Written by Patty Friedrich at her blog http://pattyfriedrich.blogspot.com.br/2012/05/note-to-open-english-medium-is-not.html?showComment=1337897295463
Here was I, in my pretty Ivory Tower, thinking that concerns over who is best, native or non-native teachers, were as extinct as a tyrannosaurus rex, when a flood of messages about a commercial by an online language school that is airing on Brazilian television woke me up from my Sleeping Beauty slumber. The messages I read were from concerned teachers of English, many of them second- and additional-language users of English, but some not, who felt offended and put down by the message of the ads. I could just post the commercial, but I decided not to do free advertising for this company. I will instead, using a little bit of discourse and text analysis, well, and a little sarcasm, describe what I saw.
The commercial is based on the idea of contrasts between online and face-to-face classes. The student taking face-to-face lessons needs to drive to school, so he looks bored by what is in the ad an invisible traffic jam. The online student is content, able to log on to his computer anywhere, any time he pleases. The student in ‘traditional’ courses carries a heavy pile of books. The online student is refreshed and freed from the weight of books; after all, he only needs his trusty laptop to learn. Notice both are “he,” and both are young because women and those over 25 seemingly don’t need to learn.
Then comes the worst part: the face-to-face instructor is a woman. She looks and behaves a little disheveled (her name is Joana, a beautiful name pronounced as if it were an insult). She wears clothes made to look unfashionable. She is a little heavy-set, and she is waving her arms trying to convey “chicken” to the students. We discover, and I think they want us to feel horrified, that she is a non-native user of English. The narrator tells us that she learned English in Buenos Aires, and at this point we, the viewers are not sure whether the advertisers forgot to change the script to contain a Brazilian city, don’t know that Buenos Aires is not in Brazil, or decided to add Argentines and Porteños to the room full of people they are trying to offend. On the other hand, the teacher you get with the online school is blond and slim (her name is Jenny, so that should be reassurance enough that she knows what she is doing), and she intentionally speaks Portuguese with an ‘accent,’ so apparently accents are now good, except when they are bad, and the latter is only true, according to this view, if you are not American.
I feel sorry for the students who might fall for this kind of positioning: in a few seconds, the aspiring ‘educators’ managed to disparage women, ethnic groups, people whose biotype is not slim blond, non-native teachers, Argentines, Brazilians. Phew! They must be really tired. They put so much effort in trying to ridicule people who were just working, going about their business, that they forgot to mention we live in a world of multiple varieties of English, some acquired natively, others acquired as a second language, others yet as a foreign language. They also skipped mentioning anything about methodology, approach, techniques. Apparently the medium IS the method. And here I was for years, doing a whole PhD to understand language, students, methods, political concerns better. Silly me!
The student who falls for the native speaker fallacy will have a rude awakening when they discover they have to negotiate meaning with a multitude of users, who speak different varieties; thus, these same students would be better served in most cases by being exposed to multiple dialects, spoken by a multitude of people, native and non-native. They might also one day realize that only a teacher educated to be such will be able to put together lessons that accomplish that much and that also focus on STRATEGIES of communication. We cannot teach students every single variety of English they might come across, but we certainly can teach students how to negotiate meaning once they do encounter such varieties. Native teachers can do that, non-native can too (I’m sorry, I feel really awkward even writing down these outdated terms!)
I am glad teachers in Brazil are taking a stand, denouncing this kind of amateur behavior. I am glad Braz-TESOL’s president Vinicius Nobre has written a statement that translates the sentiments of many of us who felt unnecessarily attacked by this kind of advertising. I hope the momentum gathered by this event is productive and leads us to reflect not only on TESOL as a profession but also in the ways that communities of teachers can reiterate their commitment, professionalism and work towards ever-growing recognition of this career path. Here is that text by Vinicius Nobre:
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.
AN UPDATE: Dr. Francisco Gomes de Matos, Emeritus Professor from Universidade Federal de Pernambuco and an international authority on language rights and peace linguistics has shared the following statement:
“The commercial is a reminder to the LANGUAGE EDUCATION profession that reflection on MARKETING LANGUAGE LEARNING-TEACHING is conspicuously absent, a serious gap to be filled as urgently as possible. The commercial is a violation of educational-cultural dignity and a shameful instance of discrimination. Could say more, but… let’s move on and be constructive, by creating conditions for a serious MARKETING LANGUAGE EDUCATION tradition to be built universally.”