If you’re studying a modern foreign language at university, you’ll most likely have to decide upon how to spend your third year abroad: study abroad, organise a work placement, or become a language assistant teaching English.
As a Modern Languages student at Warwick University, I chose the third option and spent my year teaching English in the beautiful Carcassonne, South of France, and believe it was the best decision I could have made. A language assistantship is very well-remunerated, gives you great work experience in teaching, and provides you with countless transferrable skills that will be invaluable in future employment.
So, if you’re thinking of teaching English abroad, here are a few key tips for you before you venture overseas!
1. Don’t expect to just be an assistant
Although technically an ‘assistant’, working for the British Council can often mean you’ll often play the role of a ‘teacher’ which can prove to be a challenging but really rewarding experience. You may often be asked to lead classes on your own, teach students on an individual basis, or take small groups of students for oral practice. This may initially be daunting, but you’ll receive lots of support and guidance from teachers at your school as well as from the British Council. Lesson planning will be essential and as the year progresses you’ll increase in confidence and hopefully by the end will have acquired a passion for teaching – just as I did!
2. Get on top of your bureaucracy as soon as possible
First and foremost, getting your bank account sorted quickly means that you can get paid without delay! The process can be quite lengthy so be sure to ask teachers at your school to assist you in this. You’ll need to book an appointment at your local bank (ask staff at the school for advice regarding which is the best in your local region) and also remember you will need to be able to provide an address of residence to open an account so ensure you have secured accommodation beforehand. The process of opening an account can be quite problematic and time-consuming for a lot of assistants, particularly in France as was the case for me, as the bureaucracy is not the most efficient! Additionally, on arrival, make sure you’re aware of any financial assistance you may be entitled to for the year; for example, in France language assistants are eligible for help with funding for accommodation – the CAF (Caisses d’Allocations Familiales) proved to be a rather large sum of money. However, it’s something you as an assistant must independently apply for and is not directly granted nor well advertised. Therefore, on your year abroad be sure to always be proactive: research, ask colleagues and other natives for help, but equally take the opportunity to really improve your foreign language skills.
3.Make lessons productive but also fun!
As for advice for in the classroom: firstly, ensure that you set your boundaries early. Make sure the students know your role and know that you are a professional there to teach. Always have lesson plans and resources but equally be prepared to completely abandon them – c’est la vie!
Most importantly make your lessons fun; introduce competition, use role play and games to get the students conversing in English as much as possible. Don’t be afraid to embarrass yourself, I found that the more extravagant and enthusiastic you are the better the students respond. And be prepared for the hilarity of the ‘double entendres’ and the laughs of your students as you mispronounce the French words. Your students will certainly teach you a thing or two as well as the other way round!
4. Get involved with extra-curricular activities at the school.
This is something I found to be hugely rewarding throughout my year abroad. Ahead of the student’s annual English Debating Competition held in April each year, I decided to set up a weekly debate club to help the students to practice. This proved very popular and also really enjoyable both for myself and the students. In the end the students were in fact victorious and were crowned the winners of the region at the debate competition which has to be one of the highlights of my year. Debating aside, if offered the opportunity to partake in school trips or extra-curricular activities, don’t hesitate to say yes! it is always a great way to get integrated into the school community, improve your own language skills, and also immerse yourself in life in your chosen foreign destination.
5. Take advantage of private tutoring
The British Council Assistantship means you will be only contracted to 12 hours a week teaching time which leaves you with plenty of free time on your hands. Most language assistants take on roles as private tutors outside of school to complement their work and this can prove to be very lucrative. Parents are often very keen for their children to be privately tutored in English and are willing to pay up to 30 euros an hour for tuition. This was something I did on a weekly basis and ended up making contacts I shall keep for life. I became very close with the family for whom I tutored and they were only too pleased to help me out if ever I needed assistance and also to show me their beautiful region.
The opportunities open to native English speakers abroad is something that really amazed me, so take advantage of this!
6. Live each day as if you'll be leaving soon
My only regret of my time as an English language assistant is being complacent about how much time was left. The 8-month placement will fly by so make sure you make the most of everyday: travel somewhere new every weekend, immerse yourself in the culture, take every opportunity offered to you and explore as far as possible. When it comes to advice for future language assistants, I would say the key word is ‘profiter’ (literally meaning ‘make the most of it’) and this soon became my year abroad motto! Embark upon every new opportunity with an open mind and be willing to try new things. A year abroad is definitely the time to discover yourself and I was astounded at the opportunities available to me.
7. Document the experience to preserve the memories
Don’t forget to keep a record of all your travels, achievements, and year abroad adventures! Whether it’s a blog, a journal, a vlog, a diary, or even just a collection of photos, these will ensure you never forget the incredible memories you are bound to make on your year out. They will be worth far more than any souvenir you can buy abroad and provide some much-needed blissful nostalgia when stressed out in the library in your final year of university!
8. Finally, do your homework (!) before you embark on your venture.
As incredible and exciting as it all sounds, one key piece of advice that is integral to ensuring you get the most out of your assistantship is to ensure you have planned your trip before you head off. Use sites such as the FCO travel advice website with their checklists and Living Abroad advice pages, and also follow them on on Facebook and Twitter to research all your adventures.
If travelling further afield to teach, be sure to check entry requirements and visa regulations and practices to ensure you are fully prepared too.