a picture of mountains and a lake
St Wolfgang, Austria ©

Richard Taylor under Creative Commons License

I chose to be a Language Assistant with the British Council primarily to gain valuable work experience as a teacher and also to improve my German. Having already lived in Germany I was eager to live somewhere new and as a result chose Austria.

I worked in two Gymnasiums: one in the centre of Vienna and the other in the same district where I lived. The school in the centre was state run and the other private, and it was interesting seeing the differences between the two as well as the differences between the English and Austrian school systems.

In the state school the teachers wanted me to spend the majority of my time with the Oberstufe, 14 to 18 year olds, but from time to time I also worked with some of the younger classes. In the private school I worked with all the different year groups on a regular basis.

The older classes in both schools were generally harder to work with as they were more reluctant to speak, despite having excellent English. The younger students were very energetic and keen to practise and I would often find myself bombarded with questions. The teachers were constantly being asked when I would next be in the class.

In terms of day-to-day teaching my timetable was always in a state of flux, with classes being added and taken away. During the week I would work in both schools and would generally arrange my timetable at the start of the week, or over the weekend, either by asking the teachers directly or emailing them. Both schools started at 8am, which you do get used to after a while, and more often than not I was finished by lunchtime if not earlier. I sometimes did afternoon lessons, which were more relaxed and the classes were even smaller.

Outside of work I had ample opportunity to practise my German, with locals and also with students from abroad who had come to Vienna to study and learn German. The Viennese accent takes some getting used to but by the end of my time in Vienna I found my comprehension skills had improved tremendously.

Thanks to colleagues, my landlord and relatives I found it relatively easy to adjust to life in Vienna and I thoroughly enjoyed every minute of it. Through private tuition I was able to attend one of the more exclusive Viennese balls. A colleague invited me to take part in the opening of another ball and as dancing is somewhat of an institution in Vienna I learnt to ballroom dance. 

Being an assistant has improved my confidence enormously. You get used to dealing with people of all ages and getting them to do certain tasks and your presentation skills improve as well. I think perhaps the biggest benefit is you learn to think before you speak.

You have to adjust your vocabulary with each age group and class and it takes the students a while to get used to your accent. Now that I’ve worked as an assistant I want to become a foreign language teacher, it can be a very challenging but also very rewarding job.

If you are unsure about doing an assistantship I would say put your doubts aside and go for it. Austria is an incredible place and it would be one of the few times in your life when you have both the time and the money to really enjoy yourself.