Common law, common language; uncommon thinking


If you'd like to see what others who took the course felt about it click here. You can find a short syllabus written by David Goulden here.


Few future lawyers will avoid the need to work in English. This places a heavy demand on the hallmark abilities of the legal professional: high language ability combined with exceptional thinking skills. Regretfully, working in a second language often limits expression and downgrades thinking.

This course, which has proved off-beat, useful and very popular, is aimed at giving you ways to overcome these problems. It provides a platform on which to base ongoing development of your language skills; three scenarios are included - speaking and discussion, negotiation, and presentation, with most texts and exercises drawn from legal contexts.

But even superb language is of little value unless it is underpinned by clear thought. So embedded within the course core is training in the thinking skills you need - how to engage problems, make arguments, evaluate options, and render opinions using skilful reasoning.

The course is led by David Goulden, a Cambridge qualified barrister and former English newspaper editor. An interactive, tutorial format is used with most sessions working in small groups. There is no formal reading list but a wide range of optional topics is offered. Extensive use is made of audio and video sources.

Discussion - key functions such as expressing and seeking opinions; agreeing and disagreeing; making suggestions and persuading; building an argument are taught through individual and group exercises. A Survival task ranking game provides practical experience.

Speaking - paraphrasing, responding to questions and expanding a topic; organising information and ideas; justifying opinions; hypothesising, comparing and contrasting, and decision-making. These are taught through role-plays involving short, informative talks prepared in small groups, sustaining a long turn in discussion by giving information, and expressing and justifying opinions.

Negotiating: the language of negotiation (outlining proposals, making counter proposals, bargaining etc) will be taught as an integral part of hands-on practice of key skills (establishing positions - strengthening yours and weakening the opposition's, trading, closing etc). Model client meetings in contract negotiation, dispute settlement etc are used as the basis of practice sessions.

Critical thinking: about one third of the course time will be devoted to improving your thinking skills....but through experiential learning, not "teacher talking". Memorisation has many uses but it does not develop the ability to think. Some cognitive ability concepts such as Analysis and Evaluation of Arguments, Inference and Assumptions, Evidence and Flaws as well as Heuristics will be demonstrated, but you will learn mainly in a workshop process requiring active participation ("Bring your brain, not your books. And expect the unexpected!).

Goals: The learning outcome in language will be to acquire a collection of tools of practical value which you can upgrade through your professional career. In thinking, the aim is to acquire a "critical spirit - a probing inquisitiveness, a keenness of mind, a zealous dedication to reason, and a hunger or eagerness for reliable information" (Peter Facione).

Course assessment: Assessment will be by a two-hour exercise at the end of the Semester.