Article: Shifting frames to construct a legal English class

I want to share a really interesting article titled Shifting frames to construct a legal English class which was published in the Journal of English for Academic Purposes. The article was written by Marta Baffy, Director of the Two-Year LLM Program and Senior Lecturer in Legal English at Georgetown Law.

I first met Marta after watching her presentation on this topic at the Language and Social Interaction (LANSI) Conference at Columbia Teachers College a couple years ago, so I was excited to see the article in published form. Also, I apparently made a comment to her after her presentation that was salient enough that she felt moved to include it in one of her footnotes. So I’m excited about that as well since it is the first time I’ve ever been part of a footnote to my knowledge.

Below is an abstract of the article and also a little more information about Marta.


In the last decade or so, EAP courses for international lawyers have proliferated. To date, there has been very little research investigating the teaching and learning that takes place in these classrooms, and the present research seeks to fill this gap. This article examines how an EAP course offered at a U.S. law school may foster international students’ socialization into the U.S. legal academic community. Using classroom interaction data, this study centers on how one professor and her students “talk into being” (Heritage, 1984) a Legal English class by frequently shifting between the interactive frames (Bateson, 1972; Goffman, 1986; Tannen & Wallat, 1987) of “law class” and “ESL class,” as cued by linguistic and paralinguistic features produced during classroom talk. Course evaluations and semi-structured interviews with students suggest that repeated shifts between the two frames may play a role in the discursive construction of a class that meets the linguistic and academic needs of students, who seek not only to enhance their “general linguistic competence” (Hutchinson & Waters, 1980), but also to increase their language proficiency for academic tasks they can expect to complete in a U.S. law class.

About Marta

Marta Baffy is a lawyer and linguist who has over 12 years of English as a Second Language (ESL) teaching experience both in the United States and abroad. In the Two-Year LL.M. Program she prepares students linguistically and intellectually for legal study in the U.S., using her expertise in ESL teaching methodology and drawing on her own experiences as a lawyer/former law student. Professor Baffy’s research interests lie at the intersection of law and linguistics, particularly in the contexts of the courtroom and legal classroom. Her most recent work focuses on how foreign-trained attorneys are socialized into the culture of a U.S. law school during classroom interactions. She is currently co-authoring a textbook on academic and legal writing for international lawyers, which will be published in Fall 2017.


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