‘Being an au pair in Spain can be really tough’

Every year, thousands of youngsters move to Spain as au pairs to learn a new language, see the country and find out about the culture. But is the experience everything it's cracked up to be? The Local's Cécilia Brès investigates.

'Being an au pair in Spain can be really tough'
Marion spent ten months as an au-pair with a Spanish family in Madrid and took the opportunity to visit the mythical Santiago Bernabeu Stadium, home to Real Madrid.

"Becoming part of a foreign family can be an amazing experience," says Anne Rougier who heads up the French-based au au pair firm Oliver Twist Work & Study.

"Our au pair program has been increasingly popular. It’s always a good way to discover a new country, learn another language and it costs almost nothing," she adds.

Rougier places applicants, aged from 18 to 26. People can opt for a summer placement of two or three months or stay for the entire school year.

Prospective au pairs pay a €300 ($400) agency fee and the French organization works with Spanish intermediaries to place candidates with families. Ticket costs are the au pair’s responsibility.

"Our au pairs get at least one and a half day off per week and receive a minimum of €60 ($80) pocket money a week," explains Rougier, adding that the firm provides on the ground support to au pairs.

But she also warns the work can be tough. Au pairs are required to work a minimum of 25 hours per week and expected to do household chores.

"Sometimes candidates don't realize how demanding caring for children and working 30-35 hours per week can be," she explains.

Teaching their native language to the kids can also be part of the au pairs’ job. "Over the past years, an increasing number of Spanish family have been asking for an English-speaking au pair, who will be able to talk to the kids in English," admits Rougier.

"This might lead to disappointment if the au pair was hoping to improve in Spanish."

For au pair’s themselves, the experience can be a mixed one.

Marion, a 19-year-old from France quit university in September, got in touch with a host family directly via the internet and became an au pair in Spain. She has just returned home after 10 months in Madrid.

After getting in touch over Skype, Marion moved in with a family of five including a two-year-old baby. She was asked to speak French to the five and seven-year-old girls. 

"They immediately made me feel really comfortable," she says.  “I really wanted to go to Spain and learn the language. I needed some time off my studies to figure out what I wanted to do."

Zephyr, a 20-year-old who is currently doing a summer placement in Madrid with a British au pair agency had similar motivations. "My parents wanted me to work over summer and I needed to improve my Spanish. I love looking after kids, I have a little sister and several younger cousins."

After completing several forms and a Skype interview, the agency put him in touch with a family interested in his profile. His weak Spanish level wasn't a problem, and the parents wanted a male au pair because they have two sons.

"The parents don’t speak English but the six-year old boy goes to an international school," says Zephyr. "I teach him English every morning".

Starting at 9am, his role mainly involves looking after the kids while both parents are at work. The nanny takes care of the cleaning and cooking tasks. He receives €100 a week. 

Zephyr is currently doing a summer au pair placement in Madrid

Au pairs’ timetable can truly vary from one family to the other, as Marion worked from 6.30am to 10pm. Her tasks included preparing breakfast for the kids, taking them to school and several activities, playing with them and putting them to bed.

After walking the dog and cleaning the kitchen, her day was finally over.

"The work was tough, I didn't expect that much," Marion admits.

She still enjoyed some free-time at weekends.

"From October to June, I took Spanish classes in a small language school where 90 percent of the students were au pairs. It was also a good way to meet people."

Marion would also tag along every time her family left the capital. "We went on holidays four times, including trips to San Sebastian and the Sierra Nevada. But I had to work non-stop."

Zephyr and his host family will also be leaving Madrid this weekend for their holiday house in the country. He will then have another three weeks left in Madrid. "Up to now everything’s been fine, I hope it will continue this way."

His agency hasn't organized for him to meet up with any other Spain-based au pairs yet, but he was lucky to meet an au pair living next door.

Marion is now back in France and feels she has gained a lot from the experience. "It hasn't always been easy. The mum focused on small details, the kids wouldn't always listen to me. But I’ve handled the pressure and responsibility – I've learnt a lot."

She received €60 per week, while most of her au pair friends agreed that they were underpaid.

"We are young, many of us had no supervising organization. Some families took advantage of it."

In September, she will go back to university to study languages and probably work in tourism in the future. "My Spanish has really improved. I don’t want to lose it now."

"I also know I’ll keep in touch with the family. You create strong links by living ten months together."

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‘Hard to stay afloat’: Is working for an English language academy in Spain worth it?

It's the go-to work option for countless anglophones in Spain, but is teaching at an English language academy still enough to pay the bills in a climate of rising prices, stagnant wages and a shift to online learning platforms?

'Hard to stay afloat': Is working for an English language academy in Spain worth it?

Traditionally seen as a type of gap-year experience for recent graduates and/or those seeking adventure before settling down to a more traditional career path, English language teaching in Spain has becoming increasingly popular as a long-term career.

A high quality of life, a more favourable climate and generally lower living costs have always made Spain a popular destination for English language teachers, with Spain posting the highest number of job advertisements for teachers among European countries.

As a result, many of those working in the industry see it as somewhere to further both their professional and personal lives.

However, poor job security, stagnant salaries and issues surrounding the long-term sustainability of language academies have plagued the sector for years.

The recent impact of the Covid-19 pandemic and the current rise in inflation has further compounded these issues, with many teachers considering their long-term careers in Spain.

Teachers working for private language academies in large cities such as Madrid, Barcelona, Valencia and Sevilla can expect to earn between €800 to €1,400 a month after tax for about 20 to 30 hours of class time per week.

One teacher told The Local Spain that despite working as a profesor de inglés for almost a decade, his academy salary had gone down dramatically in real wage terms, following a salary cut during the pandemic which made it “hard to keep my head above water”.

“I was working as a teacher for nine years but felt the need to leave the profession as the hours I needed to work were affecting my mental health. During my first three years in Spain, I was able to get by on my salary. Since then, I have increased the number of private classes gradually, I save the same a month as I did when I first moved here, but have to work an extra eight hours a week to be in that situation”.

READ ALSO: The pros and cons of being an English language assistant in Spain

As of 2022, the minimum monthly salary stands at €1,166 gross for a 40-hour working week, meaning that someone working as an English teacher can expect to earn more or less the minimum wage based on their contact hours, with many opting to teach privately in order to supplement their income.

In addition to this, most teachers are hired on short-term indefinido contracts, meaning that they only earn a monthly salary for nine months of the year, resulting in many taking on summer work to maintain a year-round monthly income.

While short-term informal contracts and a relatively manageable monthly salary may have appealed to single, twenty-somethings seeking a few years of fun and adventure in Spain, for those looking to support a family or get on the property ladder the precarious economic reality of English language teaching has seen many reconsider their long-term career goals.

“I rented when I initially moved here but now I’m paying off a mortgage which has gone up due to interest rate rises,” another English teacher told The Local Spain. 

A traditionally in-person industry, the pandemic forced many academies online and, due to increased competition from online language learning platforms along with a paradigm shift in terms of hybrid and remote study and work, academies have struggled to replace students lost to this new language learning environment.

As a result of this, some teachers have seen their weekly teaching hours reduced as academies simply cannot guarantee a full schedule, putting further financial pressure on teachers.

teaching english spain

Poor job security, stagnant salaries and issues surrounding the long-term sustainability of language academies have been plaguing the industry for years in Spain. Photo: Thirdman/Pexels

One teacher with over seven years working experience for a large English academy in Madrid told The Local that “a few years ago our company began the long process of trying to cut our supplements and basic wage”.

“We were backed up by our comité, (representative group) but after about a year of negotiations, reductions (and redundancies) were made. At the time it cut about €250 from my meagre wages.”

As is the case across Europe, the level of inflation in Spain has risen sharply to about 10.5 percent as of September 2022. Combined with rising energy prices, more and more teachers are finding it increasingly difficult to live off a salary in some cases of just over €1,000 a month.

With the average cost of renting a room ranging from €400 to €500 in large cities, some teachers are choosing to cut costs in terms of their living standards to make their salaries stretch further.

Another teacher told The Local how “while I still go out at the weekend and buy the food I want at supermarkets, the increase in rental prices has meant that I’ve stayed in a less-than-ideal room, rather than finding a better room – due to not wanting to pay significantly more in rent”.

While the challenges facing English teachers in Spain are not unique to their line of work, this latest set of drawbacks should be factored in by anyone considering making a move here or teaching long-term.

Such economic realities are difficult to ignore, but that’s not to say there isn’t a lot English teaching can offer someone looking to gain some valuable work and life experience while also enjoying the hustle and bustle of life in Spain.

Article by Cormac Breen