An incredible opportunity and the easiest way for Americans to live and work in Europe is to take part in the Auxiliares de Conversación program in Spain, also known as being an English Language Assistant. I was an Auxiliar in Madrid for two school years, from 2015-2017, and during my time living in the city, I made lifelong friends, unforgettable memories, and really grew my confidence in my ability to speak Spanish (conversational) fluently.
As an assistant or “aux” as you’ll find yourself being called, you will work as an assistant to an English teacher in a classroom in Spain. You’ll help the kids to hear more native English – speaking to them only in English and helping them with assignments, class projects, and studying for their big exams like the PET & KET.
Advice for applying to the Auxiliar de Conversación program in Spain
The program is Auxiliares de Conversación and it is a commitment for the entire school year. If you opt to try out this program and method of living in Spain, you’ll be a paid teaching assistant, helping Spanish students learn English by conversing with them in English during their classes.
The application period typically runs from early January to April of each year. My advice would be to check the website for the official opening date and get your application in as soon as possible. The earlier you apply, the better chance (typically) you have of securing a placement in your preferred region.
Decide on a region, but be flexible
When you apply, you’ll see that you have to choose and rank your top 3 preferences for a region to teach in. Do some research on areas of Spain that would interest you – if you’re a city person, go to Madrid! If you’re not – there are so many smaller towns in Spain that are absolutely incredible.
When filling out your application, use this guide to go through it step-by-step. It can be a bit confusing, make sure you read everything carefully. You’ll also need to check off each item in this checklist to complete your application.
Everything takes awhile in Spain. There’s a reason why the country is infamous for having a slow and inefficient bureaucracy. It IS the country with a daily nap built into the schedule, after all. Don’t be shocked if you don’t hear back for weeks regarding your placement or application status.
That being said, however, be proactive if it starts to get too late. If you haven’t heard anything by mid-June, I’d reach out to your coordinator to make sure they have everything they need from you, and that there isn’t some reason why you haven’t heard back.
Organize all your documents & “tie up loose ends”
Once you’ve gotten your regional and school placement, it’s time to get your stuff together and start packing!
Make copies of your passport, visa, and any other important travel documents. It’s also a good idea to spend some time tying up loose ends before you jet off to Spain, because once you’re away from home, it’s harder to accomplish those annoying tasks like canceling your gym membership or putting a hold on your credit account (dealing with identity theft while abroad is a NIGHTMARE). Also, make sure you leave a good chunk of time to say goodbye to friends and family!
Another big tip for getting ready to move is to reach out to your school’s English coordinator BEFORE arriving. Send them an email and introduce yourself, and set up a time to meet before school starts, if they want you to. It’s a good way to reassure them that you’re coming and are friendly and excited for this experience.
How to move to Spain
Don’t book your flight until after you’ve got your visa and passport back. This can cause serious problems for people when they’ve bought airfare and have to waste a lot of money getting their departure date changed when their passport and visa aren’t delivered in time.
Pack less than you think you need. Like, way less. You WILL shop in Spain, and you don’t need a lot of the things you think you do, and the more you haul, the more stressful the entire transition is. While it’s scary to sell all your stuff and leave with so little, you’ll be shocked to find that you don’t need much. Especially because there are tons of fully-furnished apartments to rent in Spain, and you can buy almost anything for cheaper (except American clothing brands) than in the States. To search for apartments, go on Airbnb sublets, check Idealista, and Facebook groups to get an idea of pricing. It’s also good to research HOW you get to your school and determine where to live based on your commute. There are lots of buses and train options connecting different cities in Madrid.
One thing I recommend bringing to Spain if you can is dollar-store goodies for rewards and prizes while teaching. Think stickers, candy, colorful pencils, that kind of crap. They love it.
When in doubt, don’t be afraid to ask questions in Facebook groups, but be sure to USE THAT SEARCH BAR before you ask to see if your question has recently been answered. Avoid being spammy, but also ignore haters and rude responders. I don’t know why they get a kick out of writing snarky replies on post threads.
Resources for new teachers/language assistants
I quickly learned the value of Pinterest for teachers. There’s an endless supply of creative ideas for crafts, activities, and other resources for the classroom on Pinterest. Some are super simple, others are less realistic with your budget and what you’ll be provided with while in Spain, but I highly recommend that you create a board for teaching ideas and start saving some pins.
While you don’t NEED it for a position as a language assistant in Spain, earning a TEFL certificate could be useful if you have zero teaching experience. I got mine fully online with TEFL Full Circle and even had a coupon that I think made the entire course less than $50. It gave me some good insight into how to teach English and deal with various situations in the classroom.
In addition to being useful for your “native speaker” accent of English, another thing you can bring to the classroom while working in Spain is bits and pieces of American (and Canadian) culture. It’s a super fun way to think up activities and lesson plans that fit our special holidays and celebrations and give Spanish kids a taste of what school is like for a North American student.
Unless you’re placed at a super-conservative, Catholic school, one thing you should definitely go all-out for Halloween! It’s something that is slowly making its way into the mainstream in Spain but it’s the perfect time for fun activities, decorations and dressing up. We did lots of different games and demos for kids that they loved, and it was a great way to practice English in a different way.
This was such a fun thing to introduce at our school. We picked different themed days, explained it to the kids in English and then made signs and sent home reminders to their parents. They loved it! We did “Color Wars” where each grade dressed in a different color, crazy hair day, sports day and “twin day,” but you can invent different ideas based on your school. It was a lot of fun and our English coordinators and the teachers appreciated our effort in infusing our ideas into curriculum and activities.
While I don’t have a passion for teaching English and spreading the use of the language around the globe, I will say I really enjoyed my two years in Spain. The kids will drive you crazy but also steal your heart. You’ll make incredible friends that will last a lifetime. You will travel and live a new lifestyle and have so much fun, even on a shoestring budget.
Have you taught English abroad somewhere that wasn’t Spain? I want to hear about your experience!