Against the prejudice – How far can adverts go?

UPDATE: Below my post, you can read Vinícius Nobre’s letter (he’s the president of Braz-TESOL) and, now, the reply that Open English has written. We did it! 🙂


I must say I’m not particularly offended when I’m called a NNEST (Non-Native English Speaking Teacher). Perhaps I’m just being naïve, but I don’t believe there’s harm in the terminology when it’s used by someone just to make things clear. It’s just as if you say I’m tall, or blond, or even white. It’s not that I don’t acknowledge we have to pay attention to the rules of political correctness and avoid misinterpretation as much as we can, but I just choose to believe that people, when they do that, they’re not simply trying to offend me. The same is true for the NNEST thing. I was born in Brazil and I’ve never studied nor lived abroad, and the English I know is the English I learnt in Brazil. Therefore, if you call me a NNEST, I simply understand that you are stating a fact.

However, it’s also very easy to notice when someone is being rude, offensive, or just tongue-in-cheek. For instance, if you’re among friends and one of them just happens to say something that could be interpreted as rude by others who haven’t got a clue of how well you know one another, you don’t take it that seriously. You’re probably well aware of the fact that this friend of yours is just pulling your leg, yanking your chain, or making fun of you. You know this is not exactly what he feels or thinks. I remember when I was 12 or 13 and played basketball. If I remember correctly, that was the very first time I heard someone complaining about the kind of language I used with a very good friend of mine. You see, we were very good friends, and there was absolutely no harm meant, but as this friend was black, I used to call him according to his skin colour. I can honestly relate to that and assure there was no cruelty or racism of any kind involved, just as I’m sure he didn’t mean any when he called me “German” or “Whitey” or “Honky”. I’m now aware of the fact that these are offensive words, but I have never felt offended when these words were used by my friends.

Just the same, it’s also very easy to notice people are being rude or judging you as inferior – and they can use exactly the same words. You see, it’s not only a matter of being politically correct, it’s a matter of how you say what you’re saying. The body language, the context, and all that goes with verbal communication are the things that make the difference between a simple joke among friends and offensive and unacceptable language. The reason why I’m writing this is not because we should be teaching this to our students, or teaching them which words in English are not supposed to be said, which are the politically correct ones and which should never be uttered. What’s caused me to write this post was the complete and absolute lack of common sense of people who happened to have put together a TV advert of an online language school that, as far as I know, is quite new in Brazil. The school is, and the advert (I’ll translate it to my fellow NESTs below) is this:

This is what the advert says (my comments are in brackets).

“These two want to speak English. One of them goes to a traditional school, the other one studies at OpenEnglish. One of them studies with the same textbook his mother studied with (as if textbooks hadn’t changed at all), the other one studies online with multimedia lessons (one size fits all, anyone?). One has classes with Joana (a Brazilian name for the teacher who keeps dancing and making a fool of herself dancing to herself singing “the book is on the table”), the other one has classes with Jenny. “How about you? What is your choice?” (Jenny’s sentence in Portuguese).”

On one of the other ads, they’ve even added that Joana, the Brazilian teacher, had learnt English in Buenos Aires… well, I’m so sorry, but this is the kind of NNEST that IS, indeed, derogatory. This is why there’s a cause running on Facebook through the causes site, which you can find by clicking here. You see, there are a whole bunch of things that could be said to highlight the benefits of studying online – I’d be OK with that. However, I can’t possibly stand someone going as far as taking advantage of the little knowledge of people when it comes to learning a foreign language and their desire to learn it fast (because everything has to be done fast these days) to sell a product. In addition to this, Brazil is currently on a campaign to teach their population English no matter what on account of the world cup in 2014 and the Olympic Games in 2016. How many people will be lured by an advert that is on national TV and waste their time and money on something that is unlikely to work?

As I said in the beginning, I’m a NNEST and that’s it. I don’t have to be proud or feel inferior because of that. The most important letter in the abbreviation is the last one – T. I’m a teacher first and foremost, and as such I’m constantly looking for ways to better teach my students. It honestly doesn’t matter where you’re from. If you also find the campaign offensive, I kindly ask you to join the cause. If you think this is not important, that’s also OK. If you think I’m wrong, just leave your comment and we can definitely talk about it.


UPDATES: Isabela Villas Boas has also written a fantastic piece on the add, expanding on what I have written here: Click here to read her post.

Vinícius Nobre is the current president of Braz-TESOL, and this is what he wrote on the matter:

“As the president of the largest association of English teachers in Brazil, I feel I have to take a stand and express my outrage and disappointment with regards to the TV commercial that has been broadcast on national television promoting an online English course.
I am NOT a native speaker of the English language, I do not have long blonde hair, I do not live in California and I do not wear a tight T-shirt to teach my students. In fact, I NEVER had a native speaker of English as a teacher. I never even lived in a foreign country. I simply studied the English language in my own developing country, and then four years of linguistics, literature, second language acquisition, morphology, pronunciation, syntax, education, pedagogy, methods and approaches. I have only dedicated 16 years of my life to the personal and professional growth of thousands of students. I have not bragged about my passport or my birthplace because I was too busy trying to understand my students’ linguistic and affective needs. I am NOT a native speaker of the language; hence – according to this TV commercial – I do not qualify to teach. I probably qualify as an irresponsible and grotesque mockery of a teacher.
Like me, thousands of hard-working, gifted, committed, passionate and under-valued educators (from Brazil or ANY other non-English speaking country) are depicted in 30 seconds of a despicable and desperate attempt to seduce students. I have met outstanding teachers regardless of their nationality and many of which who were native English speakers. The best English speaking educators I have met, however, were always dignified enough to acknowledge the qualities of a non-native speaker colleague.
Foreign language education has developed tremendously so as to guarantee the fairness and respect that all serious language professionals deserve (native speakers or not). At least among ourselves. If students still insist that a native speaker is better, we should at least rest assured that in our own profession we can find the respect and the recognition that a committed and qualified professional needs to have. It is sad, however, to be ridiculed by another (so-called) educational centre.
As the president of BRAZ-TESOL, as a non-native speaker of the English language, as an admirer of teachers regardless of their nationality, I resent such an irresponsible joke. But then again, who am I to even think about saying anything about the learning and the teaching of English? I am not Jenny from California – the utmost example of a foreign language educator.”


Open English’s CEO reply to the letter above – in English and in Portuguese:

My name is Andres Moreno and I’m the founder and CEO of Open English.
A recent advertisement we’ve been running on TV has upset some groups of people, including an important Brazilian teacher’s association, for what they perceive to be an offensive portrayal. Let me start by saying that anyone whose mission in life is teaching English has earned our admiration and respect. If we have offended this group, or any other, we sincerely apologize. As a company Founded by a Latin American entrepreneur and currently employing people from multiple countries across the region (including Brazil), we value diversity of opinions and welcome feedback as part of our desire to connect with students and advertise responsibly.
We happen to believe that online teaching from native English speakers is the right model for certain lifestyles, so it’s the one we’ve chosen for OUR business. However, this in no way diminishes the efforts and achievements of other teaching professionals.
Again, our intent was never to offend. Due to the feedback we have received and because of our great respect for our colleagues in the English teaching community, we are immediately pulling the ad from our website, social media platforms and television airwaves as soon as possible.
Meu nome é Andres Moreno, fundador e CEO da Open English.

Uma campanha publicitária veiculada por nós na TV foi considerada ofensiva por algumas pessoas, incluindo uma importante associação brasileira de professores. Quero começar dizendo que qualquer pessoa que tenha como missão na vida o ensino do inglês merece nossa admiração e nosso respeito. Se nós, involuntariamente, ofendemos essas pessoas, ou quaisquer outras, sinceramente pedimos desculpas. Como uma empresa fundada por um empreendedor latino-americano que emprega profissionais de diversos países (incluindo o Brasil), valorizamos a diversidade de opiniões e recebemos eventuais críticas como uma forma de nos ajudar a aprimorar nossa conexão com os estudantes e a anunciar de forma responsável.

Acreditamos que o ensino online com professores nativos de inglês é o melhor modelo para determinadas pessoas com determinados estilos de vida e é esse o modelo que escolhemos para o nosso negócio. Isso, de forma nenhuma, desvaloriza os esforços ou diminui a importância de outros profissionais de ensino.

Nossa intenção nunca foi ofender ninguém. Em razão das críticas que recebemos e do profundo respeito que temos por nossos colegas da comunidade de ensino do inglês, determinamos a interrupção imediata da exibição dos filmes publicitários da campanha em nosso website, em nossos canais nas mídias sociais e na televisão.


Andres Moreno
Fundador e CEO da Open English

45 thoughts on “Against the prejudice – How far can adverts go?

  1. Well, Henrick, I sympathize with your resentment, but… adverts are adverts… that’s the dog eat dog world. It does not suffice to exalt my product, I also need to bash the alternative… No ethics admitted… That’s what happens with cable tv companies… telephone services… department stores… And it is like that exactly because the gullible viewers buy whatever c*@p they are exposed to! For how long have we had language institutes fooling students who believe they will learn a foreign language in six months?

    1. Hi Virgil,
      Yes, this is yet another problem – gullible viewers and lack of ethics of advertisers. To be honest, I kind of saw a point with the other commercials, in which they simply highlighted the benefits of studying online (no commuting to the school, online material and so on). The problem was exactly on how they started portraying teachers – not traditional schools. But I totally see your point, and, to make matters worse, we’re likely to see many other adverts of language schools claiming that you’ll learn English in 6, 3, and even 1 month as the World Cup is drawing nearer….
      Still, I don’t think we should simply do nothing about the matter. The point is: will we be able to use this as a starting point and perhaps do something to inform those who are willing to learn a language and want to be better informed?

  2. I agree w/ you, Henrick, and I’d add, as I said on FB, that the commercial is also sexist in contrasting fat and fit, the blonde bombshell and the not so attractive woman (for the mainstream-minded, at least) as if beauty were somehow a job requirement for women.

    But I don’t understand what you meant by “something that is unlikely to work.” Apart from the prejudiced ad, we have little or no evidence of how serious or effective the school is.

    1. Hi Natália,

      I do see what you mean and at first it might smack of prejudice on my part. However, I do have some arguments to defend my view that the course is unlikely to work:

      1. When you go to their site, there’s no information whatsoever to the qualifications of teachers – it only says they’re certified teachers. Certified by whom?

      2. There’s no mention of their methodology. Very little is said on the site to support how they work.

      3. The founders and directors of the group are not educators. They’re all businessmen.

      4. They claim the student will be fluent by the end of the course, but there’s nothing there saying what they consider fluency. For instance, many schools and teachers these days make reference to the CEF for language levels. I couldn’t find it on their website.

      There could be more items on the list, but then I’d also be adding my personal interpretation to the facts. My opinion is that it’s unlikely to work, not that it doesn’t work. And the evidence is what I gathered after quickly surfing their site.

      Many thanks for pointing this out, as it certainly is something I should have elaborated on. 🙂

  3. This advert is plays on stereotypes and so is offensive and discriminatory. It is used to sell a product, one that maintains a view that nothing in Brazil is better than what comes from abroad.
    Looking at your article again, ask yourself, are you ‘not’ offended by the use of NonNEST term to categorise yourself as a speaker or as a teacher?
    Would engineers, doctors, technicians or rubbish collector be termed differently because they were born in a different place than their workmates?
    As a Brazilian teacher, my whole career has been built here, am I a NEST or NNEST?

    1. Hi Shaun,

      I guess I’m not offended by being categorised as a NonNEST either as a teacher or as a speaker. I hear it as a fact, especially when it comes from people like you or other who know me. What is offensive is the way that people may say that. For example, “Oh, you couldn’t possibly know this because you’re not a native speaker, so I won’t even bother asking you” is offensive, but something like, “native speakers are likely to have a larger vocabulary than non-NESTs” is not particularly offensive to me.

      Your question about whether you’d be classified as a NEST or NNEST is a tricky one, but if you ask me for an answer right now, I’d say you’re still a NEST. This doesn’t add anything to the equation, but you’re definitely a teacher, and you’re definitely a native English speaker. 🙂

  4. I actually do take offence sometimes when called a NEST, since the stereotype that goes along with that is often one of a monolingual, ethnocentric, unacculturated individual who has little or no awareness of the needs of his or her EFL students or whose only merit is ‘bringing cultural baggage’ from a particular country, wherever that may be. As Henrick points out in his article, it is the unspoken between-the-lines prejudice that is harmful and unhelpful, not the terminology itself, since there are important differences between NESTs and NNESTs. However, the term NEST often disregards any teaching qualifications or in-country experience, bilingualism, cultural awareness etc that said NES may have! Like Shaun, I have built a career in ELT based out of Brazil (since 1989), which means that I have been a Brazilian teacher of English longer than many NNEST Brazilian teachers! Needless to say, I am disgusted by the ad campaign in question for all the reasons mentioned above and for those I pointed-out on the Causes page itself and on FB, so I won’t go into them here. But thanks for sharing your personal experiences and valuable reflections as always, Henrick. See you soon, my friend!

    1. Hi Graeme,

      Thanks for adding the NEST point of view and how it can also be offensive to be classified as a NEST pure and simply. Regardless of where we’re from, we’re teachers. The T in NNEST and NEST matters a lot more than the first letters. See you soon! 🙂

  5. Pingback: TEFLing
    1. Hi Isabela,

      Your post was to good to be just in the comments, so I added it to the post itself. What an expansion it is, huh?! A must read for all those who want to be better informed on the topic. 🙂

      1. Thanks, Henrick. I was glad to see yours and to be part of the discussion. This is the greatest delight of blogging and networking – the polysemy of voices!


    Brazilian teacher’s stereotype: short, overweight, dark-haired, ridiculous… (studied in Argentina…)
    United STATIST teacher’s stereotype: tall, thin, blond, cool… (Hey, I’m a NATIVE speaker!)

    “Old-fashioned” student’s sterotype: short, ridiculous, weird-looking…
    “Cool” student’s stereotype: tall, cool, good-looking…

    The money must be good!

  7. Henrick, I could not have said as eloquently as you so I’ll state my opinion on the subject at hand with my non-native and truncated English. The advert is appalling and offensive to all NNESTs in Brazil, Latin America, and the world over. However, OpenEnglish is a direct result of a movement in English teaching, which proposes that a foreign language can by taught and learned as fast as humanly possible. A great number of English schools all over the country are proliferating with the promise of teaching English in specific number of months. 24 months, 18 months, 12 months, and there’s even one school that promise their students to be fluent in the English language in just 10 months. Also, OpenEnglish satisfies a Brazilian fantasy that having a class with a native speaker is more effective as having a class with non-native speaker. It is the return of the Direct Method premise that English can only be taught by native speakers.
    I worked for many English schools and I was even the coordinator of two of them in Brasília and I can say that the dream of all the owners of the schools I worked for was having a native speaker as a teacher in their schools. The fact that the native speaker had no experience in teaching English was absolutely irrelevant. The fact that he/she had little or no talent for the job was of no importance. The only thing that mattered was having a native speaker, which could be used to attract the most naïve of students. In addition, many times I have been asked questions such as: Is there an American or British teacher in this schools? Have you lived abroad? Where did you learn your English? And I was faced with the position of showing, or exposing if you will, my résumé to a prospect student so as to acquire little levels of trust in a job I’ve been performing for 12 years.
    I do not question the effectiveness of OpenEnglish methodology, neither of its teachers, as you I simply question the advert itself. I do believe we should unite and make pressure so as our voices are heard.

    Helbert Leite

    1. Hi Helbert,

      Many thanks for the comment and for raising an issue that is also important. Perhaps this add could be the beginning of something bigger, but at this point I believe it’s apples and oranges. Two wrongs will never make one right, I suppose. Yes, many other schools lure students based on the falso belief that you can learn English easily and fast. Unfortunately, as long as language schools are not considered as education and are treated as if they were the same thing as knitting courses, for example, it’ll be hard to change. It’s just way too easy for people to look at education as business in Brazil simply because our fundamental rights in the constitution of health, education and security are not provided by the state. How many hospital owners are multi-millionaire while many people die in lines of public, state-run hospitals?

      And, yes, we should definitely unite and have our voices heard. 🙂

  8. This is just outrageous. I’ve seen similar kinds of stereotyping in some Asian countries, but that ad just goes waaaaaaaaay too far.

    What a lot of rot. Such a shame so many students fall for it, too.

    – Jason

    1. Hi Jason,

      Apparently this kind of business is everywhere, and they take advantage of the fact that, surprisingly, people could care less about where they study. It is this lack of information of students that we should work on, don’t you think? 🙂

  9. Not offended by being called a NNEST, but highly offended by this commercial!
    Great post, Henrick, thanks for helping us make some noise about this topic!

  10. Great post, there, Henrick. There used to be a chain of English schools in Spain called Open English…. not on-line but computer-led classes like Wall Street. The entire chain very quickly became Closed English as their methodology simply didn’t work, they weren’t entire honest, shall we say, and a lot of students lost a LOT of money as courses were prepaid but when the chain closed….. I wonder if it’s the same people?

    1. Hi Fiona,

      Not sure they’re the same people, but it’s yet one more thing that anyone who is willing to try it out should check… ta for sharing! 🙂

    1. Not only that, right? did you notice they haven’t got a background in education? Well, it’s business, I know…. but still, I can’t help but feeling sad for that.

  11. Well put Henrick! I wonder how well their “NNCEO” (non-native CEO) speaks English!
    I agree with Helbert Leite and Vinícius Nobre and I believe there’s a lot more to it than being a native. I know lots of NNESTs who care a lot about their teaching and do an excellent job!

    1. Hi Marcos,

      That’s exactly why the ad is so offensive. It’s like reigniting a discussion that should be dead – and we shouldn’t flog a dead horse, right?! 🙂
      It’s not about where you’re from, it’s about how well you do what you do.

  12. Hi Henrick,

    I don’t even know what I should write here – I am still utterly shocked by such prejudice and steriotype.
    It is truly disgusting that so many people only acknowledge the value of an English teacher if he/she’s a native speaker, as it’s well known that only being native does not make one a teacher. And I must say: I’m Brazilian, I’ve never lived abroad and until last semester I had never studied with a NEST. Yet I’m proud to say I’ve been inspired by incredibly amazing teachers since I started studying English.

    By the way, as I am pretty new to this ELT world, this is the first time I visit your blog, but I intend to come here more often – hopefully not to read about another despicable ad. Because as you said, the “T” is what counts the most, no matter if you’re a NNEST or NEST.


    1. Hi Maira,

      Welcome aboard the ELT world! It’s an amazing world and you’ll see it’s pretty easy to find like-minded in this world of blogs, twitter, and alike. If you have a look at the blogroll on the sidebar, you’ll find other fantastic blogs written by brilliant teachers from all over the world. Perhaps this could even be an inspiration for you to start your own blog, huh?! 🙂

      Back to the advert, now that Open English has replied, I think we can move on and hope that such a thing doesn’t happen again. In the past, it was very difficult for people to organise and take action against such offense. However, social media has evened the game against big corporations that can afford national TV time.

      As a final note, as someone who’s new to this ELT world, I feel like I should ask: have you already joined Braz-TESOL?

      I do hope you enjoy the other posts on the blog, and drop a line or two anytime you feel like! 🙂



      1. Hi again,

        I’ve always wanted to have a blog, so maybe you’re right: it might be a great chance to have an ELT one. Who knows? 😛

        Oh gosh, I’m not a Braz-TESOL member yet. Shame on me! I was going to register to go to the conference, but then I realized I wouldn’t be able to afford both ABCI and B-T this year… And then I forgot to join it.
        I’ll take care of that asap, though – thanks for the reminder! 🙂

        And oh, you are right: this ELT world is wonderful and the world of blogs is incredible as well. So far I’ve found amazing stuff, and speaking of…Thanks for all the food for thought we can find here! Guess I’ve already become a regular visitor/reader. 🙂


  13. Hi Hernick!

    Well done! I’ve just read the letter from the OE CEO.

    People are gullible and will buy whatever magic solution is available. And I don’t believe there’s much we can do about it except lodging whichever complain is suitable, as you did in this case. Last week I saw a street ad that said: “learn basic English in 4 months; be totally fluent in 8”

    When it comes to the (N)NEST debate, I reckon it should be a closed case by now. As Graddol puts it: ““Kachru himself has recently proposed that the ‘inner circle’ is now better conceived of as the group of highly proficient speakers of English – those who have functional nativeness’ regardless of how they learned or use the language.” (2006:110). And I can quote Norton (2000), Morgan and Clarke (2011), Toohey (2000), and many more. Here in South America we cannot miss the research carried out by Chris Lima and Nella de la Fuente on critical literacies.

    If anything, we non-native teachers are lucky: not only do we proficiently operate in at least two languages, but we also embody at least two cultural heritages, and we are the vehicle by which these two heritages converse, rejoice in their simmilarities and learn from their differences. That’s a gap a native teacher needs to bridge in the opposite way we have, if they really want to provide their students with the tools that will foster international intelligibility (and of course they do -Graeme’s comment above is an example of that!). As I heard Bonny Norton say in one of her presentations: Your language and your culture are not a suit you can take off whenever you try to speak a foreign language. Keep it on: it will make you look more elegant!

    Native, non-native… in the end it’s how good a teacher you are.

    ¡Un abrazo! Boa sorte! Greetings from Córdoba, Argentina.



    Graddol, D (2005) English Next, available online @ [last access May 28th, 2012]

    Morgan, B. & Clarke, M. (2011). Identity in second language education. In E. Hinkel (Eds) Handbook of Research in Second Language Teaching and Learning: Volume 2. New York: Routledge

    Norton B (2000). Identity and Language Learning. London: Pearson

    Toohey, K (2000). Learning English in school: Identity, social relations and classroom practice. Clevedon: Multilingual Matters.

  14. Hello all,

    I am with each one of you here on this quest against the prejudice used on the advert by Open English on Brazilian TV. Having lived in the US for almost 34 years, graduated with honors from an American university (WITH HONORS I must add), worked for large/important high tech companies in the Silicon Valley and having a US citizenship – I felt outraged when I saw the commercial! I did not get offended but ANGRY, very ANGRY. Why? I remember Americans making comments to Brazilians who were in the US studying and working LEGALLY such as “you are taking our jobs” and things like that. Now they are taking OUR jobs in OUR country because the US economy is down and jobs are scarce. So, the only recourse these so-called native English teachers can do is teach a language that supposedly learnt as babies but does NOT give them the qualificaton to teach! How many American co-workers I had who couldn’t spell nor speak/write correctly? In fact, most companies I worked for would ask me to edit marketing programs BEFORE they went to press and launched in the market because I had a much better English than the natives. Just because you speak a language it does not qualify you to teach it! Teaching entails/involves so many things including knowing grammar deeply! In part I blame Brazilians who think that natives can teach them better English than non-natives. To each its own, I say. Hugs to all.

    1. Hi Sonia,

      Thank you for joining the discussion and for a great account of what you’ve been through. There’s one part I’d like to highlight from your comment:

      “In part I blame Brazilians who think that natives can teach them better English than non-natives.”

      This, unfortunately, seems to be the norm… so I can relate to your thoughts when you say it. It’s high time we started changing our way of looking at things, right?!


  15. To all again: I apologize for some errors here. I typed it so fast and did not read the text prior to posting it! Sorry guys.

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