You can only be cool if you’re a native-English-speaking teacher

22 05 2012

Absolutely appalled by the Open English commercial on Sony Entertainment Television, I was about to blog about it when I read Henrick Oprea’s post, which translates the commercial to our colleagues outside Brazil and states most of my views regarding the derogatory image of NNESTs. Not wanting to repeat what my colleague has written, I have just a few other comments to add to Henrick’s reflections and bring to light some of the contributions from this month’s and past guest interviews for the NNEST Blog, whose editorial team I’m honored to be part of.

First of all, the non-native teacher is chubby, ugly, looks unhappy, and makes a fool of herself imitating a chicken; the native one is blond, beautiful, friendly, cool, and, of course, from California! Canagarajah (1999) blames periphery academic institutions for popularizing and legitimatizing the native speaker fallacy. This commercial is a perfect example, trying to instill in its viewers the belief that NESTs are cool; NNESTs are not. You learn better from a NEST, even remotely, than from personal, face-to-face contact with a NNEST.  On top of that, the NNEST learned English in Argentina, suggesting that our neighbors down south are “even more incompetent” English teachers than we are here in Brazil. I wonder what the wonderful Argentinean teachers who do such a superb job have to say about this! Perhaps the underlying intention was to “Latinize” the Brazilian teacher even further by adding and Argentinean connection to her teaching profile, as opposed to the Caucasian native speaker in California.

While some believe that the NEST and NNEST paradigm has become irrelevant, such commercials demonstrate otherwise. In the May interview for the NNEST Blog, Nugrahenny Zacharias describes how a course on World Englishes raised her awareness of the NEST and NNEST paradigm and allowed her to deconstruct her original belief and reconstruct a more empowering view of the NNEST:

I underwent a deconstruction process of my previous belief and slowly instilled and reconstructed my belief of the value that NNESTs can bring to the profession and English language teaching and learning. (…) Prior to knowing EIL concepts, I always sat in the backseat and allowed NESTs lead the way. My role was just to follow and emulate the way they drove the ‘ELT’ car without really being given the chance to be in the driver’s seat. The WE course has given me the realization and courage to take the driver’s seat and contribute to the direction and purpose of learning English.

Nuria Villalobos Ulate also confirms the fallacy in her research described in the April interview  for the blog.  In her November 2009 interview, Ryuko Kubota expands the NEST and NNEST discussion to suggest racial issues underlying it:

On a practical level, we need to encourage nonnative teachers to develop their linguistic and pedagogical skills. At the same time, we must address larger social issues, including different forms of racism, which perpetuates the racial, cultural, and linguistic hierarchy of power and prevents students from having valuable opportunities to learn about diverse views and human experiences. In this sense, nonnative teachers need to play an activist role.

Following Kubota’s suggestion, I invite all my colleagues, native and nonnative alike, to play an activist role and protest against the commercial!!!


Canagarajah, S. (1999). Interrogating the “Native speaker fallacy”: Non-linguistic roots, non-pedagogical results. In G. Braine (Ed.), Non-native educators in English language teaching (pp. 77-92). Mahwah, NJ: Lawrence Erlbaum Associates.



13 responses

22 05 2012
Edmilson M Chagas

What drives me crazy about such commercials is that they don’t even try to hide the fact that the only thing which moves advertising agencies that produce such rubbish is the hanging carrot ($$$) placed before them.

22 05 2012

Absolutely. We need to join efforts to really make some noise about this!

22 05 2012

This kind of commercial is so shallow, unfair and clearly profit-driven, as Edmilson has pointed out, that I wouldn’t even know where to start to express what I think of it. Thank you Isabela, Henrick, NNEST blog and NNEST FB group for helping us make some noise about it!


22 05 2012

Even us cool native speakers are appalled. There are certainly more cool non-natives about. We need to make a stand whatever acronym you are given.

23 05 2012

Right, Shaun. Thank you for your support.

22 05 2012
Against the prejudice – How far can adverts go? « Doing some thinking

[…] Boas has also written a fantastic piece on the add, expanding on what I have written here: Click here to read her post. Share this:TwitterFacebookEmailStumbleUponDiggRedditPrintLike this:Like2 bloggers […]

23 05 2012
Offensive TV Commercial | Open English | BRAZ-TESOL RN

[…] outdated, under-trained and ridiculous even. As fellow NNEST Isabella Villas Boas writes in her blog: This commercial is a perfect example, trying to instill in its viewers the belief that NESTs are […]

23 05 2012
Vinicius Nobre

Isabela – always brilliant! Thanks for writing about this!
-Vinicius Nobre (Vinnie)

23 05 2012

Thank YOU for the support. We all need to take a stand, make a lot of noise!

23 05 2012
Katherine Bilsborough

Yes, let’s make a lot of noise! This is already getting attention and we (native and non-native) speakers are joining together to show our disgust. Come on .. this is the 21st century!

23 05 2012

Wonderful, Katherine. Thanks for joining our cause.

24 05 2012

Thanks for writing about it, Isabela!

24 07 2012
Fighting generalizations with generalizations? « ELT Rants, Reviews, and Reflections

[…] Share this:Like this:LikeOne blogger likes this. Written by mikecorea Posted in Reflections […]

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