //

CHAPTER 9: Fuel Systems (1) // 9.1 The Fuel System // 9.2 Hydrocarbon Fuels // 9.3 Fuel Combustion // 9.4 The Exhaust System // 9.5 Emission Controls // 9.6 Superchargers and Turbochargers //

CHAPTER 10: Fuel Systems (2): EFI // 10.1 Electronic Fuel Injection (1): Overview // 10.2 Electronic Fuel Injection (2): sub-Systems // 10.3 Electronic Fuel Injection (3): Fuel Systems // 10.4 Electronic Fuel Injection (4):Air Flow Systems // 10.5 Electronic Fuel Injection (5):Electronic Control Systems //

CHAPTER 11 Fuel Systems (3): LPG // 11.1 Liquid Petroleum Gas Systems (1) // 11.2 Liquid Petroleum Gas Systems (2a): Safety // 11.3 Liquid Petroleum Gas Systems (2b): Safety // 11.4 LPG Systems (3): Fuel tank & filler valve // 11.5 LPG Systems (4): The Service Valve // 11.6 LPG systems (5): The automatic fuel limiter // 11.7 LPG Systems (6): The Ullage Valve, Safety Valve and Contents Gauge // 11.8 LPG Systems (7): more valves & gauges //

CHAPTER 12: Auto Electrics (1) // 12.1 The Automotive Electrical System // 12.2 Alternators // 12.3 Starter Motors (1) //
12.4 Starter Motor (2): dismantling // 12.5 Lead-Acid Batteries (1) // 12.6 Lead-Acid Batteries (2) // 12.7 Lead-Acid Batteries (3) - Charging //

CHAPTER 13: Auto Electrics (2): Ignition // 13.1 Automotive Ignition // 13.2 Ignition Distributor // 13.3 Ignition Coil // 13.4 The Primary Ignition Circuit // 13.5 Secondary Ignition Circuit // 13.6 Startup voltage drop, tracking, interference // 13.7 Electronic Ignition Systems //

CHAPTER 14: Auto Electrics (3): Electronic Components // 14.1 Semiconductors // 14.2 Diodes // 14.3 Transistors // 14.4 Silicon Controlled Rectifiers and Sensors //

CHAPTER 15 Employment & Industrial Relations // 15.1 The Job Interview (1) 15.2 Job Interview (2): Speaking to win // 15.3 Qualifications & Experience: Samir's Story (1) // 15.4 Skills: Samir's Story (2) // 15.5 The Unhappy Apprentice // 15.6 Breaking point //

CHAPTER 16 Communications & Customer Contact // 16.1 Customer Quotation // 16.2 Unwanted gift //

APPENDIX I Some uses of short texts //  APPENDIX II Five steps to learning a text

English for Mechanics © copyright Thorold May 1996-2013; All Rights Reserved


English for Mechanics is a vehicle to improve competence in the English language, and to reinforce mechanical knowledge. It deals with a wide range of automotive engineering topics, but does not claim to be comprehensive on any topic. This book should supplement automotive engineering texts and workshop practice, never substitute for them.

Automotive trades students and trained mechanics wishing to improve their language skills can both benefit from English for Mechanics. Those learning English as a second language should find it especially useful. The text is suitable for intermediate level learners of the language. A glossary gives meanings for all the automotive vocabulary as well as many colloquial phrases.

English for Mechanics will ideally be used by a skilled language teacher who also has a good mechanical understanding and can bring the content to life. The material is intended to be presented orally at first, without students seeing the text (although they may look at the labelled diagrams). Each topic is presented in a paragraph of seven to ten sentences. When the topic has been presented, explained and discussed, a series of oral questions can be asked. The teacher may choose to ask some questions, especially when a grammatical point is being made and exact responses are important. A better system for much of the time is to have students question each other in pairs. One member of the pair stands, and when he doesn't know an answer, must seek it from a copy of the text pinned to the wall some distance away. The method is explained in detail below in the section entitled "Five Steps to Learning a Text."

Some of the questions are apparently technical engineering queries, and some directly highlight grammatical or other language items. In fact, responses to all of the questions will improve language skills, even though some students may have a low tolerance for open "language teaching". Where English for Mechanics is taught as part of a course, a weekly written test of about ten random questions from the previous four or five units will give some sense of progress.

Sometimes a student may have access to English for Mechanics but lack a teacher. The book should still be valuable, but it will have be used in a rather different way. Study the text and diagrams carefully. Check unfamiliar words and phrases in the glossary. If possible, ask a friend to check you on the questions. You might also tape record the questions to practice spoken answers. In the very least, cover the text when you are trying to answer the questions.

English for Mechanics deliberately uses short texts to make learning effective and easy. An appendix briefly explains why short texts are so useful as a learning and teaching tool. Teachers can use the principles involved to shape their own curriculum material.


English for Mechanics
Thorold May

English for Mechanics © copyright Thorold May 1996-2013; All Rights Reserved


2.1 Welding Safety (1)

pattern: Imperatives; never do X; do not do Y; use/keep/ leave Y


[1] Most welding accidents are caused by carelessness, not lack of knowledge. [2] Never take welding procedures for granted. [3] Here are some basic rules. [4] Use a cylinder trolley with the cylinders fastened to it firmly. [5] Keep full and empty cylinders away from heat. [6] Protect the cylinder valves from knocks, falls and weather. [7] NEVER strike an electric arc on a cylinder. [8] Do not place electric leads across cylinders. [9] Do not use oil or grease on regulator threads because pressurized oxygen can make them explode violently. [10] Leave the key in place on the acetylene cylinder for an emergency turn off.


1. How are most welding accidents caused?

2. How should cylinders be stored?

3. Make a question using the words: why / cylinders / away from / heat

4. What part of an oxy/acetylene unit is most easily damaged?

5. Make a sentence using the words never / strike / electric arc

6. Why shouldn't electric leads be placed across gas cylinders?

7. What can happen to oil or grease in contact with pressurized oxygen?

8. What should be done with the acetylene bottle key?

key words (use these as cues; retell the text to a partner)

[1] accidents; [2] for granted; [3] rules; [4] trolley; [5] empty; [6] protect; [7] arc; [8] leads; [9] oil; [10] key.


English for Mechanics © copyright Thorold May 1996-2013; All Rights Reserved


3.3 Plain Bearings

pattern: not X..rather, Y; other X; both X and Y


[1] A plain or solid bearing has no moving parts. [2] Rather, it uses a softer metal than the rotating shaft. [3] Two common alloys used in plain bearings are babbit and bronze. [4] Babbit is an alloy of lead and tin, while bronze is an alloy of copper and tin. [5] Plain bearings are usually strengthened by a solid steel backing. [6] Some plain bearings, such as piston-pin bushes, are made in one piece. [7] Other plain bearings, such as crankshaft main bearings, are split into two shells. [8] Some solid bearings with flanges can support both radial and thrust loads. [9] It is important to lubricate most solid bearings constantly with oil or grease. [10] Solid nylon bearings in some small machines do not need to be lubricated.


1. Put the following words into a sentence: moving / plain / parts / bearing

2. What are the two most common alloys found in plain bearings?

3. Which of these metals combine to produce what alloys: copper / tin / lead ?

4. Put sentence 5] into the active voice.

5. Why is it necessary to back many solid bearings with a steel shell?

6. Give an example of a) a single piece solid bearing and b) a two section solid bearing.

7. How can a solid bearing be made to support a thrust load as well as a radial load?

8. What is a type of solid bearing which does not need lubrication?

9. Find sentences in the text with patterns shown in the PATTERN note (in the heading). Make some other sentences like these.

Keywords (use these as cues; retell the text to a partner)

[1] no moving; [2] softer; [3] alloy; [4] babbit; [5] backing; [6] one piece; [7] shells; [8] flanges; [9] lubricate; [10] nylon


English for Mechanics © copyright Thorold May 1996-2013; All Rights Reserved


6.2 Suspension Systems

pattern: firstly, secondly (sequencing); so that (consequence); X together with Y


[1] The suspension system of a car has two main functions. [2] Firstly it must keep all four road wheels in contact with the road, so that steering, braking and the transmission drive can operate properly. [3] Secondly, the suspension system must offer passengers maximum comfort. [4] The two functions are never quite compatible, so engineers always make a compromise. [5] The main suspension components in modern cars are leaf springs, coil springs, wishbones, torsion bars, shock absorbers and McPherson struts. [6] Leaf springs are leaves of tempered steel clamped together and fastened to the chassis by a shackle at one end, a pivot at the other. [7] Coil springs are often used together with wishbones to give independent front suspension. [8] McPherson struts also offer independent front suspension. [9] They use a coil spring together with a shock absorber. [10] The spring absorbs bumps, while the shock absorber dampens (stabilizes) up and down bouncing. [11] A torsion bar is springy steel which absorbs bumps by twisting and untwisting. [12] Torsion bars are often part of the front-end suspension unit.


1. What is one function of a car's suspension system?

2. What is a second function of a car's suspension system?

3. Finish this sentence: "The two functions of suspension systems are never quite compatible, so ..."

4. Make a list of suspension components.

5. What is special about the steel in leaf springs?

6. Make a question with these words: "what", "fastened", "shackle", "pivot".

7. Where are coil springs often used?

8. Finish this sentence: "Both front wheels must stay on the road to steer a car, so ..."

9. What are the main components of a McPherson strut?

10. How exactly does a shock-absorber work?

11. How exactly does a torsion bar work?

12. Draw a diagram of a wishbone and coiled spring working together.

keywords (use these as cues; retell the text to a partner)

[1] functions; [2] road wheels; [3] comfort; [4] compromise; [5] components; [6] leaf springs; [7] coil springs; [8] McPherson struts; [9] together; [10] dampens; [11] torsion bars; [12] front-end


English for Mechanics © copyright Thorold May 1996-2013; All Rights Reserved


7.4 Engine Valves

pattern: mushroom-shaped; bevelled part of X; pencil-shaped; gas-tight seal; machined part of X;


[1] The function of an engine valve is to open or close an engine port. [2] This controls the intake and exhaust of gases in the combustion chamber. [3] It also controls the gas pressure at which combustion takes place. [4] The main parts of a valve are the valve head, valve stem, valve face and valve seat. [5] The valve head is the wide, mushroom-shaped part of the valve. [6] The valve face is the bevelled part of the valve head. [7] The long, pencil-shaped part of the valve is the valve stem.[8] The valve face must make a gas-tight seal with the valve seat. [9] The intake valve seat may be a machined part of the cylinder head. [10] The exhaust valve seat is usually a special alloy insert, made to withstand high temperatures. [11] Some other parts of the engine valve system are valve guides, valve springs, push rods and rocker arms.


1. What job do engine valves do?

2. Finish this sentence: Fuel intake to the combustion chamber is controlled by .......

3. What is the position of both engine valves when the fuel ignites?

4. Name the four main parts of an engine valve.

5. Make questions using these two adjectives: mushroom-shaped and pencil-shaped

6. Which two parts of a valve make a gas-tight seal together?

7. Why is the exhaust valve seat usually an alloy insert?

8. Identify some other parts of an engine valve system.

9. Think of some adjectives or descriptors to describe these vehicle components: cam, oil filter, radiator fan, speedometer readout, spare wheel well.

keywords (use these as cues; retell the text to a partner)

[1] function; [2] intake; [3] gas pressure; [4] parts; [5] valve head; [6] valve face; [7] valve stem; [8] gas tight; [9] intake valve seat; [10] exhaust valve seat; [11] other parts.


English for Mechanics © copyright Thorold May 1996-2013; All Rights Reserved


12.4 Starter Motor (2): dismantling

pattern: remove X, disconnect Y; [Imperative instructions] text:

text :

[1] Disconnect the starter connecting strap from the solenoid cap. [2] Remove the solenoid mounting screws. [3] Lift and pull the solenoid away from the pivot lever and housing. [4]Remove the shaft end cap screws, cap, circlip and spacing washers from the starter. [5] Remove the through bolts and the commutator end housing. [6] Lift the brush holder off the armature, after removing the brushes. [7] Remove the yoke and field coils. [8] Note the position of the dust cover and pivot lever, then remove the armature. [9] Remove the circlip from the drive shaft, then slide the collar off. [10] Slide the pinion and clutch assembly off the armature (drive) shaft. [11] Remove the solenoid cap, desolder the solenoid wires and then push the cap away from the solenoid chips.


1. Make a sentence using these words: disconnect / strap /from

2. How is the solenoid unit fastened to the starter motor?

3. What is the function of the pivot lever?

4. Where are spacing washers used on the starter?

5. What must be removed before the commutator end housing?

6. Give the next step after lifting the brush holder off the armature.

7. Explain what the yoke is.

8. What precaution must you take when removing the armature?

9. How is the collar normally kept on the drive shaft?

10. What can be slid off the armature drive shaft after the collar is removed? 11. Make a question using these words: what / desolder / solenoid chips

keywords : (use these as cues; retell the text to a partner)

[1] connecting strap; [2] screws; [3] solenoid; [4] washers; [5] through bolts; [6] brushes; [7] yoke; [8] armature; [9] circlip; [10] pinion; [11] solenoid cap


English for Mechanics © copyright Thorold May 1996-2013; All Rights Reserved


APPENDIX I Some uses of short texts

a) Short texts can be presented orally and fairly quickly: they don't exhaust the attention span of marginal students.

b) Short texts force an author/teacher to present an idea clearly and succinctly.

c) Short texts can be held in memory, discussed and analysed by a class in a single session of controlled length.

d) Short texts can be used as a vehicle to target specific objectives. They might contextualize a grammatical usage, demonstrate an argument form or introduce a topic. There are myriad applications.


English for Mechanics is firstly about improving language skills, and secondly about reinforcing technical knowledge in automotive engineering. All kinds of skill and knowledge can be judged from the fluency of an individual's behaviour.

Fluency is measured by ....

a) the speed of a student's comprehension and response

b) the precision of comprehension and response

c) the amount of information the student can hold in consciousness at a given time.


For most of us, the hardest part of study is not the content of a topic itself, but managing the learning process. Successful learning is often controlled by whether information is mentally digestible, or can be made digestible. Students will only learn and retain ...

a) what they can hold in short-term memory .

b) what they can grasp conceptually.

c) what has some "emotional reality" for them


This book will be used by both teachers and students. Teachers are a resource, but they don't know everything, and they can't do the job of learning for anyone else. The best way to teach and be taught is to start with a clear understanding of what the teacher can offer. A teacher is more than a trainer, but less than a god. Dogs are trained, and angels know it all anyway. Mere human beings have to be coaxed with cunning and laughter to do their best.

a) Teaching is more art than science. Nobody anywhere really knows how the human brain learns, least of all a language. We do know that memory works best for things that are strongly felt.

b) English for Mechanics is a technical book, but it should be taught humanely, with any amount of extra anecdote from the teacher and students. Practical people are naturally attracted to the idea of teaching for competence. We have to remember however though that a competent human being is more than a machine, and does not learn best in a machine-like way.


English for Mechanics © copyright Thorold May 1996-2013; All Rights Reserved


APPENDIX II Five steps to learning a text


The teacher will read the text to you orally (= by voice), and explain any new ideas or new words. Feel free to discuss the topic and ask any questions.


a) Student 1 sits, but student 2 stands

b) A copy of a text is pinned to the wall some distance away

c) Student 1 has a text + written questions, but student 2 has no text

d) Student 1 asks student 2 a question from the sheet. Take care to speak clearly with good rhythm and intonation.

e) If student 2 knows the answer, he can speak immediately. If student 2 does not know the answer, then he should walk over to the text on the wall, read it, then return with the answer.

f) Student 1 and student 2 change places when all the questions have been answered


Two written questions for each text will ask students to do something with grammar. For example:

Make a sentence using these words: torque / setting /cylinder / might

Make a question using the words: why / cylinders / away from / heat

Change the following sentence to passive voice: Heat at a molecular level describes the energy level in electrons.


All students receive a copy of the written text. They should follow these steps:

a) Underline the most important ideas in the text.

b) Notice how these ideas are connected to each other.

c) Reduce the ideas in each sentence to an outline skeleton. For example:

Crude petroleum contains some compounds which vaporise naturally. These gases can either be burned off, or liquefied by compression and sold. Thus liquid petroleum gas, or LPG, can be natural, but it also occurs as a by-product in petroleum refineries.

Use the last paragraph to help with meaning, then connect the following into a tree diagram:

a)   crude petroleum      >>          refining by-product

                                    >>           some compounds vaporise   >>   burn off

b)   natural  LPG                 >>    compression    >>    liquefy   >>  buy    /   sell


Step 5 is an exact reversal of Step 4. Students should do these things:

a) Hide the original text

b) Try to use the skeleton-outline as a memory aid to write a new text.

c) When finished, compare the new text to the original text.

Note: Step 5 is the hardest step, but also the most useful.

English for Mechanics © copyright Thorold May 1996-2013; All Rights Reserved


©Thor May 2013  All rights reserved