‘This is the perfect time to teach English in Spain’

In this week's edition of My Spanish Career, The Local talks to Madrid-based English teacher Lena Williams about what qualifications you need, the positives and negatives of teaching in Spain and why the crisis means English teachers are more in demand than ever.

'This is the perfect time to teach English in Spain'
Lena offers a variety of English-language services through her business So English ( Photo: Pablo Díaz Solas

Tell us a bit about yourself.

I grew up in the south of England and started my career working for an important marketing agency in London.

How did you end in Spain?

I took a summer out to do a backpacking trip around Europe and when I was in Spain I realized that I loved the life here. I needed a new challenge in my life so I decided then and there that Spain was the country for me!

I knew I was going to move here permanently so I tried to learn the language back in London and researched teacher trainer courses. Then in 2006 I packed my bags and said "¡hasta luego Londres, hola Madrid!"

Did you have any previous teaching experience?

I wanted to come to Madrid with some teaching experience so I worked at Callan language school in London for a few months which gave me invaluable experience on how to give dynamic classes.

What qualifications do you think are the best to have?

I did a Cambridge CELTA teaching course as soon as I arrived in Madrid and I would definitely recommend either that or the equivalent Trinity course. Having a languages degree would also be a plus but is not required.

What sort of classes do you teach?

I teach executives who need English for work on a Professional English Master. I also give private classes in companies and to individuals through my own business, So English, 95 percent of which is business-related.

What do you like about teaching in Spain?

For me, the best thing is being able to choose my hours as I am self-employed. Being in Spain means that my free hours can be spent in the sunshine or meeting my friends who also have flexible schedules. I also love the human connection that is involved in teaching as I am a real people person! No day is ever the same.

What are the biggest challenges and drawbacks of your job?

I would definitely say that one of the biggest challenges is making sure that the student's specific needs are satisfied so they really feel they are taking something away from every class. The main drawback to teaching is all the paperwork, namely report writing every term if you work for a private school.

Also the fact that you have to factor in a lot of unpaid holiday if you are self-employed which can be up to two or three months per year!

What are Spaniards like as pupils?

They are extremely warm and welcoming and a lot of fun! They generally don't take themselves too seriously which means they'll give anything a go. Although this does mean that we teachers need to crack the whip a little more when it comes to using the correct grammar and doing homework!

What do they tend to find hardest about learning English?

Pronunciation tends to be quite challenging for them, often because nobody has ever taught it to them before. And when they get to a certain level, the main difficulty is normally learning the dreaded phrasal verbs!

How important is speaking Spanish if you're an English teacher in Spain?

It's not essential but it helps you to anticipate the difficulties your students are likely to have. That said, not speaking Spanish can be an advantage as your students won't revert to it when they don’t know a word, or try to use you as a walking translator!

Do you see teaching as a long term career?

Absolutely. If you take your teaching career seriously, there is always room for personal and professional growth by trying new methods and developing new courses.

What advice would you give anyone looking to start teaching English in Spain?

First of all, you won't regret it! Try to find a language school that is supportive and that will give you guidance if necessary. You can find private students when you are more established. Michael Swan's Practical English Usage is essential for getting up to speed with English grammar.

Check out The Local's top tips for teaching English in Spain

Can you make a decent living as an English teacher in a big city like Madrid?

Definitely but it depends on how seriously you take it. Once you get a name for yourself, it’s not hard to get a loyal client base.

What sort of hourly rate should prospective teachers expect?

This totally depends on your level of experience. In my experience, after tax new teachers can expect to start at about €15 per hour. Very experienced teachers normally take home around €25-€30 after tax.

Teaching English in Spain has a bit of a reputation for being an easy job. What are your views on that?

We're hardly saving lives so compared to brain surgeons our job is a walk in the park! That said, if you want to do it well, you need to know the language inside out, be innovative and have excellent classroom management skills, so it’s not as easy as you might think.

Would you say now is a good time to kick-start a teaching career keeping in mind Spain's economic crisis and massive unemployment rate?

Yes, this is the perfect moment! Due to the economic crisis, Spanish people need a competitive edge more than ever and being able to speak English is very desirable, if not indispensable, for getting a job. Spain needs you!

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