What you need to know about being a Language Assistant

From the hours you spend anxiously booking your flights to the days (or weeks) you spend struggling to find a place to live, moving abroad is a stressful process. You’re thrown into the deep end from day one, surrounded by new people, an unfamiliar culture, and a language that you likely don’t understand. You’ll be confused, overwhelmed, and, at first, wondering why you got on that plane.

The stress of moving abroad can make applying to the Laguage Assistant Programme feel like huge risk. But, as someone who spent 2 years as a Language Assistant in Madrid, I promise you, it’s worth it. Before you take the plunge and fill in your application, here’s everything I wish I’d known before I started the programme.

1) The Language Assistant Programme will change your life

Being an Auxiliar de Conversación cemented my love for Spain and all of its different cultures. Even if, like me, you decide teaching isn’t your thing, this is an opportunity to live in Spain while earning enough money to support yourself.

Yes, this was just one person’s experience, and yours will no doubt be different. I do, however, think it’s interesting to look at what the other Language Assistants in my city ended up doing years later:

Of the six Language Assistants in Madrid that I met while living there:

  1. Two still live in Madrd
  2. A third auxiliar de conversación is married to a Juan, a lovely guy from Madrid
  3. Two are still teaching English
  4. Four are still involved with education
  5. One works in business and uses his Spanish with clients. 

2) As an English Language Assistant, you must embrace (or at least accept) uncertainty

During your time as a Language Asssiant, more often than not it can be difficult to understand exactly what’s going on, even if you have an advanced level of Spanish like I did.

While this helped me build tremendous empathy for my own students, who likewise struggled to understand English, it was also incredibly frustrating at times. After all, it’s not something you can just instantly fix (i.e., “okay- I’m just going to start understanding everything now”).

I promise it will get better and that your understanding of Spanish culture will grow exponentially. Keep reading, watching TV, listening to the radio, talking with your friends, and speaking. Most importantly, don’t stress! You’re not expected to being a Spanish Native by spending 8 months living in Spain, but you will learn a thing or two!

3) Being a Language Assistant will greatly improve upon your single-story of Spain

(If you aren’t familiar with the term “single-story,” watch this TED talk.) Before I studied Spanish, I knew that all Spaniards had dark hair, ate paella, lived in Barcelona, and danced flamenco. My first day in Madrid immediately broke many of these stereotypes: 

  • Why is that pig ear in my paella? One of the first gross words I learned was “casqueria” (entrails) as in “arroz a la zamorana lleva casquería en lugar de marisco.”
  • Barcelona isn’t really as Spanish as you once thought.
  • Baile folklórico is not flamenco.

Be prepared to learn the ins and outs of Spanish Culture. Living somewhere and meeting people with distinct cultures and backgrounds to your own will truely open your eyes to how uniquely surprising and beautful this medeteranian country really is.

4) This is the easiest way for you to test the waters when it comes to teaching

What do I mean by “easy”? ” YOU’RE TRAVELING TO SPAIN! Well, yes. But, you aren’t paying £9,000 to get your PGCE for a year while student teaching for only a limited time during the second semester.

You’re dropped in the deep end on day 1. As a Language Assistant you can try out loads of different teaching techniques & ideas on an audience. Why? Because your students are typically really excited to see you. So, find an AWESOME activity you’d like to try out to see if it works. You’ll always have the support of your fellow teachers; you’ll find they don’t expect you to be a perfect teacher by no means. So don’t be afraid to experiment, try new things, and get stuck in!

But, you also don’t need to come up with lessons when you don’t want to—because, as the contract says, you’re technically just there helping out. Not every lesson was a home run…or a base hit for that matter. But it is so satisfying to see students “get it” after an activity that you put together yourself.  

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