Book review – Part 1: Alissa Hartig’s “Connecting Language and Disciplinary Knowledge in English for Specific Purposes: Case Studies in Law”

I am extremely excited to have the opportunity to review a new book by Alissa Hartig, Assistant Professor of Applied Linguistics at Portland State University, entitled Connecting Language and Disciplinary Knowledge in English for Specific Purposes: Case Studies in Law, which I just yesterday received from the publisher, Multilingual MattersPart of the reason is that this is, to the best of my knowledge, the first book ever published that presents a study of the teaching of “legal English” from a linguistics perspective. 

In other words, it is an entire book that thinks deeply and conceptually–far more deeply and conceptually than I would be able to–about how to teach law with language support to non-native English speaking law students (e.g., international LLM students). If I can read and absorb even 10% of what’s in this book, I feel like I will ascend to a higher legal English plain. Which suggests that if I absorb the entire book I will attain some sort of legal English nirvana. (Side note: Wondering whether this is the first instance of “legal English” collocating with “nirvana.”)
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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. Continue reading

Teaching summarizing to LLM students: Some recent thoughts

i-love-to-summarizeAs I’ve discussed in a previous post, teaching LLM students to summarize can be deceivingly difficult. Summarizing requires control of language as well as an intuitive understanding of what is expected the relevant audience in a summary. Additionally, it’s difficult to explain to others how we learned to summarize–somehow we just learned it–and that, in turn, tends to further inhibits our ability to teach summarizing to others.

And now I have one more layer of complexity to add that I hadn’t previously considered: The category of “summary” actually consists of a number of different kinds of summaries, each with their own purposes, contexts, structures, styles, and expectations.

The source of this new thought (for me) was a presentation I recently watched (viewable on YouTube) titled “Teaching Effective and Varied Summarizing” by Ann M. Johns, Professor Emerita of Linguistics and Writing Studies at San Diego State University. In the presentation, Professor Johns makes a point of listing some common summary forms in the academic community such as a functional summary detailing the structure of a written or spoken text, the one-sentence summary of content (often of a paragraph or paragraphs which can lead to a full summary of the text), an abstract, a problem/solution summary, an argument summary, a plot/story summary, a summary + critique, and synthesis, among other types.

As I contemplated this list of summary types, I started to think and wonder about Continue reading

New article by Alissa Hartig: “Intersections Between Law and Language: Disciplinary Concepts in Second Language Legal Literacy”

alissahartigIntersections Between Law and Language: Disciplinary Concepts in Second Language Legal Literacy” is a recent article published by Alissa Hartig in Studies in Logic, Grammar & Rhetoric (The Journal of University of Bialystok) that discusses a distinction between discourse-structuring concepts and discourse-relevant concepts in ESP. Don’t be intimidated by the linguistics terminology, though. The article describes her work with two LLM students from China and two from Saudi Arabia and provides concrete examples of the complex issues and dynamics at play when teaching them in a law school context.

Hartig is an Assistant Professor of Applied Linguistics at Portland State University. She is the author of a forthcoming book titled Connecting language and content in English for Specific Purposes: Case studies in law. (Publisher: Multilingual Matters) Her previous research and writing on the intersection of law and linguistics includes a 2016 article titled “Conceptual blending in legal writing: Linking definitions to facts” and a 2014 article titled “Plain English and legal writing: Comparing expert and novice writers,” both published in the journal English for Specific Purposes.

 

New book: “Supporting Graduate Student Writers: Research, Curriculum, and Program Design”

Simpson_new.inddI want to share information received from Nigel Caplan (one of the authors) regarding a new book that has been released that I think may be of interest to the law school “legal English” community, even though it’s focus seems to be primarily non-law school graduate students.

Supporting Graduate Student Writers: Research, Curriculum, and Program Design (University of Michigan Press, 2016)
http://www.press.umich.edu/8772400/supporting_graduate_student_writers

The collection is edited by Steve Simpson, Talinn Phillips, Michelle Cox, and Nigel Caplan.(all Consortium on Graduate Communications members) and includes the results of the CGC survey of members, chapters by many colleagues on the CGC listerv, and profiles of interesting and graduate support programs in the US, Canada, Australia, and Sweden. (Paraphrased from Nigel Caplan’s original listserv message.) 

While there is certainly a great deal of focus and energy devoted to legal writing for international students, I believe there is much yet to be done in the legal writing environment from the kind of language support perspective that Caplan and his colleagues have delved into. (Note: You can follow Caplan’s blog here.)

I look forward to reading this book as well as to attending the Consortium on Graduate Communication’s Summer Institute at Yale University next week (June 9-11) to continue learning more about how to teach writing and support writers at the graduate level.

Article: “Conceptual blending in legal writing: Linking definitions to facts”

Professor Alissa J. Hartig of the Portland State University’s Department of Applied Linguistics

Conceptual blending in legal writing: Linking definitions to facts” is a recent article published by Alissa Hartig in the English for Specific Purposes journal based on a textual analysis of the “question presented” in legal memoranda.

Hartig is an Assistant Professor of Applied Linguistics at Portland State University. She is the author of a forthcoming book titled Connecting language and content in English for Specific Purposes: Case studies in law. (Publisher: Multilingual Matters) Her previous
research and writing on the intersection of law and linguistics includes a 2014 article published in English for ESPJournalSpecific Purposes titled “Plain English and legal writing: Comparing expert and novice writers.”

The Issue of Questions

 

hercules and hydra“Professor, for question number one, I actually see two questions here!”  My student leans over my desk and frowns over his writing prompt, seemingly worried he is hallucinating.

Later, during an in-class critical thinking exercise, there is a kerfuffle about framing the issue presented: “Professor, the question on the paper asks whether the cyclist broke the park’s rule, but she [another student] says that the issue is whether her [hybrid] bicycle was a motor vehicle.  Which one of us is right?”

The object of this week’s lessons was supposed to be about using the facts: weeding out irrelevant information, and using relevant information in support of a legal conclusion. But the conversation has evolved into the issue of questions. They are grappling with the idea that one question can yield one or more sub-questions, and they wonder whether to choose one or harmonize both.  In return they get more questions from me: “How did you see that second question? Do you need to answer it to get an answer to the original question? How does your answer to that second question help you to answer the original question? OK, so now that you have an answer to the first question, and an answer to the second question, can you write a two-sentence conclusion that answers both? How about a one-sentence conclusion?”  Some chuckle, as though this is a game we’re playing. Others wrinkle their brows, looking very unsatisfied. I think this is a struggle worth having. Continue reading