Rabat – Moroccan-owned language center, British Workshop, has certainly made waves with its recent controversial billboard ad depicting a stick figure holding a gun to its head with the message “If you still don’t speak English, go kill yourself,” written half in English and half in Arabic.

Although the billboard ad has since been removed, the polemic continues in a debate among the British Workshop, social media, and the British Embassy.

Ad Taken Down, Polemic Continues

“The advertisement is extremely distasteful,” stated the British Embassy in a communiqué denying any involvement with the billboard and its creators.

“The British Embassy and the British Council want to make it absolutely clear that they have nothing to do with this company.”

The ad has been heavily criticized in the headlines of national media the day of its release, with many on social media denouncing it as “shameful” and distasteful.”

The British Workshop issued a statement, written in French, explaining why it decided to take down the ad.

“The intention of the ad’s creators apparently was to use humor to draw attention to the importance of the English language, explaining that vehicle for the intended humor was a popular Moroccan phrase,” The British Workshop said.

Recognizing that the ad displayed in Casablanca on August 10 had sparked “a lot of reactions, sometimes negative,” the Moroccan language center also issued an apology on its Facebook page.

An Invitation to Learn English, Not to Commit Suicide

“If some people were shocked or offended by this publicity, we apologize.”

The center explained that the ad was intended to show the importance of the English language “by using a common idiom of the Moroccan dialect used in jokes.”

“Taken literally, the expression ‘Sir Tmout’ (you might as well die) is provocative and utterly out of context,” said Mohamed Essafi, a teacher at the British Workshop.

However, Essafi asserted that “language, any language, cannot be taken merely literally, it is also idiomatic.”

The punch line “Sir Tmout”, he suggested, is probably best translated into English as “you don’t know what you are missing!”

The British Workshop explained that the ad had “nothing to do with anything negative, let alone suicide,” which did not seemingly impress the British Embassy nor the British Council.

Language Centers: Tough competition between Locals and Foreigners

The Embassy’s statement made a point of expressing its intention “to provide services to the Moroccan public which are respectful of the local culture and in line with the good relations that unite Morocco and the United Kingdom.”

However, Thami Ben Boujida, the Moroccan Founder and CEO of the British Workshop, believes that the involvement of the British Embassy in the matter is an attempt to “promote the British-owned language center, the British Council, over its counterpart Moroccan-owned language centers.”

The founder also expressed disappointment over the Moroccan media’s haste to denounce the British Workshop’s ad.

“The center is owned by a Moroccan. Yet, instead of Moroccan media supporting a fellow Moroccan, they rushed to criticize and condemn, without understanding the latent meaning behind the billboard,” Ben Boujida said.

With Moroccan interest in learning English increasing during recent years, a number of foreign companies and also Moroccan nationals living abroad have flocked to Morocco to create language centers to teach English.

The intense competition between these companies has led to the rise of English proficiency in Morocco, with Morocco being noted as the best in English proficiency in the MENA region, according to a 2016 World Economic Forum report.

By Amira El Masaiti

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