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Integration of Legal Language in ESP


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Integration of Legal Language in ESP

With Hungary’s approaching EU accession, the study of legal language within ESP is emerging as a basic need for prospective technical translators and professional communicators at our university. Our graduates mostly seek and gain jobs with agencies related to European studies, such as regional development, law harmonization, sustainable development, ecology and banking. The Center for Technical Language Instruction (CTLI) wishes to focus on the selection of `real life` legal documents, practical approach, proper support materials, adequate methods, structural development of tasks tailored to student needs in the education of legal language in the language classroom. 121c29b


The formation of the new face of Europe has brought about challenging demands in teaching undergraduate technical translators. New subjects have to be created to keep pace with rapid social and political changes. We, the educators of the Center for Technical Language Instruction (CTLI), strongly feel that one of our primary tasks is to give our students a working knowledge of EU legal language and terminology. Many may say that this must be the profile of the University of Law. A wide range of professions are deeply influenced by the demands of our country’s preparation for full EU membership, and its harmonization processes. Therefore, a solid basis of legal language knowledge is indispensable for any job where documents, contracts or regulations are handled by our technical translator and communicator students.

When hearing about the complicated technical language used by lawyers, even native speaker laymen frown, indicating that they do not understand it. Special tasks for the ESP language teacher include a) being well-informed about legal issues and, within this, EU legal terminology (without, of course, pretending to be a legal professional) and b) being able to make students believe that this special language has its own characteristics and can be taught/learned as any other technical language. The use of several simple methods and a set of carefully varied exercises in class convinced my own students of their ability to learn to handle legal documents.

After clearing up the myth surrounding the difficulty of legal language, my next aim was to show them that the acquisition of such knowledge is far from being dry and boring. Even though they registered for the course of legal studies because they were convinced of its usefulness, they presupposed it would be impossibly difficult. My study aims to identify 1.) steps to enhance student motivation, 2.) the selection of language classroom exercises for L2 students seeking training in legal language and 3.) to see the value of this approach for the student. As the relationship between student motivation and the effectiveness of methodology is undeniable (see e.g. Korman, A.K.: The Psychology of Motivation, 1974), I often asked myself the question: how can I teach this `dry` topic in a lifelike, creative way?


I have been teaching technical translation (theory and practice) for years at the CTLI now.  I firmly believe that translation tasks are both indispensable to the technical translator teacher, in preparing to teach such courses, and to their students. Translation exercises keep the teacher ‘in practice’ and able to teach the ‘tricks’ of the translating profession in a practical way. As a practicing translator, I dealt with several kinds of legal documents, such as ISPA project documentation for the Debrecen Municipality, TEMPUS Phare Annual Reports and Statements from the Commission of the European Communities, Land Use Policy, Regional Studies and Settlement Layout Plans for the VATI (Budapest), but, most importantly, the text of the 1260/1999 Council Regulation by the European Commission. The Regional Development Agency of the North-East Hungarian Plain provided me opportunities for active consultancy in cases where I needed technical clarification. With this background I could realize the first aim: to enhance my students` interest and motivation by giving them real working materials that were/are used at the moment by agencies, firms they might work for one day. Furthermore, I gave them freedom to choose out of the recommended materials for language classroom purposes (I presented them 6-8 documents, contracts and articles) and consulted the prospective benefits of the selected 2-4 with them.

Equally important, I gave them a list of EU law support materials with their exact web site addresses, which also come from my active translation experience, such as Multi Term Web Access, MuWA Query Page, IMF Terminology, EVROTERM, EUROTEXT, Dictionary of EU Dictionary, GLOSSARIST, CELEX, EUROPA EU, TRANSLATION AND ENLARGEMENT, TIS, EURODICAUTOM, a list of term banks, legal databases, online and paper dictionaries (legal and regular) and other relevant language resources and we discussed, if needed, practiced the best ways of using them.

As most of my course’s participants come from the Art Faculties of the integrated Debrecen University, where education is rather theoretical, I wished to offer my students a practical approach to the subject. I would argue from my own experience that practicality offers immediate assistance for students in their future jobs. Through this method I hope to fill a loophole in present day language classroom education, which brings me to the next point: the methods used in the legal language classroom. 121c29b


First, based on the consensus in the selection of the given study material mentioned above, we chose a text, in this example, the Council Regulation of 1260/99 by the European Commission. The full text of the Regulation was presented on the EUROTEXT homepage, which offered several useful links for further interpretation.

For home assignment, my students were requested to translate the given text parts (length was negotiable), which we discussed in the next class. In the course of discussion, by using the above-mentioned Internet and other sources, we developed their vocabularies by searching for 3-4 synonyms for all the relevant legal terminology, e.g. stipulate: designate, set forth, specify and pledge. With the original words and their synonyms my students had to write sentences and questions of their own within the framework of the legal subject area. The sentences and questions enhanced their creativeness, and served as a basis for the following class’s dialogue practice in small groups or on class level, as it was comfortable for all of us in the class. This exercise also gave me good insight into problems of misinterpretation and clumsy word usage that we could correct on the spot.

Next, I gave them separate sentences for translation exercise, from English into Hungarian, then vica versa. I have come to realize that with these steps their vocabularies became activated, and from the small groups of synonyms their long-term memory will preserve the most important ones.

Having completed all these preparatory tasks, I asked my students to translate a certain passage of the Regulation from Hungarian into English (using an authorized version of translation issued by the Center of Regional Studies, Hungarian Academy of Sciences), which we proofread and corrected together in class in the following language class. The students` initial reluctance and scare were soon gone; they became increasingly confident in the use of legal terminology. They even tried to express everyday topics of conversation by using legal terminus technicus for fun!

With an eye toward active student participation, I structured the tasks in two ways: a) through gradual vocabulary building and knowledge activation from simple synonyms to the translation of legal passages from Hungarian into English, I hoped to provide a solid basis of comfortable word (language) use; b) in the classroom, I varied the tasks according to the intensity of their attention and alertness. We continuously varied simple and rather complicated written assignments with dialogues and voluntary presentations on any relevant legal topic, which they could choose freely and give in class for grade improvement. Positive (and only positive) motivation served as an impetus for creative participation, interest arousal, task variation, and naturally, for the development of presentation skills. The wide range of tasks made classroom work and educator-student cooperation exciting, challenging and joyful. 


In conclusion, I would argue that the subject area of EU legal language is of key importance in present day tertiary education, in every university major, in training technical translators of any languages. Market demands press educators to be topical in subjects and methods as well, to provide their students with all the working knowledge they can successfully use in their future jobs.

Initial difficulties with the formality and compactness of legal language can be methodologically cleared and eased.

As student motivation is a great driving force towards effectiveness, the incorporation of student freedom in the selection and compilation of the course curriculum is indispensable. The development of educator-student cooperation, the variety of tasks result in creative student participation, greater confidence in the use of written and oral technical language, a better preparation for presentation skills as well as success in students` professional lives. The purposive use of student-centered methods in a traditionally `dry` and `difficult` subject area arises unexpected energies, which act towards effective language classroom cooperation.


Horváth, Gy. (2001): Az Európai Unió strukturális és kohéziós politikájának szabályozása. MTA. Pécs

Council Regulation (EC) No. 1260/1999, Official Journal of the European Commission

The New Programming Period 2000-2006. Methodological Working Papers. European Commission,                 Brussels, 2000

Balogh-Tóth (1997): Fejezetek a pedagógiai pszichológia köréből I.  KLTE, Debrecen

Goleman, D. (1998): Érzelmi intelligencia. Magyar Könyvklub

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