Correlating first-year law students' profile with the language demands of their content subjects

  • Themba Ngwenya


Many first-year law students experience language-related difficulties in their studies. These difficulties apply, to a large degree, to both mother tongue English students, as well as to English Second Language (ESL) students. The difficulties stem from the fact that legal English is often a difficult register. For first-year ESL law students at the North-West University (Mafikeng), the problems are even greater, English being a second and sometimes a foreign language to them. They have, because of this, to contend with decoding everyday English usage before they grapple with understanding its legal jargon. It appears that there has been very little research into who exactly first-year law students are at historically disadvantaged campuses and what the nature of their language needs is. Thus, using a questionnaire, this article profiles first-year law students at a historically disadvantaged campus of the North-West University (Mafikeng). The results are correlated to the participants’ language needs identified through a proficiency test and a semi-structured interview, and on the basis of this correlation, an effective syllabus is designed.

Author Biography

Themba Ngwenya
The author has taught English second language at both high school and higher education level. His language areas of interest include language planning and policy; language varieties, especially South African Black English; and academic literacy. He is currently at the North-West University, Mafikeng campus, where he, among other classes, teaches first-year law students. Email: