Read This Before Becoming a Language Assistant in Spain

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Written by  May 19, 2016

What it's really like to work as an Auxiliar de Conversación in Madrid. 

If you’re a non-European looking to move to Spain, becoming a language assistant is one of the least stressful ways to do it. In exchange for a student visa and €1,000 a month, a native English speaker will dedicate 16 hours of in-class time as a teaching assistant in a primary or secondary public school. If it sounds like a sweet deal, it is.

But before you pack your bags, consider the following.

Your school may be far from the centre.

Many Auxiliars in Madrid work in schools in the "alredores" or the outskirts. Commuting over an hour each way is extremely common. Though Madrid’s public transportation system is well connected and nearly flawless, that might not be the case for the town your school is in. Train or bus transfers might be necessary, and could include a bit of a walk.

You will probably be teaching a lot more than conversation in secondary schools.

Raise your hand if you know what a "phrasal verb" is. If you’re clueless, don’t panic. Secondary English curriculum in Madrid has a strong emphasis on teaching grammar, which caught me completely off-guard. I had to study rules for basic English grammar. I never considered why I say certain words or expressions, I just knew when to say them. Good news if you are a lover of linguistics, this is actually fun.

You will be teaching British English.

If consensus says "realize" is spelt "realise," or your pre-pubescent students keep asking for rubbers, you are not going crazy! Don’t panic, fellow North Americans, you will get the gist of the Brits' lingo in no time.

Some students have a very, very low level of English.

Auxiliars are told specifically not to speak to students in Spanish, but some students just don’t have a high enough level to understand everything in English. They will tune out when they don’t understand something. I had a class like this last year, and found translating activity instructions or certain syntactic rules in Spanish to be really helpful. Without a basic knowledge of Spanish, I wouldn’t have been able to reach or relate to them on the level I did.

Your experience will vary depending on the teachers you work with.

Spanish universities don’t focus on teaching methodologies and teachers do not get observed in the classroom. It has been my experience that some teachers are not so flexible with their preferred teaching style. If it doesn’t benefit the students, it is the students' fault. This can be frustrating as an assistant: if you have ideas for interactive activities, some teachers may not be as enthusiastic.

You will teach more than 16 hours a week.

One thousand euros a month seems like a liveable salary in Spain, but after paying rent and your monthly transportation card, there isn’t much left to thrive on your three-day weekends (especially if you are trying to pay student loans every month). Luckily, English lessons are in high demand! Students ask for private lessons, and fellow Auxiliars are always looking to share classes they can’t handle. I’ve found private lessons to be the best part, and much more successful in helping students improve their English.

If you think you can bear these circumstances, buen viaje

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Published in Work Abroad Blogs
Victoria Adamo

Growing up in a diverse city in the Hudson Valley inspired Victoria Adamo’s life-long love for the Spanish language. It brought her to study abroad in Spain, where she has since returned to teach English. She adores getting lost and talking to strangers. She has no fixed plans to return home.

Website: https://www.instagram.com/vicadamo_/

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