Grammatika (noun)

1. grammar (Russian, Dutch, German and Afrikaanz)

a. similar to Latin “grammatica”, from Greek “grammatikos.”

Perhaps not a surprising choice of name for a company that specializes in language programming, the word “grammatika” stood out as one of strength and symmetry. The phonetic fluidity of the word was also appealing to the ear and the tongue. True, the name of Grammatika International was a straightforward choice.

What might be more surprising and unusual is the reason this company came to be. The idea surprised me one summer day in 2012 while riding the always multilingual subway in Toronto. In any given car, it is easy to overhear five different languages (at minimum). A few 20-somethings stood nearby, pointing at the map above. They chattered in English, although I guessed it wasn’t their first language. I heard hints of Brazilian Portuguese and Spain Spanish in their pronunciation. They were searching for a bar and couldn’t seem to figure out where to go. I politely jumped in and made a few suggestions. Playing host/tour guide has always been something of a passion of mine and I couldn’t help myself, never mind my fascination with accents and the ways people make the English language their own.

My bar recommendations turned into a lengthy conversation about where we all came from. The group told me they had met while studying English at a language school in the city. They found the classes informative, but not practical enough for their professional and academic pursuits back home. Some were studying business, others law. One had recently graduated and was about to jump into the job market. They also described feeling that the “extras” included in their tuition (homestays, excursions and events) weren’t quite what they envisioned. They wanted to learn the kind of English their Canadian peers spoke and in fact meet them!

It came out that while I was currently studying law, I had been an English teacher before. They asked if I wouldn’t mind tutoring them in practical English and introducing them to my Canadian friends. Unfortunately, I was working full time and about to start school again in September, so I couldn’t commit to classes, although I did invite them out to a few local events. After a few more similar encounters and requests, I began to wonder– is there something missing from the English programming currently being offered? Could I fill that gap?

I knew I could provide useful ESL services to international young professionals like myself. The question then became how. More specifically, how to balance it with my new career in law. After sitting on it for a few days, the answer became clear. In fact, the merge of my two careers could happen and indeed help each other out. Strong language skills (written and oral) in the legal profession is undoubtable. I remembered the transformation of my own English in the first year of law school. It required a total overhaul and tightening of skill. Not to mention the vocabulary that is unique to law. So there it was -providing English as a Second Language courses to my international peers in the legal world was a niche waiting to be served. And my love for teaching could be satisfied simultaneously.

Not only that, but this entrepreneurial venture might make my future legal practice easier, not harder as some might imagine. While I’ve always had a curiosity about the law in general, I knew I wanted to focus my practice on social justice and work for communities that are under-serviced. The access to justice crisis in Canada (and the world at large frankly) was very clear to me since the beginning of my legal education and I wanted to contribute to closing that gap. By running a for-profit business, I could subsidize my legal practice and offer more pro bono or “low bono” services. It would mean I would have to commit a few months a year or days of the week to teaching, but it was a balance that could certainly be struck. This venture could be described as an “alternative business structure,” an innovative idea currently being discussed in the legal community both in Canada and abroad to address the impact of the economic crisis on the legal world. What ABS means exactly and how it reimagines the profession will be discussed on this blog in a few weeks.

Within a few weeks after this brainstorm, Grammatika International was registered and my excitement grew. I began giving private classes and holding workshops on particular areas of language for professionals and lawyers in particular. In July of this year, we will officially launch with the two-week Advanced English for Legal Professionals course at Osgoode Professional Development downtown.

This blog, Law & Language, will explore this merge of worlds that Grammatika International represents by focusing each week on a certain word or phrase that has arisen in a legal context, whether a case or piece of popular news. Its meaning will be explained and used as a launching pad to discuss relevant issues in the legal field. Hopefully, these discussions will be engaging and useful for those learning English, as well as those already working in the language. This week, “grammatika” was the focus. Next week, the current conversation about the word “bossy” and its implications on women in law.

Stay tuned for more lively, grammatical discussions. And thanks for reading!

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