THE COMPLEXITY OF ACADEMIC LANGUAGE COURSE SYLLABUS DESIGNING
University of Warsaw (POLAND)
About this paper:
Appears in: ICERI2011 Proceedings
Publication year: 2011
Conference name: 4th International Conference of Education, Research and Innovation
Dates: 14-16 November, 2011
Location: Madrid, Spain
Abstract:It is by now an established practice that any language for special purposes (LSP) course, regardless of the setting, should be based on a careful analysis of the learners’ work related linguistic and communicative needs. The task is simple enough when it concerns a group of administrative workers at an international company or a global law firm, but it becomes formidable when applied to university students of economics or law. The reason for this complexity is that university students have a double set of expectations, related to their current, educational needs on the one hand and future, professional needs on the other. This is further complicated by a double amount of stakeholders’ requirements and organizational limitations involved. This situation has its consequences for course design, and particularly, syllabus construction, as clearly indicated by the author’s studies into needs and expectations of legal English learners. Specifically, the needs of legal practitioners identified by the author reveal their clear preference for a pragmatically and communicatively oriented course of legal English, where the expected outcome is learning a certain set of formulas in situational contexts. However, such a strongly communicative and cognitively undemanding approach would be entirely inappropriate for university law students, who expect that some cultural and subject contents be added to profession-related language and communication. Meeting these different sets of needs and expectations is a real challenge for academic teachers of legal English. The best solution appears to be a task-based syllabus, structured around complex tasks involving a variety of activities, both communication and cognition oriented. In case of legal English, the obvious type of task to base a syllabus upon is actual and hypothetical legal cases, which are equally conducive to achieving academic and professional learning outcomes. Specifically, the pre-task phase of a case study creates a perfect opportunity for cognitive language-and-content integrated learning as students gather factual information about the case, read relevant legislation and study the systemic (institutional) context . In turn, the task phase can be used as a basis for a law firm and moot court simulation, in which the students act as lawyers, first interviewing their clients and discussing the case to develop the best courtroom strategy, and then presenting their arguments in court, all of which contributes considerably to the development of their communicative competence. Finally, in the post-task face, the students go back to more cognitively oriented learning and as a follow up write a case brief or an academic essay on the legal issue involved in the case. Though clearly effective as a means of fusing communicative and cognitive learning, tasks pose several problems to the language teacher: they are time consuming to prepare, complicated to structure and run in a class exceeding 10 students, and difficult to assess, especially with regard to their communicative phase. As a result, not many university language teachers decide to use a task-based syllabus for their LSP courses, opting rather for a task-assisted one.
Keywords: Higher education, language for special purposes, legal English, academic English, needs analysis, course design, syllabus design.