As an online Legal English teacher I teach students from all over the world. They speak different languages, they’re from different jurisdictions, and they work in different legal fields. I’m a native English speaker and I have a good knowledge of the English Legal System and international law. However, there are three main challenges I face with online Legal English teaching:
- I don’t speak the native ‘legal’ language of most of my students
- I don’t know the legal systems of every jurisdiction
- I don’t have expert knowledge in every possible area of law
So, what do I do to make sure I best help my students? Here are some resources I use to help them and to develop my own knowledge.
1. Google Spreadsheets
If a student doesn’t know a Legal English term in class I input the word into a Google spreadsheet which I’ve developed. (Template here). This term is automatically translated into the native language of my student, and a link given for pronunciation via Google.
This automation saves time in class and normally gives students a general idea of a term, but it’s not fool proof. As many legal translators know, Google Translate is not the most accurate tool for legal translation, so I use this tool with caution. I work with my students to come up with a definition of the word in English and an example sentence to make sure they have a correct understanding of that word in English. If it helps them to have a word from their native language and the translation is incorrect, students can edit and improve the translation text in the spreadsheet. This spreadsheet can then be used as a glossary for students and a resource to return to in later classes to test knowledge of vocabulary. Watch the video below for further details.
2. Other resources
What about a situation where I don’t know the terminology or concept? My students ask all kinds of questions!
If I don’t know the answer then I can ask students to find out for homework, but either way I need to know myself to ensure they have the correct answer. To find out I can do a number of things:
Use Dictionaries and Glossaries
I have a copy of Martin, Elizabeth A.. A Dictionary of Law (Oxford Paperback Reference), Oxford University Press which is a good starting point for checking words. There are also number of helpful online dictionaries and glossaries:
Ask a colleague
Being a member of the European Legal English Teachers’ Association and developing my own online resources such as the Study Legal English Podcast means I’m well connected to a number of Legal English teachers, lawyers and legal professionals who I can call upon when I have a quick question. For example – one of my students who wants to move into legal translation recently had some very specific translation questions. I’m not a translator. I didn’t know the answer. I managed to find out from Richard Lackey, a legal translator, who I interviewed in podcast episode 82. It’s important to recognise however, that if your asking people for free tips or advice they might not be willing to give it and there is a limit even to generous people’s time. Sending an email every day to someone asking for free tips is not going to go down well.
Another way to make sure that I’m constantly developing my knowledge is that I interview legal professionals for my podcast. This is not only to create a resource for legal English learners but also a way for me to develop my understanding of specific legal topics from experts in the field. You can find the interviews here.
What do you do?
What do you do when you don’t know a legal term either as a student or a legal English teacher? Let me know in the comments section below!