Why I know Open English is not worth it

Posted on Updated on

The facts

I had never heard of Open English. Never. Having been in the business for over 13 years, worked for various schools and given training courses to and studied with teachers from an even wider variety of institutions, I believe that that in itself probably says a lot about this company (I won’t call it a school).

It must’ve been about two weeks ago when I finally heard of them, and if you’re a teacher with an Internet connection in Brazil you certainly know why. Their repulsive TV commercial which, in a nutshell, derided non-native speaking teachers as being somewhat inferior, plain stupid and downright ridiculous was so stark, absurd and offensive that at first I believed it to be a joke. Coupled with the fact I’d never heard of them, the allegations that teachers who’d “learned English in Buenos Aires” just couldn’t be taken seriously made me doubt the video could really be real. But it was real.

What Open English doesn’t know

– English is the first language in history to have ever been more spoken as a second (third, fourth, fifth…) language than as a first language (to the tune of 1:2 or even 1:3). Publicizing your “school” by trumpeting the fact that you clearly don’t know that goes a long way to showing how clueless you are about the status of the language you claim to teach. This is, of course, understandable when a student says s/he wants or prefers to have classes with a “native teacher”. They’re not experts, and we can all certainly see where a layperson would think a native speaker of a language would probably be better suited to teach it. Students are not expected to have read Jeremy Harmer (and many others) when he says, “…the value of a teacher depends not just on their ability to use a language, but also on their knowledge about that language and their understanding of how to facilitate both that ability and that knowledge in the minds of their students”. But a so-called school?

– English is the true lingua franca of the 21st century, the language of business, of commerce, of tourism, of entertainment. You’re more likely to need to speak English nowadays with Italian, Chinese, French and Brazilian speakers of English than you are with Americans, Australians and Brits. For Open English, however, all you need is, as their website suggests, “unlimited live-sessions anytime of the day with our American teachers”. Not with our teachers, but with our American teachers. At a time when we (serious teachers of English, native-speaking or not) have been discussing topics such as teaching English as a Lingua Franca (ELF), world Englishes, international English, what standard to adopt as a model for teaching pronunciation, for instance, and the like, it is unnerving at best to see a pseudo-school advertise a preference for American English and American teachers, although perhaps understandable from a marketing perspective. What is absolutely unacceptable, however, is to have quacks mock non-native speaking teachers the way Open English did. It’s unethical, disrespectful and not to be tolerated.


The outcry the abusive TV commercial provoked among ELT practitioners in Brazil – be they Brazilians, Americans, Australians or else – was, the way I see it, evidence that Open English is alone in their belief that there is an obvious inferiority in, as far as teaching English is concerned, having been born in a country where English is not the first language (or in the United States specifically, as was the case). That was a big relief.

I personally don’t agree, at least not yet, with Jennifer Jenkins when she says there is nowadays “the need to abandon the native speaker as the yardstick”. I personally try to, as much as possible, use English based on a model that is undeniably a “native” one, albeit not necessarily American or British or Australian. I teach International English, meaning I don’t teach either American or British English concerning accent or lexis, for example; nevertheless, I still do my best to use – and have my students use – /ɒ/ and /ɑ:/, /i:/ and /ɪ/, third person singular when appropriate, past regular endings “correctly” and the like. I believe idioms and phrasal verbs make English the incredibly sensuous language that it is, and I own up to cringing when I think of not teaching idioms and phrasal verbs anymore, or of not correcting my students, as ELF suggests, when they say “she like” or “I go to the cinema tomorrow”. Obviously, thus, I have nothing against native speakers! I would never mock them! I just don’t think they’re inherently better (or worse) than non-native speakers at teaching solely based on where they’re from.

And you know what? Even though it is a fact, as I said above, that I try to use and teach a variety which is undoubtedly “native”, the funny thing is that I learned it all from Brazilian teachers! As a student of English in Brazil, from A1 to CPE preparation, all my teachers were Brazilians, and the vast majority of them had themselves only studied in Brazil, having Brazilians for teachers. That doesn’t mean at all, of course, that we Brazilians (Argentinians, Kenyans, Koreans) are better than native speakers when it comes to teaching, it just means that your nationality in itself doesn’t make any difference whatsoever. What matters is how much you know about the language, how committed you are to studying it and becoming better at it, the investments you make in your career by doing courses such as the the TKT, CELTA and the DELTA, your interpersonal skills and ability to build rapport with your students, and much more. It’s very difficult to define what makes a good teacher, as it certainly involves a very wide array of abilities and traits, but it’s much easier to define what it’s not, at least not necessarily: A good English teacher does not have to be a native speaker, and he certainly does not need to be American.

I’d appreciate your comments on the topic(s) here discussed, and take the opportunity to suggest the reading of chapter one from Jeremy Harmer’s The Practice of English Language Teaching (The Changing World of English) and Scott Thornbury’s post on native-speakerism by clicking here. I also recommend you forget the name Open English once and for all.

Thanks for reading!

PS: I have not added a link to the Open English TV commercial here because they have taken it off the air, or so it seems. You might still be able to find it by googling it, though.


27 thoughts on “Why I know Open English is not worth it

    Marialva Lima Capelo said:
    May 25, 2012 at 5:50 pm

    Teaching is a career not a hobby. It requires a lot of training and long years of dedication to studies. Thank you for this wonderful article. You rock! 🙂

      Higor Cavalcante said:
      May 28, 2012 at 6:56 pm

      Thanks for that, dear! We, serious teachers, rock!

    Alexandre Melo said:
    May 25, 2012 at 8:03 pm

    I love my career. I´ve been working really hard for the past two years and I can´t tolerate such a joke.

      Alexandre Melo said:
      May 25, 2012 at 8:04 pm

      thanks Higor

        Higor Cavalcante said:
        May 28, 2012 at 6:56 pm

        Thank you, Ale! For reading and for the comments!


    yukitheninjacat said:
    May 26, 2012 at 6:35 am

    Interesting post…rant? I think that this is just one of the many money making scams out there selling something. You should see what is sold here! That`s just it-it`s a business that is probably not very interested in anything other than customer retention and profits, what better way to do that than mesmerise the public with shiny packaging? I`ve actually met a student who claimed to have been studying English at a “school” here for 10 years-that`s a long time to get to pre-intermediate level, so then what is this student`s motivation?-therapy?lack of friends?wanting to play with imported goods? In addition to being more selective as a student, schools also need to demand something of their students and staff. I digress, apologies…

    The current state of the ELT world is much better than it was back then(I think)- I say “I think” because I was never really interested in the ELT world until a few years back. Slowly but surely, more people are becoming educated and really taking into consideration what qualifies a person to teach English, Customers get smarter…eventually I hope.

    I feel that the unwillingness to let go of something that people think belong to them is hard and there are those who will hold on to it for dear life resisting any kind of change- as will those who have preconceived ideas about the best source of that thing. Maybe it`s just human nature.

    I don`t agree with those that claim that native speakers are better teachers, recognised institutes prove this by hiring good teachers and making sure their resumes go beyond “Graduated high school in USA etc”- btw I once worked with someone who was a construction worker with nothing but a high school leaving certificate back in the US…lol sad but true don`t judge me, now that I`m back in Japan, finding a school that sets a real standard has proven to be tough and I look forward to the day my people will wake up and raise the bar.

    ps: I saw what you did there..clever 🙂

      Higor Cavalcante said:
      May 28, 2012 at 6:55 pm

      I agree with you, Emma, when you say we have come a long way. We have. I think it’s really anachronistic for a school in the 21st century to advertise native-speaking teachers, especially when even within that group they narrow it down further to American teachers. Pathetic.

      The discussion of whether native speakers make better teachers is old news, I think. What we must worry about is a teacher’s qualifications, interpersonal skills and many other characteristics, among which you just won’t find where a person’s from.

      Thanks for the comment! Miss you!

    RenataOlivier said:
    May 28, 2012 at 2:59 pm

    You’re the best 🙂 I miss you!

      Higor Cavalcante said:
      May 28, 2012 at 6:50 pm

      Thanks dear! Miss you too!

    Stephen Greene said:
    May 28, 2012 at 9:26 pm

    Hi Higor,

    Unfortunately I saw a different version of the advert over the weekend, so it is stil around. I was with my brother-in-law’s 8-year-old son and he thought it looked cool. Very depressing.

      Higor Cavalcante said:
      May 31, 2012 at 2:45 pm

      Hi Stephen,

      Thanks for the comment! I really haven’t been able to watch it anymore, so that we can agree that it’s at least a lot more difficult to find it now, which is something.

      As for your brother-in-law’s son, I definitely see where that could be deemed funny, especially for a child. That’s not their audience, thought, right? (And yes, it’s depressing).


    Selma Moura said:
    May 29, 2012 at 3:57 pm

    Reblogged this on Bilingualism SIG – BRAZ-TESOLe comentado:
    Really worth reading and sharing. Thank you, Higor!

      Higor Cavalcante said:
      May 31, 2012 at 2:46 pm

      Thank you very much, Selma!

      Best wishes!

        Selma Moura said:
        June 1, 2012 at 8:27 am

        You’re very welcome, Higor!

    Elmer said:
    June 1, 2012 at 6:09 pm

    Buddy, you’ve definitely said it all. Period.

    Karina said:
    June 2, 2012 at 11:46 pm

    I had forgotten how clever you are…miss ya

    Ivone said:
    June 24, 2012 at 5:54 pm

    Just to inform you that the CEO of Open English is from Venezuela. You can watch the interview here:

      Higor Cavalcante said:
      March 20, 2013 at 10:11 pm

      I know he is. Still they only hire American teachers. Funny.

    […] Why I know Open English is not worth it (Como eu seu que a Open English não vale a pena) […]

    […] Why I know Open English is not worth it (Como eu seu que a Open English não vale a pena) […]

    David said:
    June 12, 2013 at 10:36 am

    I must say that non-native speakers seem to wrap their head around certain grammatical concepts a lot better than native speakers, who seem to take some concepts for granted. Of course, this isn’t a rule. It is just something I have noticed over the years as a native teacher. I have had non-native teachers come over and ask me questions or make comments about grammatical ideas that I had to try hard to understand because I simply just used it and never learned it as an adult.

    However, recently I worked at CCAA in Brazil. I was surprised to see the amount of emphasis the director put on my being native. She went out and paid the radio to do a commercial saying a “native” teacher is now at CCAA. She asked me to give workshops for her school and to give speeches. The owners of the school went crazy with excitement over the whole ordeal. Out of all the schools in the city (6 of them) I was the only native teacher. They used it to their advantage. Of course, after a while, I got tired of always being introduced as the “American teacher”. I felt like every time it was said I was supposed to do a flip.

    However, although I agree that grammatically speaking there really is no advantage of one over the other, non-native over native, I do believe the non-native teachers have the rules fresher in their minds. However, I have been witness to non-natives teacher that the word “used” is pronounced “yoozed”, with two syllables.

    All in all, Open English is trying to get attention with their ad, like anyone who pays big money for an ad on TV. It worked! Can’t blame them for that.

      Higor Cavalcante said:
      June 12, 2013 at 11:11 pm

      Hi David,

      Thank you for the comment.

      I believe – as I said in the article – that what makes a teacher a good teacher is very difficult to list, but language proficiency is definitely one of them. I just don’t think a teacher is better or worse because of where s/he was born.

      As for Open English, we can’t blame them for mocking non-native teachers of English and for advertising – much like your employers in Brazil – the fact they only employ American teachers, as though their place of birth in itself made them better able to teach English? Yes, we can, David. Yes, we can.

    Ivan said:
    June 18, 2013 at 4:10 am

    Hi Higor!

    I couldn’t agree more with you. As an English school owner and teacher and Brazilian…hehe… I simply hate when a student arrives at English-4U saying “I’d like to have classes with a native speaker” Gosh, this is so disrespectful. The way they say sounds like if we were nothing. Of course I always say: “Sure, we have amazing native English TEACHERS working here” but deep in my heart I feel like crap. This Open English is ridiculous, the TV commercials they show are unethical and the owner sounds like a very arrogant person.

    Thanks a lot for this great post.

    Rodrigo said:
    October 4, 2013 at 12:14 am

    I thought they did not speak English anymore in the USA.

    alexandre said:
    January 25, 2014 at 11:07 am

    I’m an american teacher. I’m a south american teacher rss . I’m Brazilian but latin american. Open School have been insisting on this bloody slogan . I´ve seen that bald artist performing for open english . Disgusting.

      Higor Cavalcante said:
      January 26, 2014 at 10:51 am

      Open English is disgusting, Alexandre. Absolutely disgusting.

      Thank you for the visit and the comment! 🙂

Leave a Reply

Fill in your details below or click an icon to log in:

WordPress.com Logo

You are commenting using your WordPress.com account. Log Out /  Change )

Google photo

You are commenting using your Google account. Log Out /  Change )

Twitter picture

You are commenting using your Twitter account. Log Out /  Change )

Facebook photo

You are commenting using your Facebook account. Log Out /  Change )

Connecting to %s