Law is a Foreign Language: An Analysis of the Language of Law and the Use of Second-Language Teaching Pedagogy in an Undergraduate Business Law Course

Document Type



Lawyers have long been and, to some extent, remain notorious for using language that the general public cannot understand. Some accuse lawyers of “poisoning language in order to fleece their clients.”1 In light of the existence of and progression of the plain-meaning movement, it is at least equally possible that lawyers are more like Harry Potter speaking Parseltongue, speaking legal language without even realizing it. Either way, when the audience does not have a law school education, they may benefit from guidance relating to legal language and terms that may otherwise be ignored. As the plain language movement continues, the expression of law will become less archaic, but even so, the practice of law and the writing and teaching of legal concepts will continue to require terminology unique to the field. A brief review of the historic origins and other aspects of the language of law support the suggestion that law is like a second language. In light of this reality, students in undergraduate business law classes may benefit from teaching efforts to consider and borrow from the pedagogy of second-language teaching. Task-Based Language Teaching (TBLT), which incorporates goals that are at least reminiscent of those found in a practice-based undergraduate business law text, is useful, as is research relating to the use of vocabulary activities for students learning a second language. Moreover, a view of these options yields a ready list of practical considerations for those teaching undergraduate business law, or other lexicon-rich disciplines, interested in improving student fluency within the subject.

APA Citation

Wilson, R., Lee, E., & Green, L. (2018). Law is a foreign language: An analysis of the language of law and the use of second-language teaching pedagogy in an undergraduate business law course. Journal of Legal Studies in Business, 21, 76-95. https://journaloflegalstudiesinbusiness.files.wordpress.com/2018/07/03_9780357039052_harris.pdf