Using Film and TV to Improve Legal English Proficiency

Film and TV series represent an invaluable resource for Legal English students. This is especially true where they require an intercultural dimension to learning. Nowadays, film and TV dealing with law and politics has become far more realistic and shows like HBO’s The Wire (2002) or Netflix’s House of Cards (2013) are ideal tools for non-native English speaking lawyers who are interested in expanding their vocabulary and knowledge of foreign legal and political systems.

Film and TV can open a window to unique cultural and political viewpoints and this offers a perfect classroom tool for discussions on legal issues around the world. Gritty TV series like HBO’s Breaking Bad (2008) or its Netflix spin off Better Call Saul (2015) put the viewer in the unique position of being able to see both the best and worst sides of the law and concepts of justice as they play out in a unique societal and cultural setting. Adding context, culture and the emotion of the moment gives the viewer access to unique language samples, which are enhanced by the use of body language, behavior and interaction.

Personally, I have always been very passionate about film and TV, especially where strong personalities and characters are involved. I grew up with a keen interest in film and cinema and was always drawn to films and TV series depicting legal fiction, criminal and civil trials, legal argument and advocacy and the workings of the justice system in general.

Since starting the Legal Beagle last year, I have witnessed firsthand the value of English films and TV shows for my students. Many will have had first contact with the common law legal system through watching TV shows in English and this raises key discussion points for class (for example, the popular US series Suits (2011)frequently deals with the role of discovery in common law). Films are often rich with questions of ethics and jurisprudence and can be particularly useful to explain the common law civil and criminal trial process.

I believe anyone learning a new language should not only take the traditional textbook learning approach, but also utilize modern media sources such as film and TV. This multifaceted approach can be applied to any ESL area (e.g., medical, engineering, science etc.). In this context learning a language becomes not only enjoyable but an extremely effective way to pick up useful vocabulary together with relevant cultural context.

Quote: Andrew Beckett (Tom Hanks) Philadelphia (1993):

“It’s that every now and again – not often, but occasionally – you get to be a part of justice being done. That really is quite a thrill when that happens.”

I have included some recommendations for films and TV series that deal with aspects of the law and politics. These are just some examples and of course there are many others.

As always, I hope this blog is useful and welcome any comments or recommendations.

Films:

– 12 Angry Men (1957);

– Judgment at Nuremberg (1961);

– To Kill a Mockingbird (1962);

– The verdict (1982);

– A Few Good Men (1992);

– Philadelphia (1993);

– The Firm (1993);

– The people v. Larry Flint (1996);

– A Time to Kill (1996);

-Erin Brokovitch (2000);

-The Firm (1993);

TV shows:

– The Wire (2002);

– Law and Order SVU (1999);

– Law and Order Criminal Intent (2001);

– The Good Wife (2009);

– Suits (2011);

– How to get away with murder (2014).

– Better Call Saul (2015);

– The People v OJ Simpson: American Crime Story (2016);

– Making a Murderer (2015);

 

 

Julian Cornelius

Author Julian Cornelius

Founder of The Legal Beagle - LLB, LLM, Solicitor (Ireland, England and Wales), Attorney at Law (New York), Accredited Mediator. Julian is a multi-lingual lawyer and a specialist in legal English based in Rio de Janeiro.

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