Ben Goldstein’s six ways to sell English

In this image-rich post I am joined by none other than Ben Goldstein, an expert on images and language teaching. His book Working with Images (Cambridge) was one of my “books to look out for in 2009” and has duly been nominated for the Ben Warren Prize for this year. Ben has a keen eye for images and how to critically analyse them. He gave a Pecha Kucha called English for Sale at IATEFL and TESOL Spain this year. I asked him to share some of the images he found with us here.

I have spent some time researching into how language schools, publishers and multinationals (Berlitz, Inlingua) promote the English language. What images of English are presented, what messages are transmitted and how is the language marketed as a commodity?

1) English as owned by native speaker. Many adverts clearly show the uneven power relationship between the native and non-native speaker which is still present in many campaigns.However, other ads seem to make fun of native speaker supremacy as in this Inlingua ad:

B english mother tongue

2) English and its cultural icons.  Telephone boxes and Big Ben still dominate as icons particularly in the marketing of language schools, regardless of English’s status as a lingua franca. Here is a particularly extreme example!

C live it

3) English and its stereotypes. Surprisingly, many campaigns actually emphasize negative stereotypes, in particular about the British. This gives the impression to learners that they better get on and study the language, whether they like or not. Be it a weak, sickly youth or a hooligan, these are not exactly attractive role models:

D enough of weak english

E hooligans

4) English providing the promise of a better future. Much in the same way as other products, English is conventionally sold as a passport to a better life and the chance to achieve an elevated social status. Here is an example from a Filipino website, interesting in that it is celebrating bilingualism in a country where English is losing its elitist role:

F english is cool website

5) Inability to speak English. Negative images of learners being humiliated or and ‘getting it wrong’ are frequently used as a way to get the customer to identify and hence buy into a course. Language schools use this technique more than other, it seems, because it makes the customer feel guilty that his/her English is not up to scratch.

G inlinguaAntenna

6) English and other languages. Finally, some campaigns which attempt to do something different, placing English alongside other languages. Here’s one celebrating cultural diversity and code-switching. The ad cleverly shows three ways of saying yes in English, French and Hebrew and it also reads ‘Yes, we can” – at last a truly positive message for the learner!

J berlitzyes

Ben Goldstein is a teacher, author and presenter based in Barcelona. You can find out more about him and his work here.

Published in: on September 29, 2009 at 7:12 am  Comments (2)  
Tags: , , ,