Every year the government of Spain invites thousands of native English speakers from the United States, Canada and Australia to work as language assistants in Spanish schools all over the country.
In recent years this program has become incredibly popular among recent college graduates and other individuals experiencing transient times in their lives, as it is only an 8-month commitment and one of the few ways to obtain full legal permission to live in Spain. For those who might be interested in teaching English in Spain for the upcoming 2015 – 2016 school year, here is a brief overview of the application process and my personal experience of the language assistant program.
The program is officially known in Spain as “Auxiliares de Conversación” and its many participants throughout Spanish cities are lovingly called auxiliars. Once accepted, language assistants begin working at the start of October until the end of May – nearly one full academic school year.
Auxiliars are teaching assistants, thus their job consists of assisting and helping teachers and students in English classes and not planning entire lessons by themselves. The only requirements are that the applicant be a junior or senior in college or a college graduate, be a native English speaker and hold an American or Canadian passport. Spanish language skills are not very imperative, although the application is in Spanish so you should have a very basic level in order to get through that. Language assistants receive a grant of 700 euros every month, except those that work in Madrid who receive 1,000 euros due to the higher cost of living in the capital.
The application opens in December or January (more likely January) and they never post an exact date so one has to keep checking the website periodically in order to find out if the application has been posted. The selection process basically works on a first-come-first-serve basis so if you want to obtain a spot, especially in a specific region you really want to be in, it’s important to get your application in as early as possible after the application opens. Therefore it’s advisable to have your documents ready for upload and hard copies prepared for delivery.
As outlined in the guidebook, the documents required are a copy of the main page of your passport, a college transcript, a resume or CV, a statement of purpose in Spanish or English and a letter of recommendation in Spanish or English as well. Scans of these documents along with applicant information are to be submitted electronically through the online system and a hard copy of the application must be mailed to the program’s educational advisor in your region. You get to rank three of the autonomous regions in Spain in which you would like to work. If you get your application in early you are likely to get one of your top choices and if you’re among the later applicants you may not get placed in any of your choices at all. The program will contact you between April and June as to whether you have been accepted and in which region, after which you have five days to accept or decline your offer.
Once you accept your offer, you have 3 – 4 months to apply for and obtain your visa. The Spanish government issues student visas to auxiliars and the 700 euro payment you receive every month is technically a stipend or grant. Obtaining a visa is an incredibly tedious and time consuming process so get started right away once you decide to go. Requirements for visas vary by regional offices. It’s recommended not to book your flight until you get your visa in the mail, which takes about 4 – 8 weeks after your visa appointment.
Language assistants officially start work on October 1st and there is an orientation held in each region at the end of September. Auxiliars work in various primary and secondary schools with students grades K – 12 and/or in language schools that have adults as well. It’s normal for an auxiliar to be assigned two or three different schools and commuting to work from the city center is common. Auxiliars are required to work 12 – 16 hours, three or four days a week.
As a language assistant in rural elementary schools and one high school, my work largely consists of giving presentations about American culture that will initiate dialogue, explaining grammar and pronunciation and most importantly, conversing with students in order to improve their speaking skills. Auxiliars aren’t expected to prepare their own lessons, nor are they actually allowed to be left alone with students without the supervision of a teacher. English proficiency in Spain overall is quite low, so auxiliars find themselves teaching very basic language skills and the demand for native English speakers as instructors is very high.
In most regions outside Madrid and Barcelona, one can live comfortably with 700 euros a month. For example in Logroño, the capital city of La Rioja, rent for a single in an apartment is around 200 euros a month and the cost of food, amenities and recreation is pretty cheap. But auxiliars need to bring enough money to support themselves during the first month, as they don’t get paid until November, and brace themselves against unexpected setbacks because the chances of not getting paid on time for any given month are quite high. This is just due to Spain’s notoriously inefficient bureaucracy and there’s really nothing anyone can do about it. Thus, if you don’t have the will or patience to deal with such setbacks then it’s probably better that you don’t participate in the program. On top of the monthly payment from the government, it is common for auxiliars to teach private English classes or work at academies through which they can earn extra cash income.
Overall, my personal experience being an auxiliar thus far has been very positive. This is the first teaching experience I have ever had and fortunately I find it to be a rewarding profession with tangible impact on others. It definitely helps to be an energetic and outgoing person in order to make a good impression and be an effective teacher. Language assistants are often closely integrated into the school’s faculty, thus I´ve enjoyed developing relationships with other teachers I work with and see on a daily basis. The community of other auxiliars, English teachers and Spaniards that I have found in my new city has been wonderful and through this network it’s easy to establish a fun and fulfilling social life. My work schedule leaves me long weekends during which I can travel and plenty of free time to pick up private classes and work on personal projects. As a 22 year old fresh out of college, this is better than anything I could’ve imagined my post-grad life to look like and life has been like a dream since moving to Spain.
So for those itching to spend some time abroad, teach students and learn Spanish, get those applications ready—because from what I understand, these positions get filled up faster and faster every year.