Teaching English; Forgetting English

It always irks me when Americans, after spending three whole months in Spain, say they’re forgetting English. How adorable! You’ve spent a total of 90 days here, and you’re already losing your native-language skills.

Or not. Because you’re not. No, really, you aren’t.

That’s why I won’t be claiming anything of the sort. Nope, what I want to talk about is overanalyzing the way you say things. You must know what I’m talking about. Have you ever read or said a word over and over again until it seemed like it wasn’t even a word at all, just a jumble of arbitrary letters and sounds? Let’s try an experiment:

Squirrel. Squirrel. Squirrel. Squirrel. Squirrel. Squirrel. Squirrel. Squirrel. Squirrel. I don’t know about you, but that word is weird. I even had to refer to Google to make sure I wasn’t spelling it wrong. And I was a sixth-grade spelling-bee champion! Squirrel. Ugh, is that even right? Okay, yes. Yes, it is.


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Teaching in an Instituto (High School) vs. a Colegio (Elementary School)

GIF Version.

Having worked in two institutos and two colegios here in Spain, I feel very qualified to write this post. When you work in a colegio, you are godlike. The kids may draw pictures of you, write you love notes, bring you presents, pick flowers for you out on the playground … you get the picture. When you work in an instituto, not so much. You are most likely seen as a welcome distraction from the day-to-day monotony of regular English class. But it’s also possible they think you’re, like, totally lame. (You got me.)

So what’s the difference, anyway?

When you want to play a game

Colegio (Elementary):

Excited Kids

Instituto (High School):


Teaching English in Spain’s Bilingual Schools—My Experience

[Warning: this is a pictureless post.]

Bilingual education sounds sweet, doesn’t it? Madrid certainly seems to think so—the program, which began with 26 primary schools in 2004, included 379 primary and secondary schools during the 2012–2013 school year. Next year, there will be even more: 403 (313 primary schools and 90 high schools). (Source)

I worked this past year in a “bilingual” primary school.

But what is a bilingual school anyway?


Doomed/Destined to Teach English

Or the life of a native English speaker in Spain.

Auxiliares de Conversacion

When you move to Spain, you might have high hopes of finding a job, a job that will satisfy you, hone your skills, perhaps even assist in your professional formation and networking. If you moved here with such aspirations, I salute you—for your optimism and your naïveté.

If you are here, you most likely teach English in some form or another. To quote my parents, you don’t have to like it; you just have to do it. Suck it up and do it: speak slowly and deliberately at all times, learn to deal with ridiculously low pay expectations, and search for endless Youtube videos to entertain your six-year-old students with amazingly short attention spans. Lauren from Spanish Sabores writes eloquently about this dilemma in her post, The Quarter Life Expat Crisis.

If someone had told me five years ago that I’d be an English teacher, I would have laughed. Hard. You see, I got my degree in Spanish (surprise, surprise!), and teaching wasn’t exactly my cup of tea. So to find myself here is rather ironic. Disheartening is a word I’d like to avoid.

Colegios Bilingües

Bilingual elementary schools … where many end up

It seems that many of us (by us, I mean fellow native English speakers) want something more than private classes, language academics, and applying to the Conversation and Language Assistant program for the third year running. But we’re stuck. Spain’s rampant unemployment (56.5% for youth!) isn’t exactly helping. So we stay here, we schedule classes with reluctant sixth graders, and we learn to refer to tennis shoes as “trainers” in order not to confuse anyone. We get used to being paid under the table, to being part of Spain’s undercover economy that doesn’t show up in the jobs’ numbers.

Five years from now, I may still be here in Madrid. Perhaps I’ll still be trying to get students to remember to add an “s” on the third-person singular present verb forms: “She runs” and not “She run,” please and thank you. But here’s to hoping—hoping that, as many expats before me, I might break out of the English-speaker mold and find that, somewhere out there, Spain has a place for the Spanish major in me, too.