Baby Steps: Building a Legal Vocabulary in French and Spanish by Visiting the Children’s Portals of Legislative Websites from Selected Foreign Jurisdictions

By Katherine Orth

In my first post in the Acquiring Foreign Languages series, I wrote about my plan to achieve bibliographic proficiency in French and Spanish by taking two graduate-level courses at my university: “French for Reading” and “Spanish for Reading.”  These courses are not specifically designed for lawyers and legal researchers, yet I intend to use French and Spanish to conduct legal research for FCIL resources.  Therefore, I have to design a study plan that supplements the syllabus, but is specifically tailored for the needs of an FCIL researcher.

Before the First Class: Get Ready, Get Set . . .

Following the habit I developed in law school, I consult the French and Spanish course syllabi well in advance of the first class meetings.  As I expected, both classes have required readings and written work due on day one.  There are verb forms to memorize and grammar rules to practice.  At this early juncture, I complete the work without much difficulty.  I studied both French and Spanish in high school, and I even took one semester of conversational French in college.  Assignment completed, I take a closer look at the syllabi and notice that there are no assignments pertaining to the memorization of vocabulary.  The omission makes sense, because the courses are designed for graduate students from a variety of arts, humanities and social sciences departments – each with their own specialized vocabularies.  I’m eager to get down to brass tacks building a vocabulary specific to FCIL, and I’m curious to hear how my professors suggest that I do it.

The First Class: You Know More than You Think

My French and Spanish professors are eager to reassure their students that even complete beginners to the language know more than they think.  Certainly, there will be a lot of rote memorization.  My French professor jokes, “the two most important vocabulary words in any foreign language class are: “flash” and “cards”!  Fortunately, cognates smooth the path to learning new languages.  Cognates are words that are spelled similarly to English-language words, that may or may not have similar meanings in the foreign language.  With cognates, we build foreign language vocabularies on familiar foundations.  Another vocabulary-building technique is to group like with like.  My Spanish professor encourages us to create “vocabulary fields.”  For example, if an unfamiliar word in a text means “sister,” we should take the time to look up the words for other family members as well.  In this way, memorization of associated vocabulary takes place all at once, and recall of one word can spark the recall of many related words.

After the First Class: Take Baby Steps

My objective is to build a legal vocabulary by engaging as much as possible with French and Spanish legal terms and concepts.  I come up with the idea to browse the children’s portals of foreign legislative websites.  But how easy will it be to find the foreign counterparts of the GPO’s “Ben [Franklin]’s Guide to the U.S. Government”?  Luckily, it’s quite easy thanks to the folks at the Law Library of Congress whose excellent blog contains a report detailing the Features of Parliamentary Websites across the globe.

I set myself a simple task: browse selected sites to compile a preliminary working vocabulary of approximately 50 words.  I keep my eyes peeled for the “magic words” : “glossaire” and “glosario” (glossary)!  I write down the words and phrases in a notebook so that I can check them against dictionary definitions later – I don’t want to be tricked by false cognates!  The portals I browse are:

Argentina: El Congreso de los Chicosbanner for el salvador

El Salvador: Asamblea Legislativa de el Salvador para Niñas y Niños

Canada: Parlement du Canada: Activités Pédagogiques

Argentina’s portal features centrally-placed text boxes containing brief explanations in simple Spanish about the lawmaking process.  El Salvador’s “glosario legislative” (found under the “La Asamblea” tab) is browsable by letter of the alphabet, and includes drawings to provide context for the definitions.  The children’s resources available on the French-language portal of the Canadian Parliament are so extensive that I temporarily set aside my plans to explore the children’s portals for France, Belgium, and Switzerland.  The Canadian site contains numerous classroom activities tailored to entertain preschoolers through high schoolers, and when I encounter words and phrases I don’t understand, I know for sure that the English-language option on the menu bar fully mirrors the French-language option.

Although I visited the children’s portals to gather vocabulary, I found many enticing extras that will keep me coming back to the sites over the following weeks and months.  But I’ll have to stay away from the games and word puzzles for now.  My vocabulary-gathering activity isn’t complete until I’ve fact-checked it.  Now it’s time to consult the dictionary, as well as the foreign jurisdiction pages from GlobaLex to see if my early-stage reading comprehension skills need correcting.

Call for Bloggers: IALL and Law Via the Internet Conferences

DipLawMatic Dialogues is going on the road again!  We’re hoping that attendees of IALL’s upcoming conference in Atlanta and of the Law Via the Internet Conference at Rutgers Law School will be willing to blog for us.  Please email Alyson Drake if you are willing to blog for one or more session.

Law Via the Internet Conference

We’re happy to have posts on any sessions that attendees want to blog about, but there are a number that jumped out at us as being interesting for the FCIL-SIS community.  You can find the full list of sessions here.

Friday, October 20th:

  • 1:30-2:30pm: Anticipating the “Right to be Forgotten”: Initiatives by Kenya Law on the Implication of the Right on Open Access to Information
  • 3:00-4:30pm:  Equal Access to Law Reports in a New Publishing Commons: 3 Case Studies from Australia
  • 3:00-4:30pm:  New Standards for Case Law Publishing: the ‘Signed by AustLII’ Format
  • 3:00-4:30pm:  Modernization of Indian Judiciary with a Goal to Reduce Backlog of Court Cases

Saturday, October 21st:

  • 10:30-11:30am: Conducting a Citation and Semantic Network Analysis of International Criminal Law Decisions
  • 10:30-11:30am: Sustainability of Open Access to Law Initiatives: “The African Law e-Library”
  • 1:00-2:00pm: #Law2Go: Digital Tool for Facilitating Free Access to Human Rights Law and Legal Services in Nigeria
  • 1:00-2:00pm: Mission Impossible? Perfecting Free Access to Case Law in England and Wales
  • 1:00-2:00pm: Jurisdiction Identifiers for Managing Multinational Resources
  • 2:30-3:30pm: Strengthening the Kenyan Judicial System Through the CaseBack Service
  • 4:00-5:00pm: Digital India: Auditing Justice Via Internet


iallLogoIALL 36th Annual Course on International Law and Legal Information

Listed below are a few of the programs that jumped out at us as being interesting for the FCIL-SIS community, but if you’re attending another session, we’d love to have you blog for us.  You can find the full list of sessions here.

Sunday, October 22nd:

  • Pre-Conference Workshop: Well, Isn’t that Special? A How-To Workshop on Creating and Using Archives and Special Collections in a Legal Research Context

Monday, October 23rd:

  • 11:15-12:00pm:  Profit-Seeking Courts and the Criminalization of Poverty

Tuesday, October 24:

  • 9:30-10:15am: Global and Local Challenges to Refugee Protection
  • 10:15-11:00am: CDC: From AIDS to Zika: Access to Health Care as a Human Right
  • 11:30-12:15pm: Community Engagement through the Right of Access to Information: Assuring Inclusion of Marginalized Populations

Wednesday, October 25:

  • 10:15-11:00am: The United States and Security Governance
  • 2:00-3:00pm:  Information Literacy in a False/Fake News World

Teaching FCIL Series: Using News Stories to Connect Students to the World

By Alyson Drake

Teaching my Foreign, Comparative, and International law class is one of the most challenging and exciting parts of my job.  Each spring, when it’s time to get the class ready, I think a lot about how best to engage the students with the content.

indexOne of the components that has undoubtedly been the most successful and that I’ve used ever since I started teaching the class several years ago is using a news story to start each class.  I don’t know exactly where the idea came from, but it was undoubtedly something I pulled from the wonderful set of FCIL teaching materials on the FCIL-SIS website.  One major disclaimer: my FCIL Research course is two credits and only meets once a week, so each class is one hour and forty minutes.

The basic guidelines for the news story assignment are that each student is assigned a week when it’s their responsibility to 1) locate a news story connected to foreign or international law and send it to me at least 24 hours before class (so I can familiarize myself with it and come prepared to help move the discussion in ways that will reinforce the course content, if necessary); 2) to locate/identify any sources of law that are mentioned within the story; and 3) come to class ready to present to the class for approximately five minutes on their news story.  They must also come with two or three questions designed to garner discussion among their classmates.  The students not presenting know that it’s part of their own news story grade and their class participation points to engage in the discussion.

It works well for a variety of reasons:

  1. It breaks the ice.  My class is a late afternoon/early evening class and sometimes students are tired from an already full day of classes by the time they get there.  Sitting in our square (I have a small class size, so I arrange the tables in my room into a big square) and having discussions about things going on in the world wakes them up.  The students end up really loving these discussions and do a great job picking topics in which their fellow students will be interested.  In a way, it allows students to set the tone for the class and to take some ownership over what they are learning.  By the time we’ve done the news story and I begin my lecture on whatever content we’re covering that class, the students are already used to talking during that class, and I’ve found they ask good questions and add to discussion throughout my lecture.
  2. It allows them to practice their skills.  I try to make this class as experiential as possible and by having to locate/identify any sources of law in the news story, which are almost never identified by citation, they have to use the methods that we’ve talked about in class.  If it’s a type of sources that we haven’t talked about yet, struggling to locate the sources being discussed in the news gives them a greater appreciation for what they are learning later in the semester.  It also gives students an opportunity to practice talking about legal issues and their research methods.
  3. It reinforces concepts that we’ve talked about in earlier classes.  Last spring, I had a student bring in a news story about North Korea testing its nuclear capabilities and it led to a wonderful discussion about what sort of enforcement mechanisms the United Nations had at their disposal.  We’d already talked about the Security Council and General Assembly and their given responsibilities, and the students brought up the difficulties the U.N. might have in taking particular types of actions on their own.
  4. It brings them in touch with the world. I find that many of my students are so focused in on law school that they rarely know what’s going on in their own backyard, much less what’s going on in the international arena.  The students are often surprised by how many interesting news stories from abroad there are in the press each day.  Students often email me early in the week with two or three stories they’ve found interesting and asking which might be the most appropriate.  I always leave it up to them to choose, but am encouraged that they are reading the news and learning more about what’s going on in the world.

I’m sure many people use a similar exercise and I’m certain it would work well in other research classes as well.  I particularly like it for this class because it allows me to have a discussion about the responsibility of a lawyer to be an engaged citizen who is cognizant of what’s going on in the world.  It’s my hope that one of the major takeaways for this class is a group of students who’s a little more aware of the world in which they live–and maybe reads the world news each day.

IFLA WLIC 2017 Conference Recap

By Charles Bjork

Conference Venue - Centennial Hall Grounds

Conference Venue: Centennial Hall Grounds

The International Federation of Library Associations (IFLA) held its 83rd World Library and Information Congress (WLIC) in Wrocław, Poland, from August 19-25, 2017.  What follows are my reflections on the conference as a first-time attendee.  I’ll have more to say about Wrocław as a travel destination in a future blog post.

Three things set the IFLA WLIC apart from other library conferences.  The first is its size.  It’s not in the same league as the American Library Association’s annual meeting, but it is much larger than any other library conference that I’ve attended.  As with other conferences, attendance varies from year to year, depending on the venue.  This year there were 3,300 librarians at the conference – roughly 50 percent more than the number who attended the annual meeting of the American Association of Law Libraries in Austin.

The second notable feature of the IFLA conference is its geographic, ethnic, and linguistic diversity.  This was not my first international library conference.  I attended the annual meeting of the International Association of Law Libraries (IALL) in Buenos Aires in 2014 and in Oxford in 2016.  Although I thoroughly enjoyed the IALL conferences, librarians from English-speaking jurisdictions in the developed world accounted for a disproportionate share of the attendees, with most of the rest coming from Western Europe and only a smattering of librarians from elsewhere in the world.

Conference Venue - Centennial Hall Entrance

Conference Venue: Centennial Hall Entrance


The IFLA conference, by contrast, included librarians from 122 countries on every continent.  Developed countries were over-represented, but less so than at the IALL conferences I’ve attended.  Only ten percent of the librarians were from the United States.  This was my first conference where the majority of the attendees were not native English speakers.  That made it feel like a truly international gathering.

The third thing that sets the IFLA conference apart is its length — seven full days.  The conference got underway on Saturday, August 19, with a series of business meetings for IFLA’s sections (including the Law Libraries Section) and interest groups.  Caucuses for regional, national, and language groups also held meetings on Saturday.  Substantive programming began on Sunday, August 20, and continued through Thursday, August 24.  The final day of the conference was devoted to library tours, both within Wrocław and in other cities and towns throughout southwest and south central Poland.

I attended the Newcomer’s Session, which took place early on Sunday morning, immediately prior to the Opening Session.   It included an introduction to IFLA by its outgoing president, Donna Scheeder; remarks from the president-elect, Gloria Pérez Salmerón; an overview of the conference and how to get the most out of it; as well as an opportunity to get acquainted with other newbies.

Opening Session - MC Introducing Wroclaw's History

MC Introduces Wroclaw’s History

The Opening Session featured a keynote address by British historian Richard Butterwick-Pawlikowski entitled Where Were You Going, Poland, When You Were So Rudely Interrupted?  In addition to introducing the audience to some of the recurring themes and continuities in Poland’s tumultuous history, the address also offered insights into the country’s transition to democracy since the fall of the communist regime in 1989.

Opening Session - Closing Number
Closing Number of the Opening Session


I knew from speaking with one of my Georgetown colleagues, who attended last year’s IFLA conference in Columbus, that the Opening Session would conclude with an entertainment segment showcasing the host city.  Even so, I was not entirely prepared for the ensuing 30-minute Broadway-style extravaganza, which employed a combination of interpretive dance and acrobatics to illustrate Wrocław’s thousand-year history.  Of all the library conferences I’ve attended, this one’s opening session definitely had the best production values!

Once the substantive programming got underway, I focused my attention on sessions that were sponsored in whole or in part by IFLA’s Law Libraries Section.  These included a session addressing the Challenges for Legal Research and Methodology in Post-Communist Eastern Europe, as well as a session on Optimizing Subject Access to Legal Materials.  The latter featured an informative presentation on EuroVoc, a multilingual controlled vocabulary developed by the Publications Office of the European Union (paper available for download here).

Program Slide - Optimizing Subjerct Acess to Legal Resources - EuroVoc - Multilingual Controlled Vocabulary
Program Slide: Optimizing Subject Access to Legal Resources, EuroVoc, Multilingual Controlled Vocabulary


Program Slide - Finding EU Documents - Perspectives From a Research Library

Program Slide: Finding EU Documents

At a session sponsored by the Government Information Section, I learned about Global Online Access to Legal Information (GOALI), a new initiative that is working with commercial publishers to provide free or low cost access to legal materials in developing countries.  GOALI is spearheaded by the International Labour Organization in partnership with Yale Law Library and Cornell Law Library.  Access will be provided on an institutional basis to law schools, courts, government agencies, law libraries, and local NGOs operating in selected jurisdictions.  GOALI’s online platform is expected to launch in February of 2018.

I particularly enjoyed a session on Transparency, Openness, and Engagement sponsored by the Parliamentary Libraries Section.  It included a presentation on a data visualization tool for public finances developed by librarians at the Chilean National Congress.  Another presentation described REDIPAL, an open platform for exchanging information about legislation pending in the Chamber of Deputies, the lower house of Mexico’s national legislature.  These presentations were followed by break-out sessions during which each presenter met with members of the audience for a more in-depth discussion.

Program Slide - Chilean Budget Data Visualization Tool

Program Slide: Chilean Budget Data Visualization Tool

I also attended the business meeting of IFLA’s Law Libraries Section, which provided me with a better understanding of what it does and how it operates.  One of the highlights of the business meeting was a report on two very successful workshops on open access to legal information that were co-sponsored by IFLA.  The workshops took place in Kampala, Uganda, in December of 2016, and in Abidjan, Côte d’Ivoire, in May of 2017.  Plans for a third workshop to be held elsewhere in sub-Saharan Africa in 2018 already are underway.

Another highlight of the business meeting was a report on the adoption of a Statement on Government Provision of Public Legal Information in the Digital Age by the IFLA Governing Board in December of 2016.  The statement, which includes provisions on authentication and digital preservation for long-term access, was drafted by members of the Standing Committee of the Law Libraries Section.  Its formal adoption by IFLA’s Governing Board marked the culmination of a long-term project that helped to raise the profile of the Law Libraries Section.

Program Slide - Global Online Access to Legal Information (GOALI)To broaden my horizons, I attended several sessions that had nothing to with legal information.  Among the most memorable was a session on Libraries in Times of Crisis, which featured a heartbreaking presentation that documented the deliberate targeting and destruction of libraries and archives during the civil war in Somalia.  Another session on Information Inequality stood out for a presentation on linguistic minorities, who often struggle to access information online, where English and a handful of other widely spoken languages predominate.  For a librarian who often assists faculty and students trying to find reliable English translations of foreign laws, this presentation brought a welcome change of perspective.

One of the most important benefits of attending the IFLA conference was the opportunity to network with other librarians, particularly those from other countries and institutions outside the U.S.  I was especially pleased to meet librarians from the House of Commons Library and the European Parliament Library, since many of the faculty and students that I work with are interested in writing about Britain’s impending withdrawal from the European Union.

It would have been difficult to navigate a conference as large as IFLA without advice from veterans.  Sally Holterhoff and Teresa Miguel-Sterns were especially helpful to me in this respect.  I also would like to extend my thanks to Sonia Poulin, the chair of the Standing Committee of IFLA’s Law Libraries Section, for her welcoming spirit and for making sure that I had someone to join me for dinner each evening.

I encourage any librarian who works with foreign and international legal materials to consider attending the IFLA conference, particularly if it is being held in a jurisdiction that is of interest to you or to a faculty member with whom you work.  Next year’s conference will take place in Kuala Lumpur.

Conference Venue - Fountains at the Wroclaw Congress Center

Fountains at the Wroclaw Congress Center


Acquiring Foreign Languages Series: The Task

By Katherine Orthlanguages

If you’re fascinated by foreign, comparative, and international law topics, chances are good that you’ve studied a foreign language (or two!) in high school or college, or at some point during your professional career.  Perhaps you also find yourself in a situation similar to me: feeling dismayed that hard-earned foreign language skills have diminished over the years in the absence of job responsibilities that would keep those skills finely-honed.

Is it worthwhile to expend the time, money and mental energy to achieve high-level bibliographic proficiency in a foreign language over the course of one semester?  Can one expect to comfortably browse FCIL content from websites exclusively (or mostly) in a foreign language, constructing efficient searches and retrieving relevant resources with ease?  I intend to find out, having secured my employer’s blessing to enroll in two graduate-level courses at my university: “French for Reading” and “Spanish for Reading.”

These classes, which begin in early September, are primarily designed for Masters’ and PhD students enrolled in programs that require reading knowledge of foreign languages.  The courses have no speaking or listening comprehension components, and they are taught entirely in English.  French for Reading and Spanish for Reading do not teach legal French or legal Spanish terminology.  Instead, they provide a thorough introduction to grammatical structures, a solid foundational vocabulary, and reading strategies.

The blog posts in this series will document my self-set learning objectives, progress, and takeaways from French for Reading and Spanish for Reading as I prepare to take the Foreign Language Proficiency Exams offered in the final week of November.  Both courses demand ample independent study, and it is my intention to specifically tailor this study to the requirements of FCIL research across a range of institutions, jurisdictions, and source materials.  As such, I will regularly browse websites with ample FCIL resources in French and/or Spanish, setting tasks for myself to retrieve content, and monitoring my comprehension level and retrieval successes and pitfalls.

Are you considering acquiring or enhancing bibliographic knowledge of one or more foreign languages for career advancement?  I will be the guinea pig, covering topics from options for financing coursework to designing study strategies to fit around a full-time job.  If you intend to implement a foreign language self-study for yourself or a group, and seek advice for which texts to use or how to pace yourself, it is my hope that the posts in this series will be useful to you, too.  I will comment on syllabus content, class activities and homework – what kind is assigned, and how much.

Please join me as I take a journey (at breakneck speed!) on the road to bibliographic proficiency in French and Spanish!  I welcome any and all comments and questions you may have.

Introducing…Jootaek (“Juice”) Lee as the September 2017 FCIL Librarian of the Month


1. Where did you grow up?

I grew up in Seoul, Korea and moved to the U.S. in 2002.

2. Why did you select law librarianship as a career?

This was the job where I can effectively merge and apply all my various experience, education, knowledge, abilities and skills into one. I like teaching, researching, and writing.

3. When did you develop an interest in foreign, comparative, and international law?

My interest in foreign, comparative, and international law started a long time ago when I started the Master’s program in international law at Korea University College of Law in 1999. The more I learned and researched foreign, comparative, and international law, the more I became constructively interested in those.  I spent two years to finish the program after passing graduation exams and writing a dissertation on cyberspace law and its international law jurisdiction.  And I studied more on American aspects of international and comparative law through the J.D. program at the Florida State University College of Law.

4. Who is your current employer? How long have  you worked there?

I have been working for the Northeastern University School of Law for about six and half years. Previously, I had worked for the University of Miami School of Law for two years.

5. Do you speak any foreign languages?

Yes, I speak Korean, English, French, and a little bit of Spanish and Japanese.

6. What is your most significant professional achievement?

As a minority member of this American Society as a non-native immigrant Asian, I became a highly specialized foreign, comparative, and international law librarian, teaching research and doctrinal classes at a U.S. law school, and further, took many leadership positions in American Association of Law Libraries and American Society of International Law. And recently, I came in the top percent of authors on SSRN by total downloads and new downloads.

7. What is your biggest food weakness?

I eat too fast and much.

8. What song makes you want to get up and sing/dance?

It’s My Life by Bon Jovi and Amazing Grace.

9. What ability or skill do you most wish you had (that you don’t have already)?

I believe that I have a growth mindset, but I wish to continue to have it without being tired even if I don’t see any recognition or result soon.

10. Aside from the basic necessities, what is one thing you can’t go a day without?

Coffee and praying.

11. Anything else you would like to share with us?

My first child, Suemin, was born about three months ago. She is the most precious gift I got in my life.

FCIL-SIS European Law Interest Group: Join the new MyCommunity Page

europe-political-mapDo you work in a law firm with branches or clients in Europe? Do you support law school faculty who are researching and studying the substantive law of European nations or the European Union?  Are you responsible for FCIL collections in your library and are curious about how to expand your knowledge of European legal issues?  Are you interested in questions of comparative or historic law in civil and common law jurisdictions?

If you answered yes to any of these questions, please consider joining the new FCIL-SIS European Law Interest Group community page at This community provides a space to share resources, gather feedback from other professionals on tricky questions, and get involved in European-related FCIL programming.

The European Law Interest Group is open to anyone interested in aspects of European law, including collection development, legal research, substantive law, and access to print or electronic materials. While the group originally focused on Eastern Europe, we now examine all of Europe, with recent programming on the European Union and Ukraine.