Cologne ©

Cologne © Tim A Bruening under Creative Commons License

Working with the British Council as a Language Assistant was an easy choice for my year abroad - invaluable work experience, plenty of free time and a wage! I wanted to improve my German and have a great time, although I didn't think teaching was the career for me.

A week after I arrived in Germany I attended a three-day training course in Altenberg, just outside of Cologne. The course was great for meeting other assistants and finding out all the practical information you need for living in Germany.

There are also real English teachers at the course to provide tips on how to plan and carry out lessons. In groups we had to carry out a mock lesson in front of other assistants but it is not as scary as it sounds!

My school was a Gymnasium with students aged from 10-19. The number of hours I worked veried almost every week, due to classes being changed or added, but it was usually around 12 hours per week. My school was quite flexible with regards to my timetable and I was able to choose to work mostly in the mornings.

This meant getting up very early, but allowed me to have most of my day free to do other things. I usually taught small groups of about six students in a separate classroom doing activities that were verbally orientated or with the focus on writing. In some classes, teachers wanted me to take pupils who needed more help than others.

In my opinion the hardest thing to deal with in the job is unmotivated and uninterested students. This isn’t just a problem for Language Assistants either! My colleagues often said this was their main problem as well. I found thinking outside of the box when it came to lesson planning really helped in this area. The biggest reward is the students, and hearing their English improve week by week is the best thing!

I brought some tourism brochures about my home town and I used them quite a lot in lessons with younger classes. The students were really interested in where I came from so it was great to have pictures too. Even songs on your iPod can be used in lessons so you don’t need to pack a full suitcase of materials.

Being a Language Assistant means that you have loads of free time to explore the  new country you live in! I joined Cologne University which meant I received a semester ticket that allowed free public transport within NRW - invaluable if you are placed in that region. There are some great cities to visit, even if it is only for an afternoon. 

Another benefit of joining the university was that I had access to a wide range of clubs. I took part in a six week climbing course for beginners and also went to Pilates classes. It is also possible to attend language courses at the university.

Before I went on my year abroad I was often nervous to speak German and of making mistakes. Now that I’ve spent nine months talking German everyday and standing in front of classes of 30 students I’m much more confident and my German has improved as well. I actually think it’s better to make mistakes now because you can really learn from them. Don’t be put off when people correct you either - it allows you to see where you need to improve!