Faculty of Humanities & Social Sciences
Bond University, Australia
This paper will discuss the problems facing overseas-Asian students who study law in Western universities and will deal with how drama can help improve their English-language oral-communication skills. A profile of the average student belonging to a high-context, relational culture will be provided with the aim of showing why such a student needs full-on immersion in oral English. An attempt will be made to suggest that the activities and materials employed by instructors using such a strategy can help lower students?affective barriers and increase their confidence, motivation and spontaneity when speaking, while improving their non-verbal skills. The writer's personal experiences will be mentioned in passing. Keywords: Drama, communication skills, advocacy skills, speaking There is a Chinese proverb which goes "Let householders avoid litigation, for once go to law and there is nothing but trouble?(Goh, 2002, p. vii). This saying sums up the Chinese, and other Asian groups? view of law. They see the legal profession as a possible source of societal disharmony because it leans more towards dispute than mediation. A student from such a community who ventures into legal studies has, therefore, to be prepared to compromise values acquired since childhood. Generally speaking, students in Asia tend to subscribe to what are commonly referred to as Confucian?values based on collectivism, which contrast with Western Socratic values of individualism. Such students are predominantly brought up in a high-context culture to exist in accord with other human beings and this means not readily resorting to arguments, among other things, especially when relating to those considered their superiors? whether in terms of age, position, ability, or achievement. Given the fact that the legal profession hinges broadly on argumentation as a means of persuasion, it is expected that a normal law tutorial will involve elements of vehement and energetic discussion. If students of non-English-speaking backgrounds (NESB) are not inclined to participate in disagreement with their English-speaking tutors or classmates or are, by nature, reluctant to vocalise an opinion in an animated fashion, not only might they fail to make an impression on their tutors and classmates, but they could also miss out on opportunities for practice in order to acquire these traits and improve their English-language fluency and accuracy. Should they graduate and join the courtroom fraternity, they could find themselves struggling in the "adversarial courtroom (which) juxtaposes competing arguments against one another?(Laster, 2000, p. 9). As a result, these new lawyers could discover that they might need somewhat more time than their more able colleagues to fit in successfully in the long term. The classroom behaviour of such NESB students could be said to contrast quite starkly with the behaviour of students brought up in the low-context English-speaking Western systems, where the modern legal profession as we know it has its roots. Law tutorials in the universities of such countries tend to be commonly marked by high, firm and loud voices expressing strong opinions, with interjections and interruptions the norm, regardless of whether or not an issue being argued involves classmates or the tutor. A student who regularly wins arguments is generally viewed as being successful and this is not easily done without being productively aggressive and confrontationist. In fact, these are traits that are respected and even admired in a Western environment (Goh, 2002). This is quite different from many Asian scenarios, where most of what goes on is low-key or even passive, with turn-taking very much in evidence when discussing a point. There is a strong undercurrent of...