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,
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
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
- Read Every Day – It doesn’t have to be a law textbook or the Constitution of 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 a 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 articles about
current events, it will provide you with an outlet for writing and other 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 goal. 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 and memoranda.
- Engage Your Instructors – Once you get to 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 your professors 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!
Please also check out our Study Law for International Students section of InternationalStudent.com for more information, advice and guidance on studying law.