Thinking of teaching English abroad?

 

So you’re thinking of moving abroad to teach English and wondering if it’s a good thing to do?

The short answer is yes, go for it! Here’s why…

Making the decision to move away to a new place and work in a different country can be a daunting one, especially if you have not lived there before and you don’t speak the native language at all. But here are some reasons why I think it is a great thing to do.

In many countries it seems that the demand for English teachers is very high, particularly in the larger towns and cities. This means that it wont be too difficult to find yourself a job teaching in a school, academy or even privately. If you can get a job abroad while still being in your home country then that is great and will certainly give you some piece of mind so start looking early for jobs in academies and schools. If you don’t find a job before you move, don’t let that hold you back. It seems risky but in my experience it is easier to get a job when you are already living in the place where you would like to work.

I think experience and qualification requirements depend on the country you plan on travelling to, but don’t overlook the assets you have. When I moved to Spain I was a bit worried that I wouldn’t have the qualifications or experience to be a teacher. I had worked with children a bit before but not much more than that. I was surprised to find that when I got my first job my most impressive asset, to my employer, was that I was a native English speaker. This is something I hadn’t really thought about but schools really value it, so you should too.

Being a teacher is a great way to earn money whilst experiencing a new place. As a valued profession in demand, it’s also a pretty well paid one. In my experience in Spain you can expect to get paid between 15€ and 20€ per hour for teaching English and in a school you will probably get a nice lunch included. The work can be more difficult, mentally, but the perks of the job balance this out. When you’re teaching, every day is different. Of course you can expect a few days to be tough but it is more likely that you are going to be having a lot of fun with some great kids and fellow teachers. It is a very rewarding job and if you put the effort in there is nothing better than being personally thanked by a parent or teacher, or seeing a struggling student improving.

Being an English teacher doesn’t have to consume all your time. In my current school I work from nine in the morning until two in the afternoon with some free periods where I can do some lesson planning. Now that spring is here that gives me a lot of time to enjoy and explore the place where I am living. Working hours can obviously vary a lot but just because you are getting a grown ups job don’t think it has to take up all your time.

Speaking the local language is definitely not essential as most English classes will be taught only in English, but if you do want to learn a bit of the language, working in a school teaching can be really helpful. Because you’re interacting with the children all day it is surprising how much vocabulary, and how many useful phrases, you pick up and learn from the kids you are teaching.

Finally, and I think most importantly, living and working in a country is a really great way to get an in-depth experience of a place. You will really get to immerse yourself in a new culture and get to see the less well visited spots, exploring things at your own pace. You will have time to meet some great people and build friendships with locals and parents who can help you get to know your new home and become part of a community.

I hope anyone thinking of teaching abroad has been sufficiently encouraged, leave a comment below if there is still anything you are unsure about. I’m going to write a post about how to maximise your chances of getting a job soon so follow my blog and look out for more!

 

 

 

 

 

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Is alcohol the best tool to help you speak a language?

 

So here is the scene. I’ve been kindly invited to a party by one of my English-speaking friends and I feel I am making my usual impressions to her amigos as the shy boy in the corner who doesn’t say anything. This is an odd feeling for me because I usually really enjoy talking to different people but tonight my Spanish skills are letting me down and I just can’t.

I pour another drink, smiling and nodding at any questions that come my way, hoping that ‘yes’ is an appropriate answer and they don’t require something more.

Soon my glass is empty and I think about filling it again, giving me something to do. Suddenly all the conversations I’m hearing not only make a bit of sense, but I feel I have words to contribute! Before long I’m saying things I didn’t realise I knew, and I am in disbelief that I am speaking Spanish. This is of course what it feels like to me, it could in truth not make much sense but the great thing is I don’t care and I am reassured as they are responding to me, meaning an actual conversation in Spanish is happening!

By the end of the evening I have met some great people and my confidence in speaking Spanish is sky high, for a couple of days.

This effect does make sense. Although the best way to learn and practice speaking a language is just to do it, the fear of embarrassment can be pretty restricting. A party atmosphere gets rid of this and frees you up to practice what you know and learn things you don’t. This kind of environment also gives a pretty good insight in how to get better at speaking a foreign language without alcohol.

Firstly, I am no language expert. Spanish is the first language I am attempting to learn and I have only been learning it seriously since the end of last year. Most advice is just to speak more. If you’re like me this isn’t too helpful as that is exactly what I feel I can’t do but here are some ways that have helped me and can make it easier.

A great thing to do is find some people who you can become comfortable speaking with. For me the family I live with is perfect as they always talk to me in Spanish and don’t speak a word of English, which means anything I can say in Spanish is going to be better than nothing. They are very kind and I know them well enough to no longer be embarrassed. An environment like this is perfect as it means you have to communicate with what you do know, your friends can then help you out along the way. It surprising how little language you need to know to communicate something and this can be really encouraging.

I have found that there are so many people and groups who want to practice their English with you. Find these groups or people and meet up, it can be a bit of an intimidating thought if you don’t know any one but it is really worth it. At first you don’t have to speak anything but English and as you get to know people and feel more comfortable you will find that before long you are practising your new language without forcing it. When you know everyone is learning you feel a lot better about it.

Get a little notebook to write down new words and phrases. For me, a lot of what I hear is new to me but I have found that when I hear a new word or phrase, that is useful to me, I write it down and it helps me learn it. Also anything I would like to say, but don’t know how, I can find out and write in the notebook. Now I have a pretty useful dictionary of common words and phrases that I find myself using or needing to use often.

Finally living in a country where they speak the language you are trying to learn is so helpful. It’s amazing how many things you pick up from hearing others or seeing in your daily life. It creates a reason for you to learn and it’s easy to see the progress you are making just going about your daily life.

Learning a language can be pretty tough, at times you will feel real progress. You will soon be confident enough, when asked by a native speaker do you speak Spanish, to answer “yes, a bit” only to be knocked right back as you listen to a beautiful stream of incomprehensible noise that leaves you silent.

It takes a lot of time so don’t give up. Keep at it and if you’re ever feeling really bad just get yourself along to a party!

 

 

Meeting the grandparents

As I am living with a family in Pamplona I have been lucky enough to do some pretty cool and random things that I otherwise wouldn’t have been able to do. Some of these have been great, and some have been pretty weird. This story is one of the latter.

On my weekends when I’m not teaching I like to join the family on their adventures and one regular trip is to go and see the grandparents in a small village south of Pamplona. It’s a very quiet place and like all villages here in Navarre, regardless of their size, it has a church and a court to play pala (a sort of squash equivalent).

On my first visit I was greeted by the grandparents like a lost son and instantly got to like them.

We spent the day eating in the sun and relaxing with me trying to practice my limited Spanish skills. I was told I was going to learn how to make a real Spanish omelette and this was exciting for me but almost at the same time as the arrival of this news the atmosphere changed and the visit took a new turn.

Alvaro, one of the sons of the family who I am staying with, cut is head and he, his brother and parents went with him to the hospital. I stayed to learn the art of the Spanish omelette.

However coinciding with this was the arrival of Javier, another of the grandparents’ children. Javier introduced himself by pouring me ciders faster than I could drink and giving me a grilling about my intentions in Spain. I didn’t mind this as these kinds of questions I can handle in Spanish. It was also impressive learning how cider in the north is poured in small amounts into a glass from a great height to make it taste better.

Many potatoes were brought to the table and I was shown what to do with them, still drinking cider, and now struggling to answer the questions of Javier that were becoming increasingly more intense.

My understanding of Spanish is pretty good, but my speaking skills are not yet up to the job of explaining myself properly. As we peeled and sliced potatoes we moved from topics such as what is the colour of your girlfriends hair? And is she fat or thin? To why did England reject the pope and accept a fraudulent religion? And whether I agreed that the Basque country we were in had been stolen by Spain? The answer to the last question I found out quickly, to Javier, was that yes this is NOT in Spain.

As I continued to peel the potatoes furiously it was clear that I was not able to express my self properly and as I continued struggling to answer questions the three people with me (grandparents and Javier) became more and more heated and demanding of explanations.

I enjoy odd situations, and it was at this point I realised how odd this one was. Sitting here peeling potatoes in a strange new house in a tiny Spanish village in the middle of nowhere, giving incorrect answers to deep questions with three Spanish (Basque, sorry Javier) people I had never met before.

Finally to my relief, after a couple of hours of awkward grilling, my host family returned and the eldest son, who speaks English, was able to help me explain how the Church of England was not a strange cult gripping the English nation, and I wasn’t in denial of the existence of the Basque people!

This is what living abroad is all about, getting into strange situations and experiencing something different. If you’re interested in something more conventional to do here, read my favourite things to do in Pamplona.

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My favourite things to do in pamplona

Since February, Pamplona has been my home and after the initial disappointment of discovering the weather was identical to back home in England, and not the endless sunshine of the Mediterranean coast I had been used to, I have discovered it is a city deserving of love.

Pamplona is located in northern Spain in the region of Navarre, just to the south of the Pyrenees, full of history, beautiful scenery and a lot of friendly people who will enjoy telling you that you are in fact not in Spain but the Basque country!

Pamplona has become famous for its annual running of the bulls during the festival of San Fermin, but there is much more to the city than that, these are my favourites (nearly) all costing no money.

River walk

Running along the north of the city is the river Arga, and on a sunny day it’s great to take a stroll along it for as many hours as you desire. As well as the scenic views, you can get a great view from the riverbank of the old city and cathedral with its backdrop of mountains. You will find the river is periodically crossed by old, picturesque bridges and there is also a mill that you can enter with information about the river walks and this side of Pamplona.

 

City Walls

Pamplona is a city with a load of history and some impressive architecture remains from times gone by. The best way to see it is taking a walk, starting from the fuerte san bartolome. If you want to spend 1.50€ you can go into the fort and as well as having a look around, it has a few rooms with a lot of information about the cities origins displayed in an interactive way. I am lucky that I had local friend with me to use as a personal historian but if it interests you it’s worth the 1.50€. From the Fort you just follow the huge walls around the city that are studded with impressive gateways and elaborate defence mechanisms. The walk is short and ends when you arrive at the equally impressive Ciudadela.

Juevinxo’s

Juevinxo’s is the name given to the gathering of people in the old part of town to enjoy the famous pinxos every Thursday. Although I’m sure a local will tell you otherwise, for me pinxos are basically tapas, and on Thursday you can get delicious pinxos and a drink for about 2€ and it is definitely worth it. If you arrive before the sun goes down you can wander around the old part of town enjoying the Spanish architecture and winding streets. From around eight the bars begin to fill up and the atmosphere of the old town is great. You can happily spend a whole evening hopping from bar to bar, tasting their finest pinxo’s meeting locals and if you don’t go crazy, you don’t have to spend too much money.

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The Ciudadela

The Ciudadela is the big star shaped fort built to protect the exposed side of Pamplona. It is impressive to walk around, but I like the middle where you can find a relaxed environment with grass and benches and some great exhibitions housed in the redundant buildings of the fort. All the exhibitions are free and seem to change monthly so it’s well worth a visit.

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One of the exhibitions at the ciudadela

Fuerte de San Cristóbal

If you’re into hiking then I definitely recommend climbing to the Fuerte de San Cristóbal. The mountain is easily seen from Pamplona being it’s closest, and the old fort is perched on the top. The walk is probably a good 2-4 hour hike up and down, depending on where you start and how long you want to take, where you will walk up the ridge of the mountain through pine forest and get beautiful views of Pamplona and the surrounding countryside the whole way up. At the top you find the fort, which is not legally open and owned by the ministry of defence, but it seems as though you can walk round and do some exploring without any problems.