Law and Learning Foreign Languages
If you talk to a man in a language he understands, that goes to his head.
If you talk to him in his language, that goes to his heart.
The power of language has been aptly summarized by Nelson Mandela (former president of South Africa). The term ‘language’ refers to the human capacity for acquiring and using complex systems of communication. There are approximately 3000–6000 languages that are spoken by humans today and the scientific study of language is called linguistics. A person who can speak several languages proficiently is called a polyglot. Emil Krebs was a German polyglot and sinologist who had mastered 68 languages in speech and writing and studied 120 other languages.
A wide array of materials which helps in language studies includes language courses, self-help books, dictionaries, grammar books, online lessons and electronic translators. However, interactive learning is considered to be the best as language learning is a social activity. Learning the pronunciation of a language is very important and grammar of a language helps in constructing phrases and sentences.
Learning languages helps in communication and personality development of people of all ages and from all walks of life. It has been observed by several researchers that only some people are able to learn many languages with relative ease. Some researchers believe that learning other languages enhances cognitive development in children. It may increase their critical thinking skills, creativity and flexibility of mind. Further, it has been found that, for a child, learning a second language is cognitively as easy as learning a first language.
A foreign language can serve as a window to another culture. It enables communication and exchange of views with people all over the world. Knowledge of foreign languages in areas such as translating, interpreting and language teaching can increase one’s career prospects. There is a great demand for people with language skills in addition to IT, law, finance or sales skills.
In short, learning new languages opens up several new dimensions for the learner such as: an expanded world view; greater intercultural appreciation and sensitivity; and a competitive edge in the global job market. With Indian companies emerging as global players and Indian market being eyed by multinational companies, it becomes essential that there is no dearth of professionals who can overcome language barriers and facilitate smooth communication for proper business transactions. Foreign language experts with a good understanding of cultures are in great demand in the corporate world.
Fields of law such as International Arbitration and Mediation require lawyers well-versed in various foreign languages. Learning of foreign languages increases the ability of a person to widen his/her horizon in the legal profession at a global level. The official working languages of the International Court of Arbitration are English and French.
An international lawyer may work on a wide range of issues of importance. Most of these lawyers specialize in one specific area of law, for e.g., corporate issues such as negotiating business deals for companies located in different countries. Also, a lawyer can concentrate on litigating cases involving citizens or businesses located in different countries. These lawyers may also specialize in working on inter-nation agreements or treaties. Different judicial systems, languages, cultures, and economic and political climates create significant hurdles to resolving international disputes. Arbitration provides an efficient, neutral means of resolving international disputes, but for those unfamiliar with it, the arbitration process can be confusing. In such an environment, multilingual lawyers would be useful.
Other areas requiring the services of an international lawyer include trade, business, tax and law. An international trade lawyer counsels clients on the rules associated with trading between countries; and can offer advice on customs requirements for countries that trade across borders. Also, international trade lawyers may assist clients with financing foreign transactions by preparing and negotiating documentary letters of credit or other legal trade documents. Here too, knowledge of a foreign language can be beneficial.
International law could focus on war crimes prosecutions, human rights or commercial law between the US and other countries. The area of international law that one is interested in will determine the language that has to be learnt. However, several languages are universally used in the practice of any type of international law.
It has been found out that 120 of the 189 member nations of the UN prefer to use English as the language of communication with embassies of other countries. English is the official language in 52 countries of the world. It is the spoken language in international offices and courtrooms, and by most international lawyers. English is now an important inter language among people of many countries. Further, almost all literature on American law practice is written in English. Hence, the ability to read and use the literature depends on a person’s knowledge of the English language.
French is another language that is very useful to an international lawyer, especially in Europe. French is predominantly spoken in numerous countries of Africa, which were colonized by France. French would be an excellent choice to learn as a second language for international lawyers fighting for human rights in Africa as it is the official language of African countries such as Democratic Republic of Congo, Central African Republic, Cameroon and Niger.
Mandarin Chinese which has more native speakers than any other language in the world is another language that could be useful to an international lawyer. Opportunities for practising international law in China are present in civil domains as well as in the investigation and prosecution of human rights issues faced by numerous minority groups in China. Mandarin Chinese is very different from English and learning it proficiently would require much dedication.
Arabic is spoken in the countries of the Middle East and much of North Africa and is another important language in the world. Arabic holds the sixth place among languages that are spoken worldwide. Owing to its growing economic, social and religious influence in the world, good knowledge of Arabic would be useful to the international law community.
Other languages such as Spanish, Russian, Japanese, German and Portuguese could also be useful to international lawyers. Each of these languages has a large number of native and non-native speakers worldwide. Learning one of these languages will enable a lawyer to be more pertinent to the international law community.
Bangalore Institute of Legal Studies