How I Became a Language Assistant in Spain

How I Became a Language Assistant in Spain

It was 2018. I was a few months away from graduating from Durham University with my languages degree, and I had to decide what to do next. Since I was six years old, I’d wanted to be a teacher. I always assumed I would go straight into studying for a PGCE, then on to a standard teaching job. However, for some reason, I didn’t feel ready for that. I wanted to do something else instead of plain old teaching straight away. This is how I fell into being a language assistant in Spain. But I had to make a decision about my future first.

Being a language student, my possible plans mainly involved travelling. I drew up a list of five options, including: 

  1. Becoming a language assistant through the British Council.
  2. Doing a masters in translation, potentially abroad.
  3. “Bits and Pieces” — volunteering at a local Steiner school, volunteering abroad with refugees, and working with a mountain activity company in Italy. 
  4. “Another year abroad” — two six-month placements abroad in countries where they spoke a language I’d studied or wanted to learn.
  5. Another degree! I studied two languages and two sciences at A-Level. I felt tempted to go abroad (double benefit of practising my languages and cheaper fees!) and study something related to Biology, Chemistry, or Linguistics.

What to Choose

As I can see looking back on this list, I obviously didn’t feel ready to start a standard full-time job! In the end, I chose the first option. Apparently, I’m drawn to teaching so much that even when I don’t want to teach yet, I end up being a teaching assistant! I think I chose this option because it was the easiest to organise. Plus, I’d be paid rather than paying for it. It also seemed relevant to my career path, so I guess it was easier to justify and to feel confident enough that it was a good decision!

There’s a lot of pressure to go straight into a full-time job after graduating. But I would strongly recommend going abroad first if it is something you’re considering. There will be plenty of time for a standard job during the rest of your life, and you will get so much out of living abroad! 

Graduating from Durham University

The British Council

Many English speakers from all over the world decide to spend a year (or more) abroad helping teach English through the language assistant programme. It is a great way to immerse yourself in another country’s culture and language while working part-time to cover costs. As a native speaker, it’s also easy to find private lessons on the side to earn a bit more money.

Depending on where you’re from, there are different ways to get a placement. However, for those of us coming from the UK, we usually apply through the British Council. This involves a fairly long but simple application form. Along with this form, you will also need a reference, and, for some countries, a video interview (but not Spain, where I ended up applying). The British Council currently organises placements in 15 countries around the world, from South America to Asia. 

Where to Go

I decided that I wanted to stay in Europe to be closer to my friends in England. However, I couldn’t decide whether to go to Spain or Italy (having studied both languages). Much as I love Italy, in the end, I chose to be a language assistant in Spain. This is because there were many more placements available there, and I would be able to practise not only Spanish, but also Catalan. Through the British Council you can also put preferences of the region of Spain you would like to be in, whether you want to be in a city or a small pueblo, and what age you would like to teach. They say they take this into account, but there’s no guarantee that you’ll get your first choices. 

Leaving home ready to start a new life in Spain

Application Sent

So, I sent off my application form in December, my reference was sent off by February, and then I just had to wait. In April, I heard back from the British Council that my application to become a teaching assistant in Spain had been successful. Now they would pass my application onto the Ministry of Education in Spain. Both of those agencies would work together to assign me to a specific region. In May, I found out I’d got my first choice region and would be heading to the Comunitat Valenciana in October. All that was left was to wait for the ministerio to allocate me a school.

Spain is notorious for taking a while to tell you where exactly you have been placed. They are working on this, but some people only found out which locality they would be in a few weeks before starting teaching! Luckily, I found out at the beginning of July. I was originally placed in the city of Alicante, but realising that they don’t speak much Valencià (the Valencian dialect of Catalan) in the city, I was lucky to be able to swap schools with my friend. She had also applied for the programme and was keen to be in Alicante. You’re not officially allowed to swap, but sometimes it’s possible! So, my confirmed destination was Castelló de la Plana.

Castelló de la Plana

I had never heard of Castelló when they assigned me to a school there. But it turns out that Carme, my Catalan teacher’s friend, was from there. I got in contact with her to find out what it was like. She put me in touch with a student who had been there on Erasmus. They convinced me that it would be better for my Valencià than Alicante and that it wasn’t too small, so I decided to go for it. Looking back, I had no idea what it would really be like, but I figured eight months wasn’t too much of a commitment. 

Moving Abroad to be a Language Assistant in Spain

As a previous language student, the whole experience wasn’t as daunting as it might have been for some people. I’d done placements and Erasmus abroad before as part of my degree, including in Spain. I spoke the language fairly well. I also knew Carme, and she helped with logistical things like the strange workings of the RENFE train websites (yes, plural: there are different web pages and places to search for different kinds of trains, even between the same two stations!). I’d found a flat online but only rented it from the start of October. Fortunately, I was able to stay with her parents for a week first. Her dad helped me carry my big suitcases up the three flights of stairs when I finally moved into my flat.

Before flying over there, my dad helped me sort out as much of the paperwork as he could from the UK. I carefully read the auxiliar guide and country notes I’d been sent by the British Council. Nonetheless, I don’t think you can ever be that prepared to move to a place you’ve never been before. I guess that’s all part of the adventure. So, I set off with an open mind and as much patience as I could muster for the inevitable challenges. I had a better time than I’d ever imagined. 

And that’s how I became a language assistant in Spain. 

by Kira Browne

42 thoughts on “How I Became a Language Assistant in Spain

  1. How exciting! This sounds like a wonderful way of getting to live in another country. Congratulations to you!

    1. Hi Talya! Yes, I would really recommend the teaching assistant programme as a way to live in another country. It was ideal for me as I know I want to teach in some form in the future, but even if it’s not something you would consider a career in, but you think it sounds interesting, I would definitely suggest it! After all, you always have the help of your coordinator, and it’s only part-time.

    1. Thanks! I’m currently drafting my next blog post about the ups and downs of the experience once I arrived in Spain, so watch out for that one!

  2. I am a language assistant too in Japan. It might be different from Spain but it’s so fun and rewarding job.

    1. Awesome! How are you finding that? What are you from originally? I can imagine the culture shock must have been even bigger for you there than in Spain for me! It is fun and rewarding, isn’t it!

  3. Such a great experience. teaching in a foreign country is never easy. There’s a lot of things we need to adjust to, not to mention culture shock. If I was younger, I would go for an ALT in Spain

    1. No, teaching by itself is never easy, and living in a foreign country isn’t either, so teaching in a foreign country is going to have its challenges and I think it’s important to recognise them too. It’s not just a holiday! However, coping with those challenges gives a real sense of achievement and you learn so much! There’s no age limit in many countries, and in others it’s as high as 60, and while most assistants are younger, you can still go now if you want!

  4. This is so awesome! My friend did the same but in the Ukraine. She had an amazing time, but she did get a bit of a culture shock.

    1. Yes, I can imagine the culture shock in Ukraine would be even bigger. It didn’t seem too big at first in Spain, but every week I’d notice more and more little things that are different or that make me feel different to the locals!

    1. Thanks! I had a fantastic time in Castelló for three years, although it did comes with its ups and downs which I’m writing about in my next blog post (watch this space!) And now I’ve left the assistantship programme but still in Spain – how long for? Who knows! Certainly not me…!

    1. It has been an incredible opportunity. I would totally recommend it for people with an interest in education and living abroad.

    1. It was exciting. Life abroad I’ve found it just more intense in every way. More exciting. But also more stressful and difficult, as you don’t have your support network and family around. But so worthwhile! It sounds so cliché but I really have grown so much from this experience in a way that I wouldn’t have had I stayed in England.

  5. That sounds like an awesome experience. I love that you shared how you came to it so other people can learn from it.

    1. Yes. It is a different process depending on which country you come from and which country you are going to, but there will be similarities and I hope this post can be helpful .

  6. This sounds like a great adventure. I am all for visiting other places. Travel and working away from our comfort zones gives us the chance to find our more about ourselves.

    1. China is another destination that the British Council organises assistantships too, although I think the programme is a bit different there. It would certainly be a very different place to live and experience, and I imagine that for your friend the culture shock has been quite a lot!

    1. I think living my best life is a pretty good description of my 3 years as a teaching assistant in Castellón! Although some people thought I “should” have stayed/come back to England to start a “proper job”, out in Castelló I was working, paying my bills, and in my free time had some incredible experiences!

  7. What a neat experience. I am a school head, and I am glad you addressed the many decisions you need to make after graduating.

    1. Yeah, there are lots of decisions, and lots of pressure too from society/people in your life. I want to help people realise that there are many options and you don’t have to choose the “usual” path, having an awesome experience abroad is an option too!

    1. Seeing as I have always wanted to teach in some form or another, it was an ideal experience for me! That’s not to say it wasn’t without its challenges, which I’m currently writing about for my next blog post, but overcoming those challenges gives you such a sense of strength and it’s so rewarding. And Spain is a wonderful country! In fact, I’m still here, after finishing my 3 years as an assistant!

    1. Some people think I should already be starting to climb the career ladder, but I have gained so much from this experience abroad, that I think will enrich both my life and my probable future teaching career, whether that be here in Spain or back in England!

    1. Thanks! It was! Check out my next blog post coming soon for some more details about what it was like when I got there!

  8. Great opportunity. You did the research and found something that let’s you continue your adventure. Good for you

    1. Thanks. Yes, I was keen to use my languages somehow, and this seemed like a good option! I had originally just planned to stay for a year, but I stayed for 3 as an assistant and am already on my 4th year still in Spain, so I’d say it was a good decision!

  9. Sounds like really fun job. Staying in other country different from our native language is difficult and fun. Enjoy your stay there.

    1. Exactly, it’s certainly both different and fun, it’s not just a holiday. Whenever I write about my experiences abroad I try to represent all sides of it, because some people think it’s just a long holiday, and it’s SOOOO much more than that (more difficult and more rewarding!)

  10. A few of my British friends took a part of an ELA programme and they absolutely loved it. It’s such a great opportunity to experience another culture and see the world in a way no tourist can. Congratulation !

    1. Yes, it’s definitely a great opportunity to really get immersed in the local community in a way you can’t as just a tourist, 100%.

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