By Tonya Kowalski from Washburn University School of Law
Like many other law schools around the country, my institution is launching an LL.M. program for international law students. While we already enjoy some outstanding foreign law students in our JD program, this new venture will increase the number of ESL students on our campus significantly. Everyone on the faculty will need to think more deeply about the unique needs, challenges, and talents our international and domestic ESL students bring to the classroom.
Professor Julie Spanbauer of the John Marshall Law School has devoted a good portion of her scholarly agenda to exploring the role of culture in law and legal education. For anyone who has ever attempted to review the primary research in the ESL field, you may have experienced to a small degree what ESL law students do when they attempt to enter a new discourse community and legal culture. In “Lost in Translation,” Professor Spanbauer has done a great service to legal educators by doing some translating of her own: she summarizes in plain language some of the key concepts from post-secondary ESL education and contextualizes them for the law classroom—particularly the legal writing classroom.
For example, did you know that the emphasis on subject-verb-object sentence structure in English conveys a constant emphasis on causality that is not always present in other languages and cultures? Educators need to be aware of these types of cultural expectations so that they can discuss them with students.
The article provides several more examples, offers suggestions for improving course content, and supports her points with survey evidence and interdisciplinary authorities.