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BE A LANGUAGE ASSISTANT IN SPAIN
KAYLEIGH HEARD, ELA IN SPAIN 2010-2011
"As a language assistant the students really look up to you and they show a real interest in you, your language and your country. After this experience I am definitely considering teaching as a future career." Kayleigh, ELA in Baza in Spain 2010-2011 (Lancaster University).

I have to say my experience matched my expectations exactly. Firstly, I hoped that during this experience I would make many friends and meet a lot of people, who would help and guide me through this critical year of my studies and who would teach me everything I needed to know about Spanish culture. I also hoped that my experience as an English language assistant would be a great one and that I would be the best language assistant I could possibly be. It is the most rewarding thing in the world when you reach the end of your assistantship and your students have bought you presents, drawn you pictures, called you the best teacher ever and have organised surprise parties for you. As a language assistant the students really look up to you and they show a real interest in you, your language and your country. After this experience I am definitely considering teaching as a future career.

All pieces of advice given at the year abroad meetings and in the information packs were useful. However, for me the most useful piece of advice was that of previous assistants. I remember being told to just enjoy the year abroad, to travel and to try and do and see as many things as I possibly could. I would happily pass this advice onto future assistants. It’s amazing how quickly time flies, so make the most of the year and never turn down people’s invitations. It’s the best way to make friends and experience the culture first hand.  

In October I had a meeting in Granada, which was a meeting for all language assistants in this province. During the meeting we were taught a little bit about the Spanish education system and how it works and we were also told what was expected of us as a language assistant. All the factual information was useful however it wasn’t as useful as the meal afterwards! After the meeting we were taken to a restaurant for paella and sangria which was a great opportunity to speak to other assistants. Several people there had already worked as language assistants in the past so it was great to talk to them, hear about their previous experiences as language assistants and ask them questions.

I worked in a small, bilingual school which had 200 students. There were four bilingual subjects – English, Maths, Music and P.E. I was required to help and assist in all of these subject areas. Also, I mainly worked with 1 ESO and 2 ESO but occasionally helped with 3 ESO and 4 ESO. In addition, I worked 12 hours a week (Tuesday, Wednesday, Thursday & Friday) but there were some weeks where I worked some extra hours to help and assist the students. I also took advantage of school trips which was another great way to see new places and do new things.

For me, the main challenge was the behaviour of students. I feel this may be a cultural difference as the teachers at the school didn’t/ couldn’t see any problems with the student’s behaviour. Sometimes they would be very noisy, disruptive and wouldn’t complete their homework. However, having said this, my students were great and despite the poor behaviour had great personalities and a passion for learning English. At the end of the assistantship I realised how rewarding this experience had been. I could see a vast improvement in the student’s language skills and they didn’t want me to leave – asking me if I could come back as their assistant next year!

In terms of teaching materials, I found that older students enjoy videos, film, music and T.V. With younger children games, testing them on language, are always fun and everyone wants to get involved. Also books and worksheets are a great idea. In my school, the English teacher and I agreed that Fridays would be fun days were we’d have conversational classes with the students and do fun activities with them.

When I first arrived in the country, it was difficult and I felt like I couldn’t understand what anyone was saying. I also felt like people were staring at me everywhere I went which made me feel really uncomfortable. I lived in a small, rural town were there weren’t any foreigners, so I suppose naturally I stood out. In addition, I was unfortunate and I was mugged in my fourth week of being in Baza, which knocked my confidence and made me want to go home even more! However, despite all that after time I made friends, got to know my colleagues more and my Spanish improved, which really helped with my settling in there. I now have great friends there who are like a second family. I think the key to adapting is trying to have an open mind and trying not to take things to heart. For example, if you go to shop and you don’t understand the sales assistant, don’t worry! Don’t see it as a failed attempt in trying to speak/ understand Spanish - see it as a small step to boosting your confidence and proficiency in the language!

In my spare time I usually went out with friends. I started talking to one of the younger teachers at my school, who later introduced me to all of her friends. Sometimes we would go out for dinner, or go clubbing or maybe go for day trips to various places. I also used my spare time to travel and try to see other parts of Spain. I also used spare time to visit friends who were also working / studying in Spain at the same time.

I had plenty of opportunities to travel during the year and I really tried to make the most of this opportunity. I visited: Barcelona (see photo), Madrid, Valencia, Benidorm, Alicante, Murcia, Almería, Granada, Málaga, Marbella and Cádiz. I also used my time to visit small towns and villages, as well as the cities and regions mentioned above.

On reflection I think the main advantage that language graduates have over other graduates is the ability to speak a foreign language, which means they can work in their native country and also countries where their foreign language is spoken. For this reason language students have a lot more variety when it comes to choosing future jobs and careers. My advice if you are considering the programme is to do it!! It’s the perfect opportunity to learn a foreign language and to experience the culture of the country. It gives you the chance to speak to native people, ask questions and to learn more than you could possibly learn in a lecture theatre. Also, I have to say the money is great for the little hours you work, which means you can travel, see other parts of the country and really make the most of the experience. I promise that after this experience you won’t want to come home!

Other Stories:
Eilidh Gilfillan (Andalucia, Secondary level)
Grace Emery (Aragon, Secondary level)
Kate Freeman (Aragon, Secondary level)
Vanessa Vander (Asturias, Adult level)
Mary Bradley (Castilla la Mancha, Secondary level)
Esther Warnett (Castilla la Mancha, Secondary level)
Lucy Draper (Castilla y Leon, Secondary level)
Sophie Galloway (Cataluña, Secondary level)
Joanna Sloman (Cataluña, Primary level)
Heena Bhikha (Ceuta, Adult level)
Sara Gaydon (Extremadura, Secondary level)
Maria Greene (Extremadura, Secondary level)
Holly Hirst (Extremadura, Secondary level)
Lindsay Anstis (Galicia, Adult level)
Martin Davis (Galicia, Primary level)
Emily James (Galicia, Adult level)
Chris Orchard (Galicia, Secondary level)
Emma Bell (Islas Canarias, Secondary level)
Ross Clarke (Islas Canarias, Secondary level)
Ella Quigley (Islas Canarias, Adult level)
Kimberley Stratton (Islas Canarias, Secondary level)
Russell Brown (Madrid, Primary level)
Jennifer Dixon (Madrid, Primary level)
Lamorna Kenna (Madrid, Secondary level)
Gemma Smith (Murcia, Secondary level)
Joseph Golding, (Navarra, Secondary level)
Charlotte Knight (Navarra, Primary & Secondary level)
Edward Walter (Navarra, Secondary level)
Rosie Baron (Zaragoza, Secondary level)

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