Category Archives: ESL

Life as a foreign English teacher

I wrote this a long time ago, but now I’m thinking it’s not so bad and I’ll publish it as my dirge to my life as a foreign English teacher. Though I enjoyed the work and time abroad, it’s not the most positive review of the career. In the end, I grew tired of the work and life, but I’m glad I did it.

What is a foreign English teacher’s life like anyway? It’s not entirely romantic, but there are some romantic aspects to it.

For one, you live abroad in a country you don’t know much about and navigate it using your wits, friends and a bit of luck. You live on the margins of society. You’re neither an immigrant, a working citizen, a student or poor, but you have similarities and sympathies with all.

You live near downtown, most likely, and pay a good amount of your income on rent, but you’re near the action, even if you don’t have much space, which is what matters to you.

You’re underpaid and likely don’t work very many hours. Since your hours are dispersed throughout the day you spend a great deal of time using public transportation, time you use to read, observe people and think.

You probably drink a lot. It’s the thing English teachers do when they go out. If you don’t have any other hobbies, it’s a good idea to get some. Playing the trombone, writing plays, racket ball, etc.

Days vary. Some pass quickly, some slowly. Your roommates move in and out. There’s constant noise. It’s like you’re in college sometimes and it’s hard to deal with. You crave space. You think you’ve made the wrong decision constantly.

But then you look around you and … you’re out. Your life is simple. No rat race. No keeping up with the Joneses. You have your easy job, your little money, your small flat, simple food, a few good friends, and a place that is foreign so that you never have to worry about its problems relating too much to yourself.

Unappreciated? Not really. If you go out, it’s easy to meet people who think your job is interesting. But it’s also the most common thing for Anglophone foreigners to do abroad.

Yet the pay remains low and you get tired of living like a student and feeling like one. If you acquire a significant other, and start to make plans, it’s unlikely you’ll remain at the job. If not, then it’s probable you’ll continue to drink and party and the months will pass rapidly.

Work? Oh yes, work is a part of this life. And when you are there you put in your most. But there’s little incentive to really excel, so you put in your hours on site, not worrying too much about your lesson plans after you’ve got the gist of it all, and focusing on acquiring private lessons which pay much better.

Is it hard? Sometimes surprisingly so. Kids are awful most everywhere. You have to put up with a lot of crap. But it’s rewarding, too. You have the enjoyment of knowing that your job is different. That you are your primary employer, and that your life outside of work is what you’re really living for.

If you’re a guy, probably the only thing to keep you in the field is a foreign girlfriend. In reality though, you don’t have much luck with the foreign girls and are much more likely to end up with another expat, who also has plans to go home and grow up eventually.

Would you do it for a lifetime? Therein lies the rub. It’s hard to say how long you’ll last… But after a while all the things your friends in the real world are beginning to work towards begin to draw your envy and appreciation… And then you start to think you should have planned ahead a little better…

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Posted by on May 18, 2014 in Career, ESL, Expat, Jobs Abroad


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Warning to Auxiliares de Conversacion in Spain

NOTE: I haven’t checked in on the status of this in a LONG time. I don’t think there’s much concern about this situation and I don’t want to discourage anyone from taking part in this program.

After looking over the Facebook groups, here and here, for Auxiliares de Conversacion in Spain, I saw mentioned that some Auxiliares are not getting paid, or are getting paid in strange ways. Anybody considering this program should be made aware of this immediately and should take this into consideration.

The problem is mostly regional. The regions worst affected are Murcia and Galicia, whose government coffers have been emptied. Some people have not been paid in several months are running out of money. One girl is apparently down to her last €2.

Madrid is apparently affected too, but I have not had any problems, nor have my friends. Keep in mind though, Madrid is the region with the largest number of Auxiliares. I do know of one girl who had to wait a long time for her check. Also, whenever she was late, they threatened to cut her salary—which is pretty much unthinkable for most funcionarios.

In all regions, there’s another big problem. Often they withhold your first check for a month or two or three until the Autonomous Region deposits your funds into their account. I didn’t have this problem at my school, but I was somewhat lucky. Most people, however, don’t have this problem for more than a month, but some have it until December, which means living off of pasta and margarine and worrying about the rent until Christmastime when you get a lump sum in your account.

Also, some regions don’t pay you monthly. One girl says that she only gets paid twice a year in Pais Vasco, once in November and once in April. It means you have to manage your money better, but at least they pay you early rather than late.

Keep in mind, if you’re considering this program, that you make more money in Madrid, even if Madrid is going broke and has a higher cost of living. At €1000 you make €300 more than all the other regions (including the very pricy Basque Country and Catalonia). The Spanish government, fearing that you’ll take this use this information to your advantage and apply to Madrid, doesn’t tell you this until after your placement, but I think you should know now.

This is still your best bet (if you’re an American, at least) for getting to teach in Spain, but as the economy of Spain worsens you might want to pay attention to any slashes in government spending which could spell the end of this program. As of yet there has been no mention of this. In Madrid, the government is planning to step up its English teaching programs and make the entire Community bilingual. I suppose their intentions for doing this are so that they can enable their youngest and smartest to be able to move abroad for work, because Spain won’t be offering them much any time soon.

Nevertheless, these cases are rare and most people don’t have any problem. The safest regions are probably the central ones surrounding Madrid (Castilla y Leon, Extremadura, Aragon) followed by Madrid, Andalucia, Catalonia and Basque Country, while some of the smaller ones like Galicia, Asturias and Murcia probably have more problems.


TEFL job search websites

If you’re looking into teaching TEFL and have a TEFL certificate, these are my personal favorite job sites to look at. It helps forming a profile and asking questions in the online forums. A wealth of online jobs. You can upload your resume and send them automatically to jobs all around the world. Best site by far.

Dave’s ESL cafe. Most informative forums about Tefling on the web. One downside, the job section is less extensive than many other sites, unless you are looking to teach in Korea or China. Due to the great forum, it’s the most informative site by far.

ESL employment. Similar to, but somewhat less easy to navigate. Good place to find esl jobs (especially for private students). One downside: you have to look specifically by region.

Esl jobs. Minimalist layout and regional searches. Overall, not as good as the above sites though.

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Posted by on April 29, 2011 in ESL, Expat, Jobs Abroad


“Intercambios de idiomas” in Madrid

Intercambio roughly translates to “exchange.” An intercambio de lenguas is a language exchange, a meeting of people who speak diverse languages. Usually these events take place at bars (alcohol always facilitates language speaking), and usually are centered around English-Spanish conversation, although a good number of German, French and Chinese speakers tend to show up.

While they’re marketed toward foreigners, the majority of people I meet at intercambios are Spanish, and a good portion of the time they end up speaking in Spanish to foreigners wanting to learn Spanish. They’re usually a lot of fun and are a great way to meet people if you’re new to Madrid. Think of it is a bar where everyone is open to talk to everyone else in whichever language they feel like speaking at the moment. Oh yeah, it’s totally free, too.

I’ve compiled a small list of intercambios below, sorted by day. I’ll update them as I hear about more. Don’t fail to let me know if you know of more.

O’Neill’s, 22:00; Bacchus, 21:00


Beer Station, 22:00; J&J Books and coffee, 21:00

4D, 22:00; J&J Books and coffee (quiz night), 21:00


And apart from going out, there’s also the option of looking on loquo to meet one-on-one. Though I’d be careful with that. I’ve heard most people on there want to exchange more than languages.


Spainwise 2011: ESL Job Fair in Cordoba is having a job fair on May 21st, 2011 in Cordoba, Spain. Although I live in Madrid, I’m planning on going to Cordoba for the weekend to secure a position for the coming year. I am currently an auxiliar de conversacion, but I would like to try something more challenging, more flexible and higher-paying. It would also be nice to get firmer hands-on TEFL experience, requiring planning and managing my own class.

I recommend you go if you are in Spain and looking for a job for the coming fall or summer. From what the site says, it is a big affair and there are a lot of booths with people you can talk to about different aspects of teaching, as well as workshops.

You can also pre-forward your CVs or turn them in on the day of the event and speak to employers about summer and fall posts throughout Spain.

Let me know if you’re going. I’d like to meet some people there. . . .

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Posted by on March 29, 2011 in ESL, Jobs Abroad, Spain


Easy, legal way for Americans to teach in Spain

Americans in post-2000 Europe find themselves hard-pressed to find legal work. Moreover, Europe has no worker program for young Americans, like it does for Australians, New Zealanders and Canadians. Americans, therefore, have few options when it comes to working on the continent.

Fortunately Spain, of all nations, has a teach-abroad program targeted mostly at Americans, but also for any other Anglophone nations. There are some other possibilities, especially the Fullbright program, but the requirements are often higher, the time frame is longer and the planning is more extensive.

Spain’s program is called Auxiliares de conversacion.  Technically speaking, it’s an academic grant, but it’s pretty clearly teaching work. You are a teacher’s aide in Spanish classrooms, mostly primary, and work about 15 hours a week for a monthly stipend. The stipend is 700 Euros outside of Madrid and 1000 in Madrid. (They don’t tell you this at the outset, mainly to dissuade too many people from choosing Madrid. In case you’re wondering, 1000 is enough to survive, and with a little knowhow you can easily take in 500 more a month through private classes.)

The program’s duration is 9 months, from October to the end of June. You are permitted to renew one year and one year only. You have government covered health insurance and the position is secure. The application deadline is usually in February or March, so you should begin planning around Christmastime the preceding year, because you will need a letter or recommendation, health certificate and a Spanish motivational letter.

Personal, I recommend Madrid. It’s the seat of Castilian Spanish, so you needn’t worry about one of Spain’s many dialects and languages, and it’s right in the center of the country, making it easy to travel throughout Spain and to catch flights abroad. You also make more money and the city is not nearly as expensive as most European capitals. You can actually go out and have fun without having to worry about it very much. Also, if you’re looking for another job for the coming year, it’s a good way to start out, make contacts and find work at an ESL institute.

Any questions about this position or how to apply, post them in the comments.

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Posted by on March 10, 2011 in ESL, Madrid, Spain, Spanish