Studying in a foreign language
Life at university will exercise your language skills to the max – not least if you’re planning to take on a career in English law. You’ll have to write essays, contribute to seminars and tutorials, attend lectures and plough through piles of study material – all in English on a daily basis! What’s more, the prime weapon in a good lawyer’s artillery is their ability with the written and spoken word. Eloquence and articulacy in language are vital for building and presenting strong arguments and drafting and legal letters, contracts and reports amongst a multitude of other responsibilities, so language skills really do have to be top-notch.
It takes guts and confidence to work and study abroad, but it can certainly be one of the best things you’ll experience in your lifetime. Fluency in at least one other language can also be extremely appealing to law firms in their trainee recruitment. The UK isn’t exactly renowned on the world stage for its prowess in the language-speaking department, so bilingual or multilingual trainees can be a valuable asset for cases involving an international element. In fact, if you manage to get into a City law firm you can expect a heavy international caseload!
English language requirements at UK universities
Considering the linguistic demands of study abroad and the legal profession, it’s understandable that UK universities and law schools expect a certain level of ability in the English language in order for international students to be eligible for their courses. Law courses are testing and intense for any student – even those with English as their first language – and they need to know you will be able to cope with all communicative aspects of the course.
The International English Language Testing System (IELTS)
Applicants from non-majority English speaking countries, therefore, have to prove their language skills are sufficient. Certain qualifications do just that:
- International English Language Testing System (IELTS)
- Test of English as a Foreign Language (TOEFL)
- Pearson Test of English (PTE Academic)
These qualifications are an internationally recognised measure of English language abilities in speaking, writing, listening and reading. They are sat at a British Council Office in the student’s home country, or at an accredited language school in the UK. Universities will set their own score requirements – usually around 6.0 for IELTS. Score requirements for the BPTC (the vocational course for aspiring barristers) are mostly higher than those for the GDL or LPC.
BPP University, for example, asks for a score of 6.5 (or equivalent) for the LLB and minimum of 6.0 in all areas for the GDL and LPC, whilst the University of Law looks for at least 7.5 for the BPTC.
Check with your prospective providers to see which qualifications and scores they accept.
Legal English courses
Legal jargon and terminology can be bewildering and even feel like learning another language to native speakers at times, so in some ways, international students won’t be at a disadvantage there – a lot of writing techniques will be new to native speakers too! There are some English language courses available specialising in legal English, although unless stipulated in your course entry requirements they may not always be necessary. They are an option if you feel like boosting your confidence and honing your vocabulary.
- The School of English
Legal English courses usually run as intense courses for a few weeks, or as evening classes.
Don’t forget to socialise!
One of the tried-and-tested best ways to improve in a foreign language is to dive right in with native speakers. You can join societies, watch English language TV, read English books… it’s all about starting to get chatting! Your language skills and confidence will naturally improve more than you’ll realise, and you will also make friends and build up your support network as you go. Overcoming the language barrier can be tough-going, but the buzz of being able to live, work and express yourself in another language is definitely worth the hard work!