Things I Didn’t Expect About Teaching English in Spain

Updated September 13, 2016
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Teaching English in Spain Migrating Miss

“Oh, you want to travel long term? Why don’t you teach English!”

“You’re moving to Spain? I’m so jealous of the good weather, siestas, sangria, and tapas you’ll have!”

Earlier this year I moved to Spain to teach English, and after a lengthy summer break, I’m about to return to the land of sun and siestas to teach for another school year. When I applied to teach English in Spain I’m sure I thought much the same as what everyone else has said to me about it.

Teaching English is always on those lists of jobs you can do if you want to travel the world long term, become a nomad, or take a break from the corporate world. After all, there are plenty of countries with a high demand for English teachers. But Spain is usually synonymous with relaxed sunny days!

Yes, I’ll admit, I’ve had more than my fair share of afternoon naps this year, and stuffed my face with tapas on plenty occasions. I have also learned a lot about Spain, including that Sangria isn’t exactly the national drink of Spain like we seem to think it is. Plus I’ve been able to travel on the weekends and over the summer break.

But there are so many things about teaching English in Spain that I didn’t expect. With another school year about to begin, and a new batch of Auxiliares de Conversación arriving in Spain (that’s English Language Assistants!) I decided to remind myself what I’m in for once again.

Not knowing what I’m doing in a classroom

I’ve never trained to be a teacher. Sure I’ve done a TEFL course, and I was a tutor for some subjects at university, but I’ve never had an entire classroom of children staring at me, expecting me to simultaneously entertain and teach them for the next hour! I have a serious newfound respect for teachers.

Some teachers want you to take the whole class, some want you to sit and do nothing. Every day would be a mystery.

Learning a lot about teaching

I thought I was moving to Spain to teach English, but instead, I ended up moving to Spain to learn teaching. We all know from school that some teachers are better than others, but sometimes it’s hard to understand why. Being in so many different classrooms with different teachers has taught me a lot about different teaching styles.

Teaching English in Spain Migrating Miss

Teaching English is not a job to be taken lightly

I really want to stop seeing teaching English on every list of jobs to help you travel the world. Or at least, I want it to have a caveat. Teaching English is actually a serious job. You might be indulging your dream of travelling the world, but your students are trying to learn a valuable skill from you that might have a large affect on their future.

Teaching English can be a great way to earn more money and fund your travel while living in a cool new place. BUT it’s not for everyone. Some people love teaching, and some people hate it. Before you jump into a job teaching English, remember it’s not just the holiday, money, new country thing. It’s also a job where you will actually have to, you know, TEACH. Can you do that?

Teaching English is really hard some days

Even if you like teaching, or you’re prepared to do it for the benefits you can get, some days it just sucks. You have to be ON all the time. There’s no swanning in to work, sitting at your desk and ignoring everyone while you pretend to work but you’re actually sending long emails to your best friends (ahem, not that I ever did that…).

Teaching English in Spain Migrating Miss

I didn’t find it easy to pick up the language

Can you learn a language by moving abroad? I thought if I moved to the country that spoke the language I wanted to learn I would pick it up. It’s easy to learn a language when you’re living there right? Wrong. Everyone wants to speak English to you all of the time so you can go whole days barely speaking any of the native language.

The other problem I had was that everyone expected me to already know more Spanish than I did when I first arrived. Whey they realised I didn’t know much they just resorted to speaking to me in English the whole time. However, I was taking private lessons and slowly learning more, but then I was too nervous to try and respond in Spanish when I was spoken to in English!

Teaching English in Spain Migrating Miss

I wish I had known more Spanish

I tried to teach myself Spanish for years on and off with little success. Even when I knew I was moving to Spain and I tried to up my language learning it didn’t really work. I guess in the back of my mind I thought I would scrape by and be fine.

It can be better for the students if you just speak English to them, as it forces them to try more, however there were times when having a higher Spanish speaking ability would have really helped. I found teaching in a primary school extremely difficult because you are half trying to control the class and half teaching it. The younger students were struggling with English immersion, and it was much better when the teacher could teach half in Spanish and half in English but that left me with not much to do. If I had understood more Spanish I could have had an easier experience and I could have made things better for the kids too!

Moving to Spain to teach English wasn’t any easier because I’d lived abroad before

I’d been an expat four times before I moved to Spain to teach English so I shouldn’t have been surprised at the lows, but I think I almost was for that very reason. I’d learned so much from living abroad and I knew I could do it, but I forgot that it might be hard to begin with. I think I expected my previous experience to mean I could skip the harder parts. Nope. I still had that moment where I wondered if I’d made a mistake moving to Spain.

When you travel and live abroad there are so many ups and downs, and since I was living out a dream by teaching English in Spain I just had to remind myself to manage the lows, because there are also incredible highs and it’s always worth it in the end.

Teaching English in Spain Migrating Miss

I fell in love with the country

I don’t expect to fall in love with every place I live abroad. I thought I’d like living Spain, learning the language and enjoying my time there, but I didn’t expect to love it quite as much as I do. I’ve learned so much from living in Spain and fallen in love with the culture, the landscape and the people. It’s going to be hard to leave!

Travelling one country deeply can be as fulfilling as checking off multiple countries

Part of the joy of living abroad is being able to travel more. New Zealand is about as far from everything as you can get, so living in Europe is a complete dream come true for me. When I lived in Edinburgh I was abroad at least once a month exploring as much of Europe as possible. Moving to Almería to teach English without a major international airport nearby meant I knew I wouldn’t be travelling abroad so much. Instead, I discovered the beauty of travelling a country, or even just one area, thoroughly.

Since moving to Spain I have visited a huge amount of Andalucía, and I love that I’ve been able to explore the nuances of the different cities and regions within the south of Spain. If you teach English in Spain you might end up in some tiny place far from everything, but living somewhere without the tourist hype is a really amazing thing!

Teaching English in Spain Migrating Miss

Learning as much from the teachers and the students as they do from me

Being placed in a classroom and asked to teach conversational English often means turning to what you know, and for me that is travel and home. The students are naturally curious about this person who has come in to their environment from somewhere on the complete opposite side of the world. The best thing about teaching English is you can turn around all their questions to ask them the same. It helps them to practice the basic and it helps me to learn a lot about Spain and Spanish culture in return! Except for being asked if I have a boyfriend by every class. I probably won’t turn that one around…

Celebrity status

Moving to Spain to teach English will make you into a minor celebrity, especially if you live in a smaller town! I remember when you saw a teacher outside of school it was weird, like surely they don’t have normal lives? Now I’m on the other side and I have students saying hi to me, or shying pointing me out to their parents as I walk down the street.

Since I blog, I also frequent the same cafes a lot (yay free wifi and cake!) and the staff actually say hello and acknowledge that I’m back once again. It’s weird for me coming from the UK where there’s more of a “we both know we know each other but let’s never talk about it” vibe.

Teaching English in Spain Migrating Miss

Teaching English teaches you English

Having to explain why we do things in English is tough when you’ve spoken the language your whole life and never thought about it. “She told me” makes sense, but “she said me”, doesn’t. Why?!

Before I started teaching English I took a TEFL course, mostly to give me a bit more confidence. Although the Auxiliar de Conversación program is more about conversational English I still stumble across all sorts of things I need to be able to explain. I’ve seriously never examined what I say so much until now!

With the countdown on to moving back to Spain and starting work again, it’s crazy to think how different it is now that I’ve had some previous experience. Teaching English was on my bucket list of things to do for a long time, and I love how it’s been as unexpected as it has awesome.

Check out this guide on how to teach English overseas if you want to know about teaching around the world!

Have you moved abroad to teach English? Was it what you expected?

Sonja x

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Teaching English in Spain Migrating Miss

 

 

 

 

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44 Comments

  • Reply Maggie September 14, 2016 at 11:26 pm

    I am so so glad I saw this before delving any farther into trying to find a TEFL job. I’ve always thought it would be so fun but it’s easy to forget that you’re actually going to TEACH not to travel lol

    • Reply Migrating Miss September 15, 2016 at 2:23 pm

      I’d still highly recommend a TEFL job, but it is still a job too! Not just a long holiday unfortunately haha. You don’t have to be in love with teaching but just do you best!

  • Reply Cynthia September 15, 2016 at 1:35 am

    What a wonderful experience! I appreciate hearing about your struggles, but also about all the wonders of it too. Actually inspires me to consider teaching English somewhere…

    • Reply Migrating Miss September 15, 2016 at 2:23 pm

      Thanks Cynthia! It is a really rewarding experience and I would highly recommend it!

  • Reply Courtney September 15, 2016 at 1:57 am

    Wow – I can’t begin to imagine how hard it would be to learn the English language, let alone teach others! It sounds like you had an amazing experience though 🙂

    • Reply Migrating Miss September 15, 2016 at 2:24 pm

      I was so surprised by how much I don’t know about English when it’s my native language and all I speak every day! Learning a language really does teach you so much, not just the language but how languages work, about different cultures and how different languages are related. So much!

  • Reply HappyPlaceHunters September 15, 2016 at 2:30 am

    Cool post – I agree English teaching ( and living and working in any location longterm) really helps you really discover more about the fabric of how their society works, what makes it tick. And learning their language really gives you amazing insights too – it’s like opening the doorway to another world. If you’re still struggling with Spanish, maybe try the DuoLingo app? It’s free and gives you little exercises for a couple of minutes a day that are really fun and kind of ‘gamified’ to keep things interesting – my son is using it to learn Spanish now ( he’s only 10 and we live on the other side of the world in Australia, but he’s already getting the hang of it!)

    • Reply Migrating Miss September 15, 2016 at 2:25 pm

      It really is like opening a whole new world! Learning and teaching has taught me about languages in general, where they come from and how they work and it makes me think a lot more about what I’m saying! So weird haha. I do have Duolingo, but it wasn’t moving fast enough for me and I got annoyed haha. I’ll have to give it another go though!

  • Reply Kristen @ Travels & Treats September 15, 2016 at 5:09 am

    Great post! I’ve always been curious about moving to another country to teach English, so I really enjoyed reading such an honest piece on the topic. I studied abroad in Spain, but I can imagine teaching is such a different experience. Sounds like it was still incredible and rewarding. Thanks for sharing!

    • Reply Migrating Miss September 15, 2016 at 2:22 pm

      Thanks Kristen! I’ve studied abroad too and it is quite different, but I do have a lot of free time like when I was a student which is nice! I’d definitely recommend it, but just to remember it’s still a job not just a long holiday haha.

  • Reply Flo September 15, 2016 at 5:51 am

    Great post Sonja! I think this point is extremely important: “I really want to stop seeing teaching English on every list of jobs to help you travel the world. Or at least, I want it to have a caveat. Teaching English is actually a serious job. You might be indulging your dream of travelling the world, but your students are trying to learn a valuable skill from you that might have a large affect on their future.”

    Too often you hear about people going abroad to teach English so that they can travel and see the world – without thinking about the enormous responsibility that comes with teaching, or bothering to obtain some sort of certification like the TEFL first. Great post!

    • Reply Migrating Miss September 15, 2016 at 2:20 pm

      Thank you! It’s something I had always wanted to do for the teaching as much as the travel, and I really think that’s important! You don’t have to love teaching, but you at least have to do your best for the students.

  • Reply Ricarda Christina Hollweg September 15, 2016 at 7:56 am

    I wish I was an English native speaker and could teach it all over the world. It’s a great travel opportunity. Very nice blog post.
    By the way: I loved your photos.

    • Reply Migrating Miss September 15, 2016 at 2:13 pm

      It is a great opportunity, if you want to teach as well as travel :). I have actually met people teaching other languages around the world too so you’d be surprised! Maybe have a look into it. And thank you!

  • Reply Ann September 15, 2016 at 8:30 am

    I have experienced the people only want to speak English to you dilemma. Good work for sticking it out and becoming a better teacher it’s wayyyy harder than it looks. =)

    • Reply Migrating Miss September 15, 2016 at 2:12 pm

      Thanks Ann! I want to become so much better so hoping that learning more Spanish helps that too!

  • Reply Allison September 15, 2016 at 4:11 pm

    I agree teaching (English or otherwise) is indeed a very serious job. All those little minds to mold is scary. I’m not sure I could do it . Power to you girl for going back for a second year!

    • Reply Migrating Miss September 16, 2016 at 10:33 am

      Thanks Allison! It’s going to weird to go back again but I’m also really looking forward to it! Some days are easy, and some are so hard it’s crazy!

  • Reply Ferna September 16, 2016 at 2:07 am

    I honestly like this words “I thought I was moving to Spain to teach English, but instead, I ended up moving to Spain to learn teaching” I thought of this when I teach french woman to learn the Philippine culture, instead of me teaching her, I got to learn teaching from her. hahaha.. It’s a great learning!

    • Reply Migrating Miss September 16, 2016 at 10:34 am

      It definitely is! Sometimes we think we are the one teaching, but really we are learning 😀

  • Reply Kassie September 16, 2016 at 4:31 am

    When I studied abroad in Italy I volunteered at a grade school as an assistant to and English teacher and I could barely hack it. I couldn’t imagine having to plan lessons and stand up and teach in front of tons of students every day. I think you’re right that it needs to be promoted as something that is difficult but rewarding if you have an interest in teaching not just traveling.
    Hope you enjoy your second year 🙂

    • Reply Migrating Miss September 16, 2016 at 10:36 am

      My job is even easier than being an English teacher, because I’m a language assistant so I don’t really have to plan any lessons or anything, but it’s still hard some days! The kids just don’t want to listen and don’t care and you’re like ARGH. But when you see them get something, then it’s totally worth it. Thank you!

  • Reply Katherine September 16, 2016 at 11:32 am

    Hi! So glad I’ve stumbled across your blog, I am taking part in the same programme next year and just wondered what TEFL course you did in preparation and whether you think it is necessary? There are so many different ones and some come with a large price tag! Thank you!

    • Reply Migrating Miss September 16, 2016 at 12:51 pm

      You don’t necessarily need a TEFL course, but I found it helpful when I was teaching private classes. Also sometimes the teachers expected me to know a lot more about grammar than I felt like I did! I went with LoveTEFL but I think they have merged with i-to-i now so I can’t say if they are still as good. I’d say stay away from the ones that test by purely multiple choice because I feel like you wouldn’t learn as much. Mine had some of that but I also had to do a mini lesson plan, which I found useful! It cost around $150US but I thought that wasn’t too bad for the level of the course. You don’t need the full on CELTA style courses, but if you can afford a more basic one I’d say go for it.

  • Reply David September 16, 2016 at 4:35 pm

    I am a Spaniard and I would LOVE that only English teachers (actually teachers with a degree) come here to teach the language.

    It is a pity that people that only want to travel try to teach their own language because they don’t know how to do it. And here in Spain is plenty of people who believe that only because they use the language, they can teach it.

    Think about that: probably just because you want to travel, a lot of students are not receiving a good education. Not at all!

    A TEFL certificate is nothing. You need to have a degree to be able to teach the best way.

    I am not going to teach Spanish in Asia just because I am Spanish. Sadly, that’s the thing for English-speakers.

    • Reply Migrating Miss September 16, 2016 at 5:29 pm

      I completely agree with you! Most places around the world require a degree, although not necessarily a teaching one. I’m thankful I’m just an English Language Assistant, because I always have a trained teacher in the classroom with me and my role is more to help the teacher and the students sound more native and practice speaking, rather than actually teach English to begin with. I honestly don’t know how people who haven’t trained as a teacher can stand in front of a classroom and do it justice! I’m sure some people are great, but I would think they have to put a ton of work into it. if they didn’t they really would be doing everyone a disservice. I always try to make it clear when I take private classes that they are conversation classes, to help the student practice.

  • Reply David September 16, 2016 at 4:36 pm

    (I do not doubt you are trying your best, but that is not enough. Travellers that only want to teach as a way to pay their expenses are not teachers. They are just travellers)

    • Reply Migrating Miss September 16, 2016 at 5:30 pm

      No worries! I’m not offended by your comments, I think they are true and it’s nice to actually have someone who may have been on the other side. People wanting to travel the world by teaching English might not realise how it feels to be the student. :).

  • Reply Bryony Clapperton (travelsandmore) September 17, 2016 at 1:28 pm

    I’m obsessed with Spanish Culture. You’re so lucky that you’ve been able to spend so much time in Spain. I’m like you, learning Spanish hopefully with some success but I feel like an experience like this would make me want to learn more. Keep teaching and inspiring people. Enjoy Spain and good luck with your Spanish.

    • Reply Migrating Miss September 18, 2016 at 4:57 pm

      I do feel really lucky I’ve been able to spend so much time in Spain, I absolutely love it! Going to any country that speaks the language you’re trying to learn would definitely help. I really needed it to give me a kick! And thank you!

  • Reply Dan October 19, 2016 at 7:38 pm

    Awesome blog! Jess and I can definitely relate with the “Teaching English is Hard” comment 🙂 We both loved teaching (we were in China for a couple years), but it is exhausting sometimes having to entertain and lead a class while being ‘on’ the whole time!
    Awesome article!

    • Reply Migrating Miss October 20, 2016 at 10:17 am

      Exactly! Some days you’re just not in the mood. Especially when the kids aren’t either and no one wants to listen haha. I think it’s so rewarding though! I always thought about teaching in China. Maybe some day!

  • Reply helena z November 5, 2016 at 6:37 am

    Hello,

    I’m curious about the financial part of your job – life in Spain. Did you money you made (700 correct?) cover your expenses? If not, how much did you supplement monthly?

    Thanks so much~great blog!

    • Reply Migrating Miss November 5, 2016 at 3:05 pm

      Yes as part of my contract as an Auxiliar de Conversacion I receive €700 per month. This is plenty to live on where I am in Spain, although in some bigger cities it could be a bit tighter. Added to this I’ve found it easy to pick up extra work helping students prepare for English exams or working in academies. This can range from €10-20 per our depending on where you live. I try to at least offset my Spanish lessons (around €35 a week) and then have extra for groceries etc, so only my rent comes out of the €700. This means I have money to spare if I want to travel to other cities. It’s really up to the individual, because I could work a LOT more than I do but I choose not to haha. Mostly because I also work on this blog! Basically, depending on the city, €700 is enough to live. My rent is only around €250-300 including expenses. But if you want to travel and do extra things then you need to supplement it in some way. Given we only work 12 hours a week, taking on an extra 6-8 hours of class has been enough for me to pay Spanish lessons, live and travel. I feel like this answer is really longwinded but hope it helps!!!

  • Reply flo November 29, 2016 at 12:39 am

    I am definitely smitten with the possibility of travel with work or working to travel at this point in my life.
    Reading your story, and by now it should be “stories” via your blog, is tantalizing me with the prospect of exploring foreign places that I couldn’t afford to visit otherwise.
    Being a mature woman, with years of professional work experience but not working at this time nor retire-able as of yet, I would like to ask you >>> are there age-specific or age-related restrictions to do what you currently do (given that I am free to travel, with reasonable tech savvy-ness 🙂 and good health)
    Thank you. It’s inspiring to read your narratives.

    • Reply Migrating Miss November 30, 2016 at 10:20 am

      Thanks so much Flo! I’m so glad you were able to get some inspiration from my website. It really depends where you are from and your experience, for example there is no age restriction on New Zealanders in the program I am doing, but I think there are for some other countries. There are also other programs that you could look into as well. I’ll be posting fairly soon about the different programs I know of, but a search of English Language Assistant programs in Spain should help! Feel free to send me an email if you like :).

  • Reply Jen T. January 27, 2017 at 1:55 am

    Is the salary enough in Spain these days to live a comfortable lifestyle, similar to the locals?

    • Reply Migrating Miss January 30, 2017 at 2:54 pm

      Yes I have no problem living here on my salary. I have some more information in the post about the program I’m on! 🙂

  • Reply Mike D April 14, 2017 at 9:26 am

    Thanks so much for sharing your experiences in this blog! I’m doing some research at the preliminary stages of planning my own Spanish teaching / traveling adventure and found this really insightful. I wonder if a more advanced teaching accreditation with more focus on in-situ teaching as part of the syllabus would have helped to make the transition to actual classes easier for you (i.e. a more expensive / comprehensive TEFL course like CELTA). Great to know about the need for a strong base in Spanish – i have a little from 10 months in South America but sounds like i better up my game rather than land and wing it… Keep #DoingEpicStuff 🙂

    • Reply Migrating Miss April 17, 2017 at 11:05 am

      You’re welcome! I think it would definitely help, especially if you’re solo teaching from day one. I was lucky to have the Spanish teachers to guide me and help me out. I’d definitely recommend upping your Spanish game if possible, although it depends where you go of course. I actually found it good to not let the kids know that I really spoke Spanish to force them to try in English, but it was useful when I knew more but they didn’t know that haha.

  • Reply Valarie July 25, 2018 at 2:40 am

    Hi Sonja,

    I recently discovered your blog and have been enjoying it immensely! This article almost made me tear up with nostalgia for my beautiful year spent in Spain teaching English! I was lucky enough to make friends there who always welcome me back with open arms and I miss it dearly! My students and teachers were also so lovely!

    I’m considering taking the leap and moving to Prague to teach English or even to New Zealand for a working holiday, because my wanderlust has been creeping up.

    This article hits home on so many levels for me!

    • Reply Migrating Miss July 25, 2018 at 10:41 am

      Thanks so much for your comment! I really miss Spain a lot too! I’ve heard good things about Prague, it’s actually where I considered going for awhile, and of course I recommend New Zealand as my home country haha. Whatever you decide to do I’m sure you’ll work it out!!

  • Reply Samantha August 17, 2018 at 3:23 pm

    Just returned from my teaching abroad placement. Boy did you hit the nail on the head with this post! Also, I literally learned 99% of my Spanish from my 5 year olds hahah

    • Reply Migrating Miss August 17, 2018 at 3:46 pm

      Haha thanks that’s good to hear! I definitely learned from my Spanish 6 and 7-year-olds haha.

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