Because success in a court of law relies on mastering the reading, writing, and speaking skills used by practicing lawyers, English language law schools, LLM programs, and legal training programs pose a significant challenge to students from all walks of life. The level of vocabulary used in the classroom, in textbooks, and in discussions can be intimidating to even the most well-read native students, who themselves often feel that they are being exposed to an entirely new language. So, if even native speakers find law school an uphill battle, how can non-native speakers learn English for Law? The answer is easier said than done: Practice, practice, practice.
As English language learners, non-native students are not only being exposed to the new legal vocabulary that so intimidates their colleagues but also the new English words and constructions that are unique to the legal arena. Given this deficit, as non-native speakers, students will struggle in law school if they are not committed to consistent practice. With a good deal of patience and some thoughtful studying, ESL students can find success.
First, non-native speakers should make an effort to learn English for Law through practice both with native and non-native speakers. Like any other skill, a language can’t be learned if it is not practiced. Here are some helpful suggestions:
- Read Every Day – It doesn’t have to be a law textbook or the Constitution on the United States – an English-language newspaper article will do just fine. Nevertheless, reading about the law and even popular culture will help you tackle problems you might address in a law school class or in a training program. If you do pick up a textbook, though, concentrate on those aspects of the law that are unfamiliar to you, such as common law, federalism, and torts. If you do, you may find that any extra time you spend studying these areas will make your other legal work easier.
- Write Everyday Day – Because so much of a lawyer’s (and law student’s) job involves the written word, the more often you write about the law the easier it will become.
- Go Online – If you’re not already in a law program but considering pursuing one, use the internet to your advantage. Not only will it give you ample opportunity to read relevant and articles about current events, it will provide you with an outlet for your writing and interpersonal exchanges through forums and message boards.
- Get Certified – If you want to learn English for Law, proficiency certifications like the University of Cambridge’s International Legal English Certificate are an ideal guide. Even if you don’t sit for the exam immediately, the ILEC’s emphasis on real world legal contexts will help you prepare for the rigors of English language classes, meetings, memoranda.
- Engage Your Instructors – Once you get law school or LLM, take advantage of the great minds around you. It is perfectly appropriate to ask questions during class so if you are not clear about an aspect, you should not hesitate to ask questions. If you don’t want to interrupt the class, you can always ask them before or after class or during their scheduled office hours.
- Talk to Your Classmates – Whether you’re in a law school, LLM, or legal training program, your classmates are an amazing resource – make the most of them. They may be able to answer questions better than your professors and, if they can’t, it may be comforting to know your native speaking classmates are having the same difficulties! Not only that, but in addition to discussing your classes and the law in general, your classmates may be able to provide you with information that may make your life in the U.S. easier or, as you make friends, certainly more fun!