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Everything you Need to Know about the Auxiliar de Conversacion Program in Spain

I teach English in Spain through the auxiliares de conversación (“conversation assistants”) program, also called Language and Culture Assistants.

So far it has been the most rewarding, most stressful, and easiest job I’ve ever had.

Overview

The Spanish Ministry of Education hires young people from the EU, the US, Canada, Australia, New Zealand, and China to be language assistants in the class room.

Most of the jobs are teaching English, but native speakers of French, Portuguese, German, Italian, and Chinese are also hired.

The application typically opens in January or February. The job is from October 1 – May 31. You can reapply for an additional year, but will not be paid during the 4 months in between academic years.

Qualifications

You must:

  • Be a native or bilingual speaker of English (or French, German, Italian, Portuguese, or Chinese)
  • Hold a US, Canadian, Australian, New Zealand, or EU passport
  • Be a junior or senior in university, or have completed a university degree
  • Have intermediate Spanish skills

There’s no test or course requirement to prove your Spanish ability- the test is simply whether or not you can make your way through the application which is all in Spanish.

You do not need a TEFL certificate or any formal language training. Having a TEFL certificate is helpful for getting a second job as teacher in a private language academy or English summer camp, but it is not required for this program.

Benefits

You receive:

  • €700/ month (€1000/ month in Madrid)
  • Health Plan

You get paid at the end of every month, so November 1 should be your first payday. If you arrive later than October 1 (because of visa delays or getting a late assignment), it’s not a big deal and you will simply be paid for the days you work.

In past years there have been A LOT of problems with late payments. Last year, many auxiliars were not paid until late December. This year the problem has decreased, most auxiliars were paid on time or within the first few weeks of November.

The Job

You work 12 hours a week (16 hours/ week in Madrid). Yes, that’s right- 12 hours a week.

Typically you will work 4 days a week, and your school will ask you whether you want Monday or Friday off. If you are assigned 2 schools you usually work 2 days a week in each school.

Your 12 or 16 hours will be spent assisting Spanish teachers in one or more of the following:

  • English classes
  • Bilingual classes such as history, P.E., art, music, math, etc.
  • Teacher prep time

In the classroom you typically do things like:

  • Review and correct pronunciation
  • Read things aloud
  • Talk about your culture
  • Prepare an activity for the class
  • Stand there while the teacher yells at the kids in Spanish for 10 minutes

There’s always that one teacher that as soon as you walk in the door will say “They’re all yours!” and go sit in the back of the classroom for an hour or go chill in the teacher’s lounge. Keep in mind your role is to work with the other teachers, not as a substitute.

Experience at schools vary a lot. I have one class this year where essentially all I do is translate everything the teacher says into English: “Open your books. Read page 5. Pablo- stop throwing things at Lucia!”

How to Apply

1. Directly through the Spanish government.

I highly recommend going directly through the Spanish government. There’s no fee. The application is online and it is in Spanish.

You will need:

  • Letter of recommendation
  • Your transcripts
  • A passport and copies of it
  • Letter of intent
  • Intermediate Spanish skills
  • A lot of patience

The application should open up in January or February. The program’s website is updated periodically.

2. Through a third party organization.

CIEE is the main middle-man program for teaching English in Spain. For a program fee of $1700/ 1 semester or $2000/ 2 semesters and an application fee of $50, they provide you with assistance such as an additional orientation, 5 nights of accommodation, airport transfer, a travel guide book.

It’s nice to have help getting settled, but in my opinion it’s definitely not worth the high price. You’re better off keeping the $1700-$2000 and using it yourself.

Most of the auxiliars I’ve met who applied through CIEE only did so because they didn’t know they could apply directly through the government.

The Good

Easy way to live legally in Europe

It’s not easy to working legally in the EU without EU citizenship. The auxiliar de conversacion program gives you an opportunity (and the corresponding paperwork) to make immigration possible.

Lots of free time

Only working 12-16 hours per week gives lots of time for travelling, going out, teaching private lessons, learning Spanish, sleeping in till noon.

Because you’re not a full time teacher you don’t have to do things like planning lessons, grading papers, meeting with parents. You don’t take a lot of work home with you, so your free time is yours.

Easy job

Essentially all you do in this program is speak your native language. Most of the work is simply reading aloud or having the students repeat words. The teacher does most of the lesson planning so all you have to do is show up and speak.

The Bad

The worst thing about the program is that it is incredibly disorganized and that you are essentially on your own, for better or for worse.

No help getting settled

This program doesn’t give you a lot of support, financially or otherwise.

You don’t get paid until at least the end of the first month, which means it’s up to you to:

  • Pay for your flight to Spain
  • Find a place to live
  • Figure out how to get to and from work
  • Open a bank account
  • Navigate buying a mobile phone/SIM card
  • Apply for your TIE and NIE

You do get some help from the teachers at the school, but it’s very hit or miss. Some schools are very welcoming and others are not.

Everything is incredibly disorganized

I’m thrilled that Spain is taking steps to improve its English proficiency and that they gave me this wonderful opportunity but every single step of this process has just been painfully complicated, stressful, and mind-hurtingly confusing.

The people who run this program often give out wrong or conflicting information, important emails are sent out at the very last minute and only to some auxiliars, and nearly everything is in Spanish in spite of it being a program for English teachers.

Everything from filling out the application, to applying for your visa, to getting your foreigner ID card involves months of waiting around and crossing your fingers that everything will come through in time. Everything takes a very long time and every Spanish bureaucrat I’ve ever met has been extremely unhelpful.

Cannot choose where you work

You can simply request your top 3 regions and type of city (rural, urban). So there is a chance that you’ll get a job in the center of a big city, but there’s also a chance you’ll be assigned to work at two schools in tiny villages in the middle of no where. It’s completely hit or miss.

The process of assigning you a school is very non-conventional: They write your name on a dart and throw it at a giant map of Spain.

Throw by zolakoma (CC BY 2.0)

At least that’s how I imagine it’s done.

My Advice

If you decide this program is for you-

Apply as early as possible (for everything)

Positions are granted on a first come, first serve basis. Once your application is completed you receive an inscrita number and you recieve your assignment based on that number.

The selection process is not very competitive, and as long as you finish your application on time and meet the (not so tough) qualifications, you’re almost guaranteed a spot. However, the sooner your submit your application the sooner you recieve an assignment. An earlier application means fewer months of nail-biting as you wait to see if they have room for you or not.

Start the visa process as soon as you receive your assignment. Read the directions on the auxiliar website, find out which documents you need and what the requirements are at your consulate. The visa process can take anywhere from 1-3 months. It all depends on how busy various offices and consulates are. I didn’t get my visa approved until a week before I left for Spain and it was the scariest feeling in the world.

Start the process of getting your TIE as soon as you get to your town. Gather all your documents and ask for help from your teachers.

Learn as much Spanish as you possibly can before arriving in Spain

You don’t have to be fluent in Spanish. In fact, I know a few auxiliars who still can barely throw a two word Spanish sentence together.

But every little bit helps. Speaking Spanish will help you to get around Spain, understand the long forms you have to fill out, and most importantly connect with people. Some of the closest friends I’ve made in Spain only speak Spanish, my Zumba teacher only speaks Spanish, my landlord only speaks Spanish.

Moving to Spain with a working knowledge of Spanish will open you up to a fuller experience.

Connect with other auxiliars

Other auxiliars are some of your best resources. Every year there’s a facebook group for Language Assistants in Spain, as well as one for each region (i.e. Auxiliares en Galicia) and most major cities (i.e. Auxiliares in Seville). Here’s the 2014-2015 Facebook group.

If you’re able to get in contact with your school (mine finally emailed me back a few days before I left for Spain), ask for the contact info of auxiliars who worked there previous years.

Save up as much money as you can before you leave

I recommend bringing $2000-$3000 with you to get settled. Remember, the first pay check won’t come until at least the end of the first month.

Study the basics of English grammar

You don’t have to be a grammar expert, but just knowing the basics will help you better communicate with your students and co-workers about English learning.

Specifically, you should familiarize yourself with:

Keep in mind that most Spaniards learn British English. Many North American auxiliars have the experience of correcting a Spaniard’s English only to find out that it’s actually correct British English.

"Queue? No, that's not a word, Javier. Nice try."

“Queue? No, that’s not a word, Javier. Nice try.”

Is this Program for You?

I’d recommend this program to anyone who:

  • Has a  decent level of Spanish
  • Isn’t afraid to put themselves out there
  • Is able to live on a tight budget or find other ways to make money
  • Is very flexible and patient

It’s nice work if you can tolerate all the craziness.

Check out the Official Website of the Program for updates on the application process.

And the other official website.

Here’s the 2014-2015 Auxiliar Facebook Group.

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3 Responses to Everything you Need to Know about the Auxiliar de Conversacion Program in Spain

  1. Cat of Sunshine and Siestas December 5, 2013 at 2:02 AM #

    I miss my job as an auxiliar. Coming in 2007 meant there was little competition for the position, no stupid online process, and I never had any late payments. I also worked just three days a week, and I was treated as an equal in the school I worked for. It’s a shame that so many people seem to get taken advantage of these days, or that some come expecting everything to be done for them. For me, part of the draw was having the level of uncertainty and trying to get established without knowing much Spanish or anyone else in the program.

  2. dina January 8, 2014 at 9:32 PM #

    I agree with Cat. It can be fairly disorganized, depending on your region, but I’ve found that it forces me to get out there and figure things out. I’m pretty sure that all the auxiliars in my region figured it out eventually, and I guess if not, they went home. This program, like life, throws us a lot of hurdles, but being able to overcome them is a huge self-esteem boost. It can be tough striking out on your own and having to meet all new friends, but forcing myself to show up to social events (many of them being all Spaniards) has been so good for me and my Spanish has greatly improved after my first few months.

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