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TOLES 2014 Results

Today I have had a chance to briefly analyse the results of TOLES Higher examination conducted in TOLES Examination Centre at Kozminski University in Warsaw in May 2014.

Two groups of students attempted the examination: one group had attended Legal English course leading to the exam for two years and the other for three.

The difference in the course length was due to the change in the curriculum introduced two years ago which limited the time of Legal English instruction offered to Law students from three to two years, i.e. from 36o hours of instruction to 240 hours.

The results which I have received today  prove a significant difference in the passability of the examination. Namely, among third year students there was only 5% of fails, while among second year students – 15%, i.e. three times as much.

The results, unfortunately, seem to confirm the teachers common conviction that the decision of the University authorities was, to put it mildly, not exactly right.

Memrise Project

W październiku 2014 roku rozpoczęłam tworzenie bazy słownictwa z zakresu Legal English potrzebnego do przygotowania się do egzaminu TOLES (Test of Legal English Skills) na poziomie Foundation i Higher. Baza jest wciąż w fazie powstawania, moi studenci biorą czynny udział w przygotowywaniu treści kursów, a wszystko odbywa się w oparciu o podręcznik „The Lawyer’s English Language Coursebook”. Baza powstała na stronie http://www.memrise.com/, a stworzone przeze mnie i moich studentów kursy są dostępne na moim profilu (http://www.memrise.com/user/LegalEnglish/courses/teaching/)

Ponieważ projekt został przyjęty przez moich studentów bardzo entuzjastycznie postanowiłam zbadać jak praca z memrise wpływa na wyniki w nauce osiągane przez studentów w trakcie lektoratowego kursu prawniczego języka angielskiego oraz czy studenci używający aplikacji memrise osiągają lepsze wyniki z testów niż pozostali i czy studenci współtworzący treści kursów osiągają lepsze wyniki od tych, którzy są tylko ich użytkownikami.

Badanie zostało przeprowadzone wśród studentów I, II, i III roku uczestniczących w kursie prawniczego języka angielskiego na poziomie B2+ za pomocą krótkiej ankiety składającej się z siedmiu pytań. W badaniu wzięło udział 32 ankietowanych.

Spośród badanych osób jedna osoba na trzy nie korzystała z kursów memrise przygotowując się do testu i utrwalając materiał. Połowa spośród tych ankietowanych zaliczyła test na poziomie oceny dostatecznej, jedna osoba na poziomie oceny dobrej, a 1/3 respondentów nie zaliczyła testu.

Natomiast w grupie studentów, którzy korzystali z memrise testu nie zaliczyło tylko 17% ankietowanych, niewiele ponad połowa otrzymała oceny dostateczne, a 1/3 oceny dobre.
Większość osób (75%), które nie zaliczyły testu poświęciły pracy z memrise mniej niż jedną godzinę. Jedna z osób w tej grupie poświęciła memrise więcej czasu (1-3 godzin), ale mimo tego uzyskała ocenę niedostateczną.

Studenci, którzy uzyskali najlepsze wyniki poświęcili pracy z memrise bardzo zróżnicowaną ilość czasu. Na siedmioro respondentów, dwoje korzystało z aplikacji poniżej jednej godziny, dwoje spędziło na nauce od jednej do trzech godzin, dwoje od trzech do sześciu godzin, a jedna osoba uczyła się ponad sześć godzin. Dwoje respondentów (28%) brało udział w opracowywaniu treści kursów memrise.

Wśród osób ankietowanych, którzy uzyskali wynik dostateczny większość pracowała z memrise ok. 1-3 godzin, trzy osoby z dziesięciu – ok. 3-6 godzin, a jedna osoba poniżej jednej godziny. Dwie spośród tych osób (20%) brały udział w opracowywaniu treści kursów.

Jeden na ośmiu ankietowanych to studenci-autorzy definicji na kursach memrise. Deklarowali oni, że poświęcili na naukę stosunkowo najwięcej czasu. Większość z nich uczyła się z aplikacją od 3 do 6 godzin, a jedna osoba ponad 6 godzin. Połowa tych osób uzyskała na teście wynik dobry, a połowa dostateczny.

Studenci, którzy nie korzystali z aplikacji w przygotowaniu do testu, jako wyjaśnienia podawali następujące argumenty:
• Preferowanie i większe zaufanie do podręcznika i własnych notatek (50%)
• Przerabianie kursów memrise zajmuje dużo czasu (50%)
• Problemy techniczne (38%)
• Niechęć do nauki przy komputerze (13%)
• Brak informacji, że memrise istnieje (13%).

Zarzut, że praca z memrise jest czasochłonna i męcząca pojawiał się również najczęściej (44%) w komentarzach osób korzystających z tej aplikacji w przygotowaniach do testu. Drugą istotną wadą stworzonych kursów wymienianą przez co czwartą osobę jest nierozpoznawanie synonimów i uznawanie ich za błędne odpowiedzi. Około 15% ankietowanych narzekało na wady techniczne aplikacji, a pojedyncze osoby wspominały o zbyt długich definicjach, zbyt częstych powtórzeniach, nie uwzględnieniu w kursach wszystkich słów wymaganych potem na teście i możliwości powtórzenia raz przerobionego kursu dopiero po 4 godzinach.

Wśród najistotniejszych zalet pracy z kursami memrise ponad połowa ankietowanych studentów wymienia efektywne utrwalenie materiału poprzez częste powtarzanie przerabianego słownictwa. Jedna osoba na trzy ankietowane podkreśla znaczenie faktu, że memrise jest miejscem, gdzie mają dostęp do najważniejszego słownictwa z zajęć. Taka sama liczba respondentów docenia również nowoczesną, elektroniczną formę aplikacji i jej wersję mobilną. Co siódmy ankietowany wspomina o znaczeniu rywalizacji w nauce i podkreśla motywujący wpływ punktacji osiąganej przez wszystkich użytkowników i rankingów pokazujących najaktywniejszych użytkowników na każdym kursie. Wśród mniej istotnych zalet wymieniono profesjonalny i przejrzysty wygląd aplikacji, różnorodność generowanych ćwiczeń i możliwość nauki pisowni przyswajanych słów w ćwiczeniach, w których punktowana jest bezbłędność zapisu.

Garner the Plain English Guru

In Legal Writing in Plain English. A Text with Exercises Garner (2001) draws up a comprehensive list of principles for plain English writing including legal writing, analytical and persuasive writing, legal drafting, document design and continued improvement. The exercises accompanying the book can be accessed on http://press-pubs.uchicago.edu/garner/. All these exercises are based on authentic excerpts of legal writing which are used as a basis for paraphrasing, redrafting and editing in plain English.

Most of these principles help develop the transferable abilities typical of writing which might constitute the scaffolding for the future development of the writing skill irrespective of the purpose. Plain English is considered the equivalent of good English writing. Therefore, the guidelines for writing in plain English should be included in each writing course, since they comprise the rules for producing well structured, comprehensible and concise texts.

According to Garner (2001) the skills which law students and graduates need to develop if they wish to draft texts in plain English include:

1. Planning:

  • using a nonlinear, whirlybird (i.e. resembling the mind map) approach is recommended for lawyers;
  • arranging the material in a logical sequence, e.g. using chronology when presenting facts;
  • dividing the documents into sections, and sections into smaller parts;
  • adding headings for the sections and subsections.

2. Paragraphing and organizing writing:

  • beginning each paragraph with a topic sentence;
  • linking paragraphs and signposting within paragraphs;
  • limiting the length of paragraphs to 3-8 sentences/150 words;
  • knowing the reader – an ordinary person and not a sophisticated lawyer;
  • applying correct punctuation.

3. Phrasing and paraphrasing (legalese into plain English):

  • avoiding verbosity; reducing the average length of a sentence to 20 words;
  • relying on S-V-O word order;
  • favouring active over passive voice;
  • creating lists with parallel phrasing for parallel ideas;
  • avoiding multiple negatives;
  • understanding legalese but replacing it with plain English alternatives, e.g. “hereinafter Seller” with “the Seller”, “prior to” with “before”, “in the event that” with “if”;
  • minimizing the use of „to be”, e.g. court is in agreement, fines are dependent, judge is of the opinion…;
  • avoiding nouns created from verbs, e.g. conduct an examination of, make provision for, take into consideration…;
  • shortening wordy phrases, e.g. “a number of” to “many”, “at the time when” to “when”, “subsequent to” to “after”, “the majority of” to “most”.

Mad Man on Writing

Since not only law students need writing skills, others following business English courses might find the advice of David Ogilvy – an iconic businessman and original “Mad Man” – convincing:

  1. The better you write, the higher you go in Ogilvy & Mather. People who think well, write well.
  2. Woolly minded people write woolly memos, woolly letters and woolly speeches.
  3. Good writing is not a natural gift. You have to learn to write well. Here are 10 hints:
  4. Read the Roman-Raphaelson book on writing. Read it three times.
  5. Write the way you talk. Naturally.
  6. Use short words, short sentences and short paragraphs.
  7. Never use jargon words like reconceptualize, demassification, attitudinally, judgmentally. They are hallmarks of a pretentious ass.
  8. Never write more than two pages on any subject.
  9. Check your quotations.
  10. Never send a letter or a memo on the day you write it. Read it aloud the next morning — and then edit it.
  11. If it is something important, get a colleague to improve it.
  12. Before you send your letter or your memo, make sure it is crystal clear what you want the recipient to do.
  13. If you want ACTION, don’t write. Go and tell the guy what you want.

Source: Oglivy, D. (2012). The Unpublished David Ogilvy. London: Profile Books Ltd.

George Orwell

The model for writing that is usually cited by the supporters of the Plain English Movement is George Orwell whose simple style and text structure may serve as an excellent example as in the sample below from 1984 (1949, p. 123):

A Party member lives from birth to death under the eye of the Thought Police. Even when he is alone he can never be sure that he is alone. Wherever he may be, asleep or awake, working or resting, in his bath or in bed, he can be inspected without warning and without knowing that he is being inspected.

Nothing that he does is indifferent. His friendships, his relaxations, his behaviour towards his wife and children, the expression of his face when he is alone, the words he mutters in sleep, even the characteristic movements of his body, are all jealously scrutinized. Not only any actual misdemeanour, but any eccentricity, however small, any change of habits, any nervous mannerism that could possibly be the symptom of an inner struggle, is certain to be detected. He has no freedom of choice in any direction whatever. On the other hand his actions are not regulated by law or by any clearly formulated code of behaviour.

In 1946 in his essay “Why I write” Orwell wrote that good prose is like a window pane and a year earlier he published his manifesto entitled “Politics and the English Language” in which he criticised vague, pretentious, Latinised style used in politics and public speeches and formulated six elementary rules of good writing (2013: 19):

i. Never use a metaphor, simile, or other figure of speech which you are used to seeing in print.

ii. Never use a long word where a short one will do.

iii. If it is possible to cut a word out, always cut it out.

iv. Never use the passive where you can use the active.

v. Never use a foreign phrase, a scientific word, or a jargon word if you can think of an everyday English equivalent.

vi. Break any of these rules sooner than say anything outright barbarous.

Online plain English writing resources

There are many online resources which develop the skill of writing in plain English :

1. Plain language course on: http://www.faa.gov/about/initiatives/plain_language/basic_course/ which teaches basic tools to help create plain language;

2. Plain Train on http://www.plainlanguagenetwork.org/plaintrain/ with tips and techniques for improving communication skills with the use of plain language;

3. Free guides on http://www.plainenglish.co.uk/free-guides.html offering advice on design and layout, writing letters, cv’s and reports, glossary of alternative terms (or undesirables);

4. 39 rules for writing plain English by W. D. Lutz: http://www.plainlanguagenetwork.org/Resources/lutz.html;

5. A Plain English Handbook: http://www.sec.gov/pdf/handbook.pdf;

6. Free Plain English guides from Plain Language Commission on: http://www.clearest.co.uk/pages/publications/freeguides;

7. Plain English Bibliography: http://www.scotland.gov.uk/Publications/2006/02/17093804/5.

8. Publication on common errors in English: http://public.wsu.edu/~brians/errors/

9. Garble’s writing resources for plain English: http://home.comcast.net/~garbl/center/#.Ui8bhYzwHDc

10. List of 75 online legal writing resources: http://goingpaperlessblog.com/2010/04/14/75-online-legal-writing-resources-just-in-time-for-summer-associates/

Plain English vs. legalese

Recently one of my students, when she has been asked what plain English is, has remarked that plain English is street English and that answer seems to be a common misconception. Plain English has often been criticised for advocating simple, leading to simplistic, drab, kindergarten, babyish and unsophisticated English which lacks precision. Quite contrary, in real life the precision that is postulated in legalese makes it unintelligible. In fact legal writing has become synonymous with poor writing.

However, plain language is a phenomenon that has already gone beyond plain English only. In Poland the idea of plain language was popularised in 2012 when Plain Polish Section was set up at the Faculty of Polish at the University of Wroclaw, Poland. Its main aim is to prepare a Polish version of plain language – a communication style that is comprehensible to mass audience. Plain language is a variant of a national language recommended to authors and institutions producing texts for general public, so called “every citizen”. The idea of plain language movement is to include into public life the groups of citizens that are excluded due to their inability to comprehend official texts, e.g. administrative, legal, journalistic, corporate, advertising, etc. Plain language text is to be understood by an everyman, irrespective of his/her education and knowledge at first reading. Martin Cutts (1998), a research director of the Plain Language Commission in the United Kingdom, defines plain English as the writing and setting out of essential information in a way that gives a cooperative, motivated person a good chance of understanding the document at the first reading, and in the same sense that the writer meant it to be understood. Plain language standard has already been legally enforced in several countries. In the USA President Obama signed the Plain Writing Act of 2010 on October 13, 2010. According to this law federal agencies must communicate with the public in such a way that the public can understand and use. On January 18, 2011, Obama issued a new Executive Order, „E.O. 13563 – Improving Regulation and Regulatory Review” which obliges American regulatory system to make sure that their regulations are accessible, consistent, written in plain language, and easy to understand. Other countries where plain language is mandatory include Canada, Australia, New Zealand, Germany, the UK. An interesting case study from Portugal – a country with the highest illiteracy rate in the EU – is presented in a Sandra Fisher-Martin’s talk entitled “The right to understand” on TED.com.

WIKI for Students of Law

www.duralex.wikispaces.com has been specially designed for Polish and Russian students of Law.

The Project is coordinated by dr Elena Vyushkina from Saratov State Law Academy, Russia and dr Aleksandra Łuczak from Kozminski University, Warsaw, Poland.

Below here is a presentation of WIKI DURALEX for the 5th International Scientific and Methodological Conference on „Information and Communication Technologies in Linguistics, ELT and Crosscultural Communication” at Lomonosov Moscow State University on 7-9 June 2012

The article describing DURALEX WIKI Project written by dr Aleksandra Łuczak from Kozminski University has been awarded the third place in the competition organised by a Polish magazine for foreign languages teachers „Języki obce w szkole” and can be read here: http://duralex.wikispaces.com/

 

Decalogue of a Modern Language Teacher

  1. Don’t be afraid of new technologies; in practice they turn out be easy and intuitive and usually they work rather than don’t;

  2. Don’t be afraid to ask more experienced teachers, IT consultants, bloggers or technology enthusiasts for help; they are usually happy to share their experience;

  3. Enroll for a course on Computer Assisted Language Learning (like we did) or suggest organising such a course at you school or university;

  4. If your colleague uses computers in his/her work with students suggest that they run a training for other teachers; the cost of such training will most probably be lower than the cost of an outsourced training;

  5. You can always as your students for help; most probably they know how to solve your technical problems;

  6. Using new technologies your students do not know you can impress them;

  7. With new technologies you will make your life easier by creating a base of teaching materials to use in the future, you will limit the number of paper homeworks written in hard to decipher handwriting, you will engage your students in course creation, you will produce a final product of your work that can be proudly presented to your superiors, colleagues, students’ parents;

  8. You will enrich your CV; e-learning courses are now an integral component of many traditional language courses. Information about your advanced computer literacy can raise your chances on the job market;

  9. Try hard; you learn most by doing things;

  10. Check Russell Stannard website on www.teachertrainingvideos.com where in short videos he shows how to use various applications in the language classroom.

To Translate or Not to Translate? On the Use of L1 in the Legal English Classroom.

As a non-lawyer Legal English teacher I do not only train students in this very specialist variety of English but I am also a constant Legal English learner. Every day I ask myself a question how I can improve my teacher’s workshop and provide more and more effective language training. As most ESP (English for Specific Purposes) teachers in Poland I have not been given any formal instruction in special languages or ESP methodology during my English studies at university. As most of Legal English teachers one day I unexpectedly found myself required to teach students with special needs.

The experience in my case was not only a shock but also a huge challenge, as I believe that to teach a very specialist variety one must know the discipline, at least to some extent. That will very much depend on the experience and knowledge of the very learners. After almost 10 years of ELP (English for Legal Purposes) teaching experience I consider myself a very efficient learner who habitually revises material covered, reads a lot both in English and in Polish. My practice tells me that translation in Legal English is crucial as it facilitates remembering, saves time for lengthy definitions of very abstract terms and teaches the learner both common and civil law terms.

Experiment

In order to assess whether the use of L1 facilitates the process of learning Legal English an experiment was designed and conducted on a group of upper-intermediate Law students. At the time of the experiment the students had almost completed two years of their legal studies and two years of English for Law course. To the time of the experiment the students had attended English for Law classes twice a week and worked with Introduction to International Legal English along with The Lawyer’s English Language Coursebook (Part A). During classes L1, i.e. Polish, was used regularly for translation of specific Law terms. Such procedure seemed helpful especially at the beginning of the course when students have very little knowledge of the discipline they chose to study and of common law which is omnipresent in British coursebooks available on the market. The experimental group consisted of 18 students whose attendance in the classes varied as absenteeism does not influence the final grade which students are awarded according to new university regulations.  

Unit on Tort Law was selected for the experiment, since it was a completely new topic for the group, an area of law that is not typical of Polish legal system and comprises relatively wide scope of material.

After the period of instruction students wrote a regular test, in the format of TOLES Higher examination, and the results of it would be compared with the results of similar tests which the same group of students earlier this year after covering other chapters.

Students had to assess the below twelve statements (in Polish) using five-level Lickert-type scale with the following measures:

(1) Strongly agree, (2) Agree, (3) Neither agree nor disagree, (4) Disagree, (5) Strongly disagree.

  1. I enjoyed classes during which we used Polish more.
  2. I prepared in advance for classes during which I knew we would use only English.
  3. When we did not translate Legal English terms into Polish I used my dictionary more often.
  4. I often felt lost at classes during which we did not translate Legal Terms into Polish.
  5. I did not have to revise much after classes during which we used only English.
  6. It was easier to pass a test after classes during which we used only English.
  7. I felt greater sense of achievement at classes during which we used only English.
  8. I felt greater motivation to learn at classes during which we used only English.
  9. Classes during which we used only English were more interesting.
  10. Legal terms should be translated into Polish because they are too abstract.
  11. When we translated Legal Terms into Polish it was easier for me to master the material.
  12. Classes run in English were too difficult for me.

Results

Over the half of the students did not enjoy classes during which Polish was used for translation more (statement 1). Even more students (62%) felt that classes that had been run completely in English had not been more interesting than classes during which Polish had been used for translation (statement 9). Students confessed that they had not prepared in advance for classes during which they had known they would use only English (statement 2). Almost the half of them confirmed that they had used a dictionary more often to translate legal terms into Polish (statement 3) but even more of them (54%) admitted that they had often felt lost at classes which were run wholly in English (statement 4). Two out of five students noticed that they had not had to revise much after classes during which they had used only English (statement 5) and almost half of them felt greater sense of achievement and their motivation to learn English rose (statements 7 and 8). Majority of the group (77%) agreed that legal terms should be translated into Polish because they are too abstract (statement 10) and it had been easier for them to master the material when legal terms had been translated into Polish (statement 11). However, only one student in four acknowledged that classes run in English had been too difficult for him/her (statement 12).

The grades which students scored after covering the chapter on Tort Law were the poorest (57%) compared to other tests which the same group wrote during the last academic year at which the students scored on average between 60% and 71%. At Tort Law test over the half of the students failed compared to other tests when only once the record 47% students failed while usually only 12%-23% had to retake the test. The answers provided by the students in the questionnaire after they wrote the test did not seem, however, to reflect the achieved results. Only four students out of ten perceived the difficulty of the task (statement 6).

Conclusions

Students who participated in the experiment did not observe any significant differences in the attractiveness of classes run totally in English and those during which Polish was used for translation of Law terms. Classes seemed to be more motivating and demanding for the students, generated more individual dictionary work, some students noticed that they learned more effectively during classes. Unfortunately, many of them felt lost when no Polish equivalents to specialist legal terms were provided. Definitely legal terms need to be translated into Polish because very often they are too abstract for professionally inexperienced students. Moreover, test results show that it was much more difficult to pass the test after the experiment with no use of L1 in the classroom.

The experiment showed how important translation is to the overall student achievement in the Legal English classroom. However, the above conclusions should not be an excuse for the overuse of L1 during English classes.

Students seem to enjoy classes conducted in the target language; they perceive them as challenging and motivating. However, most of them need feedback in their native language in order to achieve a sense of security. Meaningful and reliable information provided by the teacher assures them that the process of learning is effective and faster.

The use of L1 in the Legal English classroom should, therefore, be limited only to translation of the most difficult, most abstract and novel legal terms. Otherwise, students might be tempted to switch to their native language. Translation should be used to facilitate students’ memorisation processes. Once they understand the new term they should learn to paraphrase it, define, substitute with synonyms, simplify or formalize, i.e. speak just like lawyers do when they explain things to their clients.