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 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.


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.


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).


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.

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, 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


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 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.,

A web portal 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 ( 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.