Translegal Learner’s Dictionary of Law/Studentenwörterbuch zum englischen Recht

Translegal has put a learner’s dictionary of law online. The price is € 19.95 per year (corrected). There are 2,500 entries and there will be more.

Details of the dictionary show the editor as Matt Firth, who is British and educated in English and French law and English as a foreign language (to use an overbroad term), and has been involved in teaching English to foreign lawyers for many years now. There are also seven authors and a senior consultant, all highly qualified.

If you click on one of the words in the dictionary, you can see a definition and a warning that in order to see the full entry you need to pay the one-year licence fee. I haven’t done this yet, although I probably will.

The dictionary does look excellent. My quibbles are minor and follow below.

First of all, there is a page online comparing the entry for decree in Black’s Law Dictionary and in the Learn’s Dictionary of Law: go to this page and click on See the difference!

Now, I never succeed in convincing people that Black’s Law Dictionary is not the answer to all their problems. In my opinion it is far too wide and vague to be relied on. But it has improved since the seventh edition, the first one edited by Bryan Garner. I do think it is very deceptive advertising of TransLegal to quote the sixth or earlier edition on decree. But that edition too had a great reputation, and I think this quote shows the kind of old-fashioned and confused definition Black’s has always been full of (probably par for the course when it first came out) and of which there is distinctly less since Garner took over.

Having said that, the extract from the Learner’s Dictionary shows many sentence examples. The dictionary is apparently based on a number of concordances, but I imagine that many of the example sentences are not from corpora but invented as teaching material. Any student required to write legal English is going to need this kind of thing and this dictionary makes it available at the time it’s needed.

I have a minor quibble on the note that decree to mean judgment is considered rather outdated, but in the US it is used for a divorce decree. But it’s used in the UK for divorce decree too! I do not know if the dictionary contains a lot of UK/US distinctions, but they are clearly a problem. I think lawyers will probably learn mainly UK or mainly US usage when they are studying in or about those countries, and not from a learner’s dictionary – perhaps a big reference work is needed to consult occasionally, but I don’t think that exists. In a recent comment, Matt Firth made a remark about teaching UK/US legal English that also relativizes the issue, although I don’t think I see things exactly the same way he does, but it would take ages to explain.

Two final points: 1) TransLegal call this the world’s first learner’s Legal English dictionary:

Our research methods ensure that not only is this the world’s first learner’s Legal English dictionary, but it is also the only dictionary of law that is based entirely on corpora to define and illustrate contemporary International Legal English in use.

As I said, I don’t believe ‘based entirely on corpora’, but that is the way publishers always describe books. ‘Based on corpora’ would do for me. And the world’s first learner’s Legal English dictionary, as far as I know, was published by Peter Collin. It was even taken up by Pons and republished in Germany as Fachwörterbuch Recht, with German terminology interspersed, but not intended to be a bilingual dictionary. I described it here and here. The TransLegal dictionary looks a lot better than that. I always thought the Pons version of the Collin dictionary was very useful for students, but my students did not agree, and a large number of them seemed to think they were getting a bilingual dictionary (which the cover unfortunately supported by stating ‘Englisch-Deutsch Deutsch-Englisch’) – there was a little German index at the back – thus judging it by criteria its authors never intended.

2) I just wonder how useful it is to have a dictionary that is only online, not available as a book or even CD. But as long as there’s an internet connection in the classroom, OK. My students would carry small law dictionaries around with them and consult them when something came up. The dictionary has to be at hand at the time when you need it. But it would not fit into TransLegal’s business model, I imagine, to publish a book.

2 thoughts on “Translegal Learner’s Dictionary of Law/Studentenwörterbuch zum englischen Recht

    • Thanks for the comments, Matt. This certainly wasn’t a review of the dictionary – as you know, I haven’t spent any serious time looking at it. I don’t see myself writing a proper review of it – I was just drawing readers’ attention to it, and I’m sure people who read or pass through my blog are often just interested in picking up such details and not on reading whatever I waffle on about.

      With regard to Peter Collin – he did a series of learners’ dictionaries for ESL students. I definitely see them as learners’ dictionaries, as they are written in simplified English and contain sentence examples. You have to remember there was practically nothing of the kind of the market when it came out.

      The original law one came out in three editions. I think the second edition was identical to the Pons one except that 1) it contained no German and 2) it (obviously) didn’t have a misleading claim on the cover suggesting it was a bilingual dictionary. So you don’t need to see it – of course, you could try abebooks.

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