How to survive as a language assistant (auxiliar de conversación) in Spain

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How to survive as a language assistant (auxiliar de conversación) in Spain
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As a new academic year is about to get underway for all those 'auxiliares de conversación' hired in bilingual project schools across Spain, old hand Audrey Ardanaz gives you the rundown on what to expect and her tips for how to survive.


You’ve heard stories. You’ve lived through some of the stories. You want to aprovechar Madrid. You want to be a cool English teacher. Being a Language Assistant can be one of the most rewarding jobs as much as it can be one of the most difficult jobs out there. Depending on where you are placed, it can also be far outside your realm of expectations. We (Americans) come here with great ideas, great plans, and for the better or for the worse, those ideas and plans don’t pan out. However, there are things we should all keep in mind when starting this job to be the best we can be and, most importantly, enjoy the job along the way.

Take Yourself Seriously

The best thing you can do for yourself while in this job is mentally ridding yourself of the title “assistant” and just go with “teacher”, or better yet, “educator”. Though yes, the word “assistant” is in the job title, you will be, in various amounts of ways, educating and influencing children. It’s all very easy to disregard any responsibility of the job entirely and put all energy to your immense amount free time, which you will probably spend travelling. However, once you take yourself seriously and act as such, you’ll see the respect reaped your way.

Take the Initiative

Some of you may get lucky with phenomenal teachers who always have a plan, for the class and for you, and who make sure your presence is being used in the classroom. However, you’ll almost certainly find yourself with at least one teacher who will simply not know what to do with you, leaving you wandering around from desk to desk with nothing to do. But the first part of taking initiative is to let it be known that you’re there to help. Finding a little space where you can help a single student, a group, the class, or the teacher herself will be appreciated enormously.

Present Yourself

Spanish culture is a lot of presenting yourself. Telling people about yourself. Jumping in when no one asked you to. No provocation. Just going for it. Feedback? Probably not, unless you ask yourself. In most of our English-speaking cultures, people are usually looking to make you feel comfortable in a new setting by asking lots of questions and allowing you to take part. In contrast, here questions about yourself may not arise immediately. It will largely be up to you to be the kind of teacher and co-worker that you want to be by showing up and letting them know about you.

Photo: igorvetushko/Depositphotos

Know What You Want to Share About Your Culture

Whether you’re American, British, Australian or Irish (or maybe even Filipino) you will get asked about a certain President and a slew of other things that maybe you’ll think have no relevance to what you perceived your culture to be about. Though you might have to just cringe and get through doing that Irish step dance that the teachers want you to do or having to make a presentation on “Indians” for young students and what Thanksgiving is, you do have the power to share what’s meaningful to you. Have a talk with the teachers, let them know that although the stereotypical things can be touched upon, there’s more you would like to communicate.

Make Friends with the Teachers

Make an effort to knowthe Spanish teachers at your school. It’s hard for them. They see a new crop of us language assistants every single year and many times, they themselves have been moved from school to school year after year. Most likely if they’re not coming up to you at break or any other time it’s because they’re not confident enough in their English to start a conversation with you. Though you might not have a strong level of Spanish yourself, having a relationship beyond “hola” with the teachers in your school promotes a much healthier atmosphere for everybody while moving you just a little bit outside of the English-speaking circles.

Learn a few Tools of Teaching

The fact of the matter is that, as a new teacher, you’re going to struggle if you’ve never been given any types of tools to teaching. So, learn how to do some basic lesson-planning (if you don’t already). Lesson planning is the basis to organization and flow of the class. It starts with an objective or an idea and the manner in which to carry it out. Don’t forget that teaching and learning is all about building upon previous knowledge. I see many new teachers struggle with not knowing how to go about introducing a new topic and going straight into the meat of it, without first asking the students what they know about the topic and introducing it as a progression to something they already know. 

Make Your Work Meaningful

Allow me to stress that I know that lesson planning is not part of your job description. Perhaps the idea of doing any kind of extra work outside of the class is not at all what you had in mind. However, the more you have under your belt, the better this whole thing is going to be for you. Know why you came here, enjoy the new atmosphere, let the students teach you some things, and do whatever you need to do to keep frustration at a minimum and make the work that you do here mean something to you.

Audrey Ardanaz, 26, is from New Jersey, and has been an Auxiliar English teacher in Madrid for three years. With a background in Communications, Spanish, and Bilingual Education, she describes herself as a teacher, writer, and poet. Follow her on Medium and instagram.

READ MORE: The Ultimate A to Z Guide to Teaching English in Spain


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