10 FAQ for a Language Assistant

After studying abroad, it became very clear to me that I had to go back to Spain. I didn’t feel like I had gained the language fluency I needed to confidently say I was a Spanish major. In Sevilla during my four months “studying”, (otherwise known as finding the best tapas and cheapest beer any given day on Calle Betis), I fell victim to what most foreigners who live abroad do: sticking to their own kind. You’re in a foreign place, you don’t know the language, (anyone who thinks they speak Spanish please go to Andalucía and then talk to me), and you really just need a solid group of people to lean on. Its normal. Is it sustainable for the long term? No. But I’ll get into that later. Aside from all of this, I was head over heels in love with Spain. Enter Auxiliares.


How do you not fall in love??

Auxiliares literally presented itself to me when I typed into Google, “teaching English in Spain”. Yes, it was that easy. The months that came afterwards were not. Here are common questions I have gotten over the years about the program, and questions I would have liked answered before I picked up and moved across the ocean. If after reading these questions you are a little less sure about making the jump to do Auxiliares, check out my post about other programs and options available.

You can also find a detailed list of FAQ from the program itself, here: faq-auxiliares

1. What are the chances I will get the city I want?

Not likely. At least not your first year. Second year renewals have priority over placements which means most high demand places are snatched up quickly. Keep in mind most people want to be in Madrid, Barcelona, Sevilla, and Granada. For me, putting Andalucía as my preferred autonomous community went without saying, but it might make sense for you as well. Andalucía has the highest number of provinces which means the likelihood of being able to live near one of the well known cities is higher.  Keep in mind, even if you are given your preferred autonomous community, let’s say, Cataluña, if you are gunning for Barcelona, that doesn’t mean you will be able to live in the capital city. In fact, it is highly unlikely.

My first year I was sent to Almería. I looked it up, it was a dream! On the beach, great tapas, virgin beaches a stone’s throw away. Then I realized that was the province. The town where my school was located was called La Mojonera. This was HI-LARIOUS to any Spanish person I told because it literally means something along the lines of “a shit hole”. And it pretty much was. I was super lucky that there were teachers living in the capital city of Almería, which was an hour away, and they were willing to drive me. This is not uncommon and could be a possible way to live in the biggest city near you. This, however, dramatically increases the amount of time you will spend at school everyday, with not much to do. AC will tell you that you are contracted for 12 hours. This is true. However, if you are living an hour away and depend on a teacher for a ride, bring a book. Or start a blog.


The beach outside my front door.


First Spanish apartment. Paid $200 a month for this baby. 


This was my apartment my third and last year. $250 a month to wake up to the ocean every day. I’ve already come to terms with the fact that I’ll probably never have an apartment as nice as this one. chiringuito

Life in Cádiz revolves around the sunset. 

Moral of the story here? If you are dead-set on getting your first choice city; go ahead and try it. Maybe you will be pleasantly surprised. If not, I recommend putting Andalucía for the reason that you are much more likely to be close to one of the eight major cities than Madrid capital, let’s say.

Other underrated autonomous communities: Extremadura, Pais Vasco, Galicia, Asturias (those last three you gotta be okay with precipitation…but they are worth it!)

2. What are the schedules like? Will I have multiple days off? How do you fill your time?

 This depends entirely on your school. The Auxiliar program is a contract for you to work for 12 hours per week, and it is up to them to distribute those hours as they see fit. During my experience, if you are living very far away from where your school is, sometimes they can work around you and try to have you do your hours in three days in stead of four or five. I think across the board all Auxiliares have at least one extra day off a week, and most schools try to make that day a Friday or a Monday, which is great for traveling. Some, however, may only be able to give you Wednesday or Thursday off, in which case, you’re just going to have to suck it up.

As for how I filled my time…this was a huge concern for my grandmother. She couldn’t imagine what on earth I would do if I were only working 12 hours a week. (Not to mention how I would pay my rent, bills, and student loans with 700 euros a month). Let me just say this: its not a problem. You will most likely have private classes, (hopefully not in an academy), and aside from that…you’re in Spain. I trust you’ll find a way to use your time..


3. Is 700 euros enough to live on?

It depends where you live. I was an assistant for three years in Andalucía; Almería for one and two years in Cádiz. Every year I was either working in an academy or giving private classes to supplement my income but I always came out with enough, and managed to travel quite a bit. I even had student loans to pay and was able to pay my fifty-dollar minimum payment as well. Was I saving? Dear god no. And there were some months that I wished I could withdraw those last 5 euros. But I made do.


4. How often do you get paid?

A point of high contention. First of all, I am speaking strictly from the experience as a Language Assistant through the Spanish government program. Other programs like I talk about here don’t tend to have as many problems because they are private companies.

Once your school has the money from the government, you will get paid every month. I have even heard of schools giving assistants 350 biweekly. However. The key here is that your schools receive the money from the government. This was a major problem for a lot of schools four years ago when I was still in the program. This is essentially a grant that your school has from the government and some schools literally cannot afford to pay you until they have it. Sometimes that means waiting until after Christmas. That’s four months with no pay. The years I was there this was cause for a lot of people to just “ghost” the program and leave at Christmas and not come back. Not the smartest nor most considerate thing to do but understandable considering the circumstances. Once the money comes in though, it is generally smooth sailing as long as you allocate your money well.

5. How much are start up costs? How much should I have saved before I come?

Again, this can depend a lot on where you live. Andalucía is one of the cheapest places to live and your salary will probably get you a lot farther there than anywhere else. I lived for three years in two and three bedroom apartments ON the Atlantic Ocean and the Mediterranean, (views below!), and I paid between 130-200 euros a month—with room mates of course. A lot of places expect at least a month, sometimes two, of rent, with possibly another month as a security deposit. You’re looking at a possible 700-1,500 euros straight away, depending. As far as food goes, in Almería I was getting massive tapas free with every glass of tinto de verano; and I’m talking about entire sandwiches. Cadíz wasn’t much different. A lot of bang for your buck there. But this will vary A LOT when you get to bigger cities. Going out for tapas in Barcelona will run you a cool 15-20 at the least. Check out the link below for average prices of things in Spain, but you should plan on having at least 3,000-6,000 euros saved before you come. Check out the cost of living in Spain. Also have a peak at my post on getting an apartment so you know what to look for and expect.

6. What about living with a family?

The program mentions this as a possibility on their website however in all of my experience and the literal hundreds of people I know who have been assistants, this was never presented as an option. There are other programs that do offer this option, so check out my page on different programs available.

7. How much can I charge for private classes?

 I started my first year at an academy, where I was paid a flat rate for the month. I can’t even remember the amount but I know for sure it was a rip off. My advice and the advice most people would give you, if you can avoid it is DON’T WORK AT AN ACADEMY. The reasons are obvious—more students, less money. In Cádiz I was charging 10 euros an hour which even in 2011 was a steal for a native speaker with experience. I would say 15 minimum now. A friend of mine who was a certified TEFL teacher in Barcelona for 7 years did the math and found that taking into account travel costs, photocopies, and preparation, anything less than 25 euros an hour was putting her at a loss. In the school I worked at my first year in Barcelona, anyone who was a teacher at the school and did private classes for any of the students had a flat rate of 35 euros an hour.

Bottomline: Somewhere between 15-35 depend on your certifications, experience, and location.


8. Be honest. Do I need to speak Spanish?

Short answer: Not really.

Medium answer: You should definitely make an effort, and it depends on where you are.

Long answer: I hate to sound like a broken record but again, this depends a lot on where you are placed. I can tell you if you get anywhere outside of any major tourist zones, you’ll find yourself wishing you had paid more attention to the difference between “cuello” and “culo” in high school.  I felt extremely fortunate to have the base I had before I started, but I have plenty of friends who went from knowing nothing to being able to hold a conversation in Spanish over the course of those nine months they spent as an assistant. Again, I can really only speak from personal experience about Andalucía but Spain in general is not known for its English speaking skills. This is awesome for improving your own language skills but can be daunting and down right overwhelming at times. Embrace it. It gets better, and so does your Español!


9. Okay, level with me. Do I need teaching experience? Certifications? 

I’m not gonna lie, this would have been really helpful. I came into the program with two months of intramural soccer coaching as the extent of my experience, and I could have used a bit more than this. I also had no formal TEFL training, which made explaining the verb To Be one of my first days nearly impossible. If you have never thought about the English language before, you can’t imagine what it is like to teach it in the beginning. If you have the time and the money, I would recommend looking into the TEFL course to get you going. Some programs have this as a part of their program. Check out these different programs HERE.

10. Is this going to be a waste of a year professionally? Especially if I don’t want to eventually become a teacher?

I have and always will respond to this question with a resounding: NO. Coming to a different country, learning a different language and how to be part of a different culture, not to MENTION all of the personal challenges you will have to overcome on a daily basis, are going to shape you into your future employer’s dream. Communication skills? Yup. Second/third language? You know it. Independence, determination, organization skills, and gumption? Oh hell yeah. Companies want more international experience, more languages, and more proof of your personality than the degree that says you studied Communication for four years.

In the day and age that we live in, going abroad for at least a year isn’t a question of why WOULD you, its why DON’T you?


3 thoughts on “10 FAQ for a Language Assistant

  1. Great article, very helpful! I wish I had stayed on in Spain and never left! They were some of the greatest years of my life, but hopefully I’ll get back there one day! And man, that apartment for $250 with ocean views! I live in miami and you can’t get that for under $2,500 minimum!! My advice, be open to anywhere, anywhere can be great, and small towns are def underrated. I feel the most authentic experiences come from the smaller cities! All the best to everyone!


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