Strength for Today and Bright Hope for Tomorrow

Volume 9 : 8 August 2009
ISSN 1930-2940

Managing Editor: M. S. Thirumalai, Ph.D.
Editors: B. Mallikarjun, Ph.D.
         Sam Mohanlal, Ph.D.
         B. A. Sharada, Ph.D.
         A. R. Fatihi, Ph.D.
         Lakhan Gusain, Ph.D.
         K. Karunakaran, Ph.D.
         Jennifer Marie Bayer, Ph.D.



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Teaching English Language Skills for Law -
A Malaysian Case Study

Devikamani Menon, Ph.D. & Maya Khemlani David, Ph.D.

1. Status of English in Malaysia

Malaysia is a multilingual and multiracial country. People are identified according to their ethnic affiliations such as Malay, Chinese, Indian and other minority groups in Sabah and Sarawak. Several languages are spoken in Malaysia like Bahasa, Malaysia, Mandarin, other Chinese dialects, Tamil, Iban, Bidayuh and other minority languages. Bahasa Malaysia is the national and official language of Malaysia and English is the second most important language in the country. Malay is the medium of instruction in national schools while English is taught as a single subject. However, in 2003, English was reintroduced in the educational system and used as the medium of instruction in teaching Mathematics and Science in Malaysian secondary and primary schools.

At present, the use of English in Malaysia is common. Most people particularly in Kuala Lumpur can converse in English with minimum level of language proficiency. In fact, it has become a lingua franca when communicating with people from other ethnic groups.

1.2 English Language and the Malaysian Law Courts

In Malaysian courts today, all lawyers in the higher courts need to be equally proficient in both Malay and English. Even though all cases at the Lower courts are in Malay language, when lawyers do their research for their submissions to the court, they would find that most of the legal records on past cases in Malaysia are in English, especially those recorded ten to thirty years ago. Thus they would require English language skills to do research when preparing for cases, whether the cases are held in Malay or English. However, the majority of law undergraduates are proficient in Malay since a strong credit for their school leaving examination is compulsory for entry into the university. However, many of them seem to lack the specific English language skills to function well in the higher courts as lawyers. This skill is particularly the case in industrial courts where most of the clients are managers and trade union leaders and they normally request for lawyers who are proficient in English. In addition, due to globalization, many prospective clients are not just Malaysians. These clients want their cases to be held in English and would expect their lawyers to use a standard English in court.

1.2. English Language and Legal Education

In the Law Faculty of the University of Malaya, most of the legal materials in the law library are in English. Many legal documents and records are from pre-independent Malaya, and former British colonies such as Hong Kong and India. Hence, preparatory work for all assignments, projects and tutorials require students to read and understand materials in English. In addition, Moot Courts or trial courts are held at the faculty where cases are conducted in both Malay and English. Hence proficiency in listening, speaking, reading and writing in the English language seems important for a lawyer in Malaysia to be successful in his or her career, whether in the private or public sector.

2. Lack of Adequate English Language Skills

Since the medium of instruction changed from English to Malay from 1971 onwards, the newer batches of students leaving secondary schools seem to lack the fluency and accuracy in English to be able to function professionally. In fact, many of the undergraduates in the Law Faculty lack the specific language skills needed for legal English such as the pragmatic competence required to interview their clients especially if they are foreigners or expatriates, the skills to cross-examine witnesses or present a cogent argument in court to defend their clients.

Many of the students create syntactic errors even in relatively simple sentences. In a survey conducted the following errors were noted:

"…learnt it for so many times"
" emphasis the importance of English"
"…it helps me develops"
"…make it more fun and enjoyable so that we do not boring anymore"
"…just boost us to speak better English"
"…not everybody are excellent in English"
".. I don't sure"

The above errors in writing have been observed in the students' spoken English as well. In addition, while most of the students seem to be able to read and interpret simple law-based materials, the majority are not able to write well-organized, error-free essays of an argumentative or logical nature. In other words, they lack the skills for critical thinking simply because they lack the necessary tools in the English language. Many are also unable to make a short oral presentation in English without multiple grammatical and vocabulary errors.

This is only the beginning part of the article. PLEASE CLICK HERE TO READ THE ARTICLE IN PRINTER-FRIENDLY VERSION.

A Study of Structural Duplication in Tamil and Telugu - A Doctoral Dissertation | Computational Linguistics as a Curriculum for Engineering Students in India | A Discourse Analysis of R. K. Narayan's The Man-eater of Malgudi | Sense of Place and Sense of Dislocation in Amitav Ghosh's The Glass Palace | Teaching English Language Skills for Law - A Malaysian Case Study | Bi/Multilingualism and Issues in Management of Communication Disorders With Emphasis on Indian Perspectives | Role of English as a Tool for Communication in Tamil Society | The Frequency of the Passive in Indian English | Light Verbs in Gojri | The Core Functions of the English Modals - Speech Act Approach | Phonological Mean Length of Utterance (Pmlu) in Kannada-Speaking Children | Tolkaappiyam - Kaviraajamaarga - A Brief Note of Comparison | A Review of A Quick Guide to Postgraduate Supervision | Procedure to Develop Competency Based Self-Learning Materials | HOME PAGE of August 2009 Issue | HOME PAGE | CONTACT EDITOR

Devikamani Menon, Ph.D.
English Language Department
Faculty of Languages and Linguistics
University of Malaya
Kuala Lumpur, Malaysia

Maya Khemlani David, Ph.D.
English Language Department
Faculty of Languages and Linguistics
University of Malaya
Kuala Lumpur, Malaysia
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