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Preparing Students for Delivering Poster Presentations

Poster presentations are becoming increasingly popular in the academic environment as an alternative way of presenting research results at conferences as well as a substitute for lecture like appearances which often do not leave time for the interaction between the speaker and the conference participants.

Students graduating from universities rarely have an idea what an academic poster is and how it should be designed. In order to increase students awareness of this form of presentation an English poster competition for students has been organised at Kozminski University this year. It has been a pilot edition of the competition but the plans are to organize it regularly in the coming years. This year’s competition has been addressed to students registered at Kozminski University as well as to contestants from other law faculties and secondary schools from Poland and attractive in kind prizes have been prepared by the University for the winners.

The topic selected for the first poster competition is: Libertas in Legibus (Liberty in the Law). The intention is to focus at a relatively general issue so that all students will have an opportunity to prepare a poster, even the freshmen who have just started their legal education and do not have much expertise in law yet.

The students will be invited by the University to participate in a workshop during which techniques and tools for the preparation of posters and examples of good practice will presented. Moreover, those who enrol for the competition will be encouraged to design an online questionnaire with the help of which they can research attitudes of Polish students towards the issue of liberty.

Teach, Learn and Integrate with Technology

I can remember the day, in the late 1990s, when I first started to use e-mail. I might have, however, explored the internet a little bit earlier. At that time I was already a university graduate, in my late twenties and I intended to start working on my Ph.D. thesis. I was instructed by my thesis supervisor to set up an e-mail box and use it for communication with her, since it was the least disturbing or annoying and the most convenient means of communication.

Today’s students will never remember their first encounter with technology, since it has always been present in their lives.

Ask your students what they think is the best invention of the XX century. Many of them will mention a computer, a mobile phone or the internet.

I, therefore, believe that not using technology is irresponsible…

I am a Legal English teacher from Poland. I work with very demanding young lawyers-to-be who want to develop their Legal English skills in an attractive way. I believe that using new technologies in a conservative Legal English classroom is possible. I believe that technology, used with moderation and under no compulsion, may help add variety to Legal English classes and organize them better, as well as enhance the language learning process. I am not a “techie” and I do not want to convince anybody to use technology. I am not a “dogmeist” and I do not want to prove that technology should be denied. Falling into extremes has always been dangerous.

Technology, used with moderation and under no compulsion, may help add variety to Legal English classes and organize them better, as well as enhance language learning process of young university students, since the internet, Wikipedia, blogging, and social networking has become part and parcel of their daily routines.

The advantages of using technologies in LE classroom can be manifold.
E-learning platforms facilitate communication between the teacher and the students and become the place where they meet, discuss, exchange materials, leave messages, upload their works, develop team building skills through Wiki.

Technology enables teachers to design attractive classes. They can introduce an element of fun and game but also have 24 hour access to the latest news, and can encourage lawyers-to-be to debate on current topics on blogs, mailing lists or discussion forums.

Teachers can introduce cross cultural issues by taking the students for virtual tours of the UK Parliament, the US Congress, Australian magistrate courts, playing videos and podcasts.

And last but not least, the internet is probably the richest source of content knowledge which non-lawyer LE teachers will need to feel well-qualified for discussing specialist legal topics with students. Google Book Search, Wikipedia, free Legal Advice sites, official websites of various government institutions must be saved on the reading list of any LE teacher.

Dekalog Dogmatyka

  1. Nie bój się nowych technologii; w praktyce najczęściej okazują się one łatwe w obsłudze, intuicyjne i częściej działają dobrze niż nie;
  2. Nie bój się pytać i prosić o pomoc innych bardziej doświadczonych lub chętnych do pomocy kolegów lektorów, informatyków, bloggerów lub po prostu entuzjastów postępu technicznego;
  3. Zapisz się na kurs nt. wykorzystania nowych technologii w nauczaniu języków obcych organizowany dla nauczycieli lub zaproponuj zorganizowanie takiego kursu w twojej szkole;
  4. Jeśli wiesz, że twoja koleżanka lub kolega z pracy wykorzystuje w swojej pracy komputery i nowe technologie zaproponuj im, aby przeprowadzili szkolenie dla pozostałych nauczycieli. Koszt takiego szkolenia będzie zapewne dużo niższy od szkolenia przez firmę zewnętrzną i dyrekcja szkoły na pewno się na nie zgodzi;
  5. Zawsze możesz liczyć na pomoc swoich uczniów – prawdopodobnie wiedzą jak rozwiązać twoje problemy techniczne;
  6. Zawsze możesz zaskoczyć swoich uczniów pokazując im nowe narzędzia, których oni sami jeszcze nie znają – zostaniesz ich „idolem”;
  7. Ułatwisz sobie pracę: stworzysz bazę materiałów, które będzie można wykorzystać w przyszłości, ograniczysz ilość prac domowych przekazywanych na papierze i napisanych trudnym do rozszyfrowania pismem, włączysz swoich uczniów w tworzenie kursu, który prowadzisz, wspólnie stworzycie gotowy produkt końcowy waszej wspólnej pracy, którym będzie można się pochwalić rodzicom, przełożonym, kolegom nauczycielom;
  8. Wzbogacisz swoje cv; kursy e-learningowe coraz częściej stają się integralną częścią kursów prowadzonych metodami tradycyjnymi. Informacja o twoich umiejętnościach posługiwania się najnowszymi technologiami może podnieść twoje szanse na rynku pracy;
  9. Próbuj sam(a) jak najwięcej; najlepiej uczymy się i najwięcej zapamiętujemy sami wykonując zadania, które chcemy poznać lub rozwiązać;
  10. Koniecznie zajrzyj na stronę www.teachertrainingvideos.com, na której Russell Stannard w krótkich filmach będący zapisem zdarzeń prezentowanych na ekranie komputera pokazuje jak używać różnych aplikacji przydatnych w pracy lektora języka obcego; nie koniecznie angielskiego, gdyż na stronie znajduje się zakładka ‘Videos for All Languages’ (filmy dla wszystkich języków).

Legal English Teachers’ Visions for the Future

A little research which I conducted last year showed that Polish Legal English teachers are very ambitious. The Wordle in this post shows which words my respondents used most often.

On 23-24 October 2010 I attended a conference in Piotrków Trybunalski on

NEW CHALLENGES IN FOREIGN LANGUAGE TEACHING AND LEARNING

My presentation on the topic:

Learning to Teach Legal English.
Teachers’ Professional Development in ELP Context.

can be viewed here: Piotrkow Presentation of 23 Oct 2010

I would like to thank all my colleagues who responded to my questionnaire. You have all been very helpful and I am under great impression of your qualifications, ambition and hard work you do every day to develop as teachers and to satisfy the needs of your students.

Once again, thank you, All.

On Commercial Awareness

Law graduates need very practical linguistic skills, i.e. communication skills, both written and oral, since lawyers and trainees need to be able to communicate effectively both with colleagues and clients. Therefore, language accuracy and ability to draft legal documents in plain English are key. One of the skills that recruiters test when screening applications and at interview is a candidate’s spelling, punctuation and the ability to use correct grammar. An application littered with mistakes is an immediate turn-off and may not be considered because of this, advises Matt Bryan, graduate recruitment officer, Trowers & Hamlins on www.targetjobs.co.uk. The most challenging language problems which all law students have and must master are: the correct use of prepositions and collocations. Polish students will also have to concentrate on articles, countable and uncountable nouns and development of plain language writing skill. As Catherine Mason noticed Polish students display a tendency to use long, complicated, sentences full of empty unnecessary words. The example Catherine Mason gave to follow was George Orwell whose simple style and text structure may serve as an excellent example.

At an interview candidates can expect some very practical tasks to do, e.g.:

  1. Translate an indemnity clause from a commercial contract;
  2. What is wrong with the sentence: … your e-mail from 25 May;
  3. Advise a client on how to start a business in Poland.

Task number 3 above tests another skills which recruiters are looking for in law graduates is commercial awareness, which is a term that refers to a student’s  general knowledge of business, their business experiences (or work experience) and, specifically, their understanding of the industry which they are applying to join. Students will need to know some basic general commercial principles to be able to answer general commercial awareness questions, such as being able to explain the difference between a private limited company and a public limited company. They will also need to be able to discuss differences between Polish or European Union and common law systems, e.g. what taxes are paid, employment law issues, finance options for a new business, liabilities for debts, etc. They will also need to know about any current major global economic issues, and their impact, or potential impact, on their employer’s business sector. Therefore, students should read publications such as Financial Times, BBC News, The Lawyer, as well as news about Poland in English (e.g. www.thenews.pl, www.newzar.wordpress.com)

A web portal www.wikijob.co.uk gives the following examples of typical commercial awareness interview questions:

  1. Describe a company you think is doing well/badly and explain why you think this is so.
  2. What do you think are key qualities for a company to have to be successful?
  3. What significant factors have affected this industry in recent years? (The Sarbanes-Oxley Act is a key factor for accounting and especially audit.)
  4. What do you understand of the role this firm plays in this industry?

An attempt to develop students’ commercial awareness was made by me by means of a blog for Polish students of law (www.englishforlaw.edublogs.org) in which they discuss current economic, political and legal issues.

Needs Analysis in ELP

Each teaching situation, even within the context of tertiary English for Legal Purposes, is different. In the process of course design many other constraints should be taken in to consideration apart from the results of the needs analysis. Course design is always a negotiation process which should consider not only the needs or wishes of all the stakeholders but also other limitations such as available resources, e.g. the length of the course, the number of teaching hours, teaching materials; potential and experience of the learners, the expected outcome of the course, the form of the final assessment, etc.

However, in each case the options are manifold. Law students, i.e. lawyers to be, need to obtain comprehensive education in terms of foreign language skills. Above all they need to achieve at least intermediate level of General English skills to be able to communicate freely with clients or other lawyers in their future workplace. Consequently they will need to develop their overall knowledge of the foreign language in order to attain at least CEFR B2 level as required by the Council of Higher Education.

Students and school authorities wishes as regards international certificates are also justifiable. Preparation for a certificate examination has been proven to act as a very important motivator for university students who usually are not very highly motivated to study foreign languages. Above all, it provides them with a internationally recognized document which confirms their knowledge of specialist variety of English at a certain level. For university graduates who usually do not possess much professional experience to include in their CVs, foreign language certificates are documents which they are usually very proud of.

All in all, the most important aspects which course designers and teachers modelling Legal English courses must take into consideration are very practical skills which lawyers-to-be will need in their future jobs. Even though the today’s students might protest, their foreign language instructors must remember that the weakest point reported by international law firms commenting on their expectations towards law graduates is the writing skill. The core of Legal English course should constitute the development of legal drafting and accuracy (i.e. prepositions, collocations, articles) as it accounts for the quality of a written text.

Needs analysis results show that students usually identify speaking as their weakest point and most essential problem. Speaking activities have a great potential and the part of the syllabus which can enliven the classes and increase the students’ satisfaction. In the case of Legal English lessons, however, speaking activities should be localized, i.e. based on the context of local law. Namely, Polish students will most probably work in the context of Polish or European Union law. They do not really feel the need to discuss the aspects of common law. It is the teachers’ task to create opportunities for communication based on local law which often will demand creating their own teaching materials/incentives for meaningful communication.

Legal English classroom is a place of numerous opportunities and challenges both for the students and the teachers. On the other hand, it is probably one of the most complex ESP contexts which requires a lot of engagement and experience on the part of the teachers and hard work and stamina on the part of the students. Structuring such courses to the best advantage of the students is a constant negotiation process between the constraints imposed by the teaching institution and the needs of the students which mature and emerge along the course. Experienced teachers will be able to combine the sometimes mutually exclusive needs of the stakeholders and prepare the lawyers-to-be for the challenges of the job market.