Languages for lawyers

In the January issue I covered some of the general material on the internet designed to help you learn a language. In this article I look at some of the material covering legal topics as well as describing a few more of the more general resources.

If your French is already reasonably good, you can watch the French series Le Juge est une Femme starring Marine Delterme as Alice Nevers a “juge d’instruction”. You can watch this series (and there is lots of it) completely free on YouTube, and if you find it difficult to understand, you can replay it as often as you like. I doubt if all French judges are really quite so good looking, or so flirtatious with the detectives who work with them. However, since in France judges are appointed on the basis of examination results rather than practical experience, some of the judges seem very young indeed.

An episode called “Juge contre Juge” is particularly useful for legal vocabulary. In this story Alice Nevers is asked to try a judge for suspected murder, and she agrees to do so, despite the fact that he was previously her Professor at Law School. In the episode, she constantly refers to the techniques he himself taught her and this does give you some insight into the way French judges are trained.

YouTube is a great starting point if you already have a good knowledge of a foreign language, but it can be quite daunting if you are a beginner, because of the speed with which the characters speak. For this reason it is often better to look at the printed word, where you can use one of the many free web translation services like Babelfish, or Google Translate.

Twitter provides another useful overview of important things that are happening in the legal field around the world. If you want to know what is happening in France for example, have a look on Twitter @actudroit which gives you an excellent overview, as does @carrieresjuridi. Another Twitter feed, @avocatinternet, allows you to pose a legal question and gives you an answer.

For those learning Spanish, gives you a breakdown of documents and legal information. For Italy there is the site for the Ministry of Justice .

Delia Venables provides an excellent selection of websites you can consult about different legal systems in her web section In the section for Europe, there is a useful starting point (which can be viewed in English as well as French) about the French Senate. There is also Legifrance which is a government site giving information about legislation, as well as background information about the French legal system, again in English as well as French.

There are specialist legal sections in most of the major French newspapers, so for example if you put Le Figaro Droit into Google it will come up with the most current articles about the law. The Italian newspaper La Reppublica has a section called Governo (the government) which also covers new legislation. The Spanish newspaper El Pais does not have a legal section, but if you put derecho (law) into the search function, it will give you the most current news items of importance.

You may like to ease in more gently to learning a language, rather than starting with specialist legal material. For example, Transparent Language will send you a word a day in your target language, place it in a sentence, and also give you the facility to listen to it, by pressing on a microphone.

A very helpful site,, provides “a word a day” in your chosen language and once you’ve subscribed (it’s free), you’ll be plied daily with a vast range of vocabulary, for as long as you like. In German, for example, I’ve learned words and phrases ranging from fried egg to aeroplane ticket in the last few weeks alone

Another useful resource for learning general words in a language is the “Slow series.” You can for example put “News in Slow Spanish” into Google and you will find a website with a series of news articles, with text before you, and spoken at a special slow speed that you can increase if you wish. There is a subscription needed for this one. Because you have the text in front of you, you can always look up the words in advance. This website also works in German and Italian.

But how do you remember all this specialist information you have so painstakingly acquired? There is an excellent free app you can use to learn anything, from languages to line-dancing, from pottery to philately. It is called Memrise. On Memrise you can create your own courses or subscribe to other people’s. You learn the different words by using “mems”, which are different pictures and words that help you remember what you have learned. Memrise sends you updates when you need to re-test yourself. Some words will have audio that other people have recorded, but you can also record your own audio. You can carry it with you on your smart phone or tablet, even without wifi. You can follow other users, and learn their courses. This could be useful if, for example, one colleague makes a list of specialist tax vocabulary, and another does a list of words about intellectual property.

Another excellent free resource is a website called Books Should Be Free which covers a vast range of languages. It provides the text and audio book for many classics, so that if you really want to know what a language sounds like (essential if you want to speak it) you can read the text, while listening to the words simultaneously. It has a tremendous range of world classics including Freud’s Theory of Dreams, Jules Verne’s Around the World in Eighty Days, Dante’s The Divine Comedy and Cervantes Don Quijote, and the books can be selected by language so you can see the ones available to you.

This has been a whistle stop tour of some of the free resources on the web; incredible when only a few years ago much of this information would have been very expensive to obtain, if it was available at all. As the economy becomes more and more global, knowledge of foreign languages becomes more and more useful and the internet makes it easier and easier to acquire, all at no cost whatsoever.

Susan Isaacs has an MA from Oxford and has been running courses in the City for the past twenty five years. She has taught specialist courses accredited by SRA for CPD and her clients include students from Norton Rose, Addleshaw Goddards, Linklaters, Herbert Smith, Simmons and Simmons, Clyde and Co, Slaughter and May and Laurence Graham. As she says “Most students like and use all the facilities available on the web but still say there is no substitute for going to classes where a teacher will talk to you, correct you and explain things you do not understand.”

Email Twitter @languages2000.

Susan Isaacs will be running a series of language courses for City professionals starting in May 2014. Courses are held early morning, lunchtime and after work in City law firms near the Barbican and near London Bridge. There are courses for beginners, intermediate and advanced speakers of French, Spanish and Italian as well as beginner and intermediate students of Portuguese and German. Please contact Susan for more details on