Life in Spain is fantastic. I live and teach English in Granada: it’s sunny, one hour away from the beach and ski slopes, everything’s within walking distance, it’s cosmopolitan and it has a great social life, not to mention the food and its affordability. I have lived and taught English here for more than 12 years and I’d suggest that if you are teaching English in Spain, there are certain challenges you need to deal with if you want to make the most of your time here.
If you are thinking about teaching English in Spain, you might want to read this post first.
Here’s a brief guide to the 5 most common challenges of teaching English in Spain with some tips to help you deal with them successfully:
1. Challenge. I’m an A2 level but need my C2 certificate by the end of this month!
Spanish students aren’t usually personally motivated to learn English. In fact, they often join a language school to get a CEFR certificate and believe learning English means acquiring exam techniques. There are basically three types of externally pressured students:
- Undergraduate students won’t be awarded their degree unless they hold a B1 certificate in a foreign language
- Working for the government is considered a dream job in Spain. A lot of Spaniards spend years preparing for oposiciones (public examinations) to become a funcionario (civil servant). They’re awarded extra marks for language certificates.
- The Spanish government is trying to turn all public schools into bilingual schools. Teachers need to demonstrate a high level of English if they want to keep their job or are looking for a teaching position.
Most students don’t even know what the exams are like, or the differences between an exam techniques class and general English classes to learn or improve their English.
- Make your first exam class a thorough explanation of the exam:
Take for instance that you’re teaching English for the Cambridge FCE exam. An introduction to each test should take up one 90-minute class for each test:
General description of the Reading (R) and Use of English (UOE) test:
Part 1 – multiple choice cloze (text with gaps) (UOE)
Part 2 – open cloze (text with gaps but no options) (UOE)
Part 3 – word formation (UOE)
Part 4 – key word sentence transformations (UOE)
Part 5 – text with 6 multiple-choice questions (R)
Part 6 – text with 6 sentences missing (R)
Part 7 – multiple matching, 10 questions (R)
Go through the different parts and give instructions for each activity. Tell them about the expectations from the rubric (guidelines) and practise each part as a demo.
- Hard-working students do lots of homework but feel totally lost and find it hard to see whether they’re improving or not.
Informing them about their level and progress makes your students feel they’re being cared for, which builds rapport and trust. Raising awareness of their own level and readiness to sit the exam will also give you the opportunity to work on their learner training skills: they’ll understand they’re also responsible for their own learning process and you can help them find extra material for weaker areas.
- Classes are result and error focused, so they feel overwhelmed by the amount of mistakes they make and struggle to see the light at the end of the tunnel.
Exploit your social role, do a bit of counselling and take a couple of minutes to remind them they’re doing a good job, and they’ll get there if they continue working hard.
- It’s generally hard to keep up with the homework and practice activities are very repetitive for both students and teachers
The good thing about teaching exam classes is that all materials are already in the book. Exams are very competitive, so you can easily adapt the activities to create games and have some fun.
Read this post for some tips on teaching writing for Cambridge exams.
2. Challenge. Hey teacher! Let’s stop chatting in class and get on with real work!
Although Spanish students really enjoy communicative activities they’re used to a very traditional educational system. They aren’t particularly familiar with the communicative approach, nor the benefits of CLT (Communicative Language Teaching). You are very likely to come across the odd student who, despite making excellent progress, believes a fun class is a waste of time.
Parents could also be problematic when their seven-year-old kids come back home saying they haven’t got any homework and they’ve spent the whole class singing and dancing.
- Even if there isn’t a clear line management in the school you’re working at, search for the Director of Studies (DoS), Jefe de Estudios or director to see if they have a protocol to talk with parents and let them deal with them.
- Be open about your approach with your students; remind them they can do gap-filling activities at home and enjoy the opportunity to communicate in English in class as their opportunity to use English outside the classroom is limited.
- Give them tools to observe their own progress.
e.g. video them, create a class/individual list of 5 most common errors, get them to pay attention to 1 error per week and check progress weekly.
3. Challenge. It’s outrageous! My teacher doesn’t even know what a pronoun is!
Language students are generally used to terminology and newly qualified teachers could easily feel intimidated by questions like: So… Is ‘people’ a countable or an uncountable noun?
- Try to anticipate problematic language questions and be prepared.
- If you don’t know the answer, rule number one is: be honest! Admit you aren’t sure and use reference material. Students feel considerably more empowered when they are engaged in their own learning process: train your students to become independent and search for language in dictionaries and reference sources.
- Advanced levels are competent speakers of English: give them credit! They’re very likely to come up with existing vocabulary you’ve never come across. Look words up and discuss the context where you’re more likely to use them, they’ll surely appreciate your instinct as a proficient speaker.
4.Challenge. I’ve paid a fortune and we’ve hardly used the book!
Enthusiastic, creative and motivated teachers could find coursebooks a complete turn-off. Besides, students really enjoy putting the book aside and getting on with a more creative activity where they can make best spontaneous use of their English. However, they’re encouraged to buy very expensive material and they’d like to feel it’s worth the money.
- Be organized and let your students know how much they’ll be using the coursebook during the course. Tell them from class 1 that the coursebook is used as a guide and reference, but your activities are customised for them: that would make them feel special!
- Coursebooks help you cut down on preparation time so, make good use of them! You can always transform activities and use them to contribute to your lesson.
For instance, you can photocopy a reading text from the book and post it in pieces around the classroom for a matching activity. Students could always go back to the book as a reference for what they’ve learnt that day.
You can also use the book for listening tasks and homework.
Here are some simple tips about choosing the right coursebook for your learners.
5.Challenge. The Spanish have their lunch at 3.30 and I’m already starving at 1pm! They also want lessons until 10pm!
You might find it difficult to get used to the teaching timetable in Spain. You aren’t very likely to have an extremely early start but be aware of massive gaps in your timetable and a late finish if you’re teaching adults in Spain.
- I’d say make sure you always carry a banana in your bag.
- Set your limits with the school from the start. Sometimes they simply don’t know you don’t want to work that much, or they haven’t had a proper look at your particular timetable.
- If you have a 90- minute or two-hour gap you might want to spend some time in the gym, go back home or grab a bite, so consider your options to fit in some free time activities to switch off!
Don’t forget that…
Spaniards have a great sense of humour and love socialising! This means that you can both teach English and have some fun inside and outside the class. In Spain, people love gathering over a glass of wine and good food after work, and there’s often a special plan for the weekend: Visiting a close village, hiking, partying…
What are you waiting for?
2 thoughts on “How to Deal with 5 Challenges of Teaching English in Spain”
I am an English teacher too.
This is really a great blog
100% truth of course , your 12 year experience will help a lot to new teachers
keep keep posting more about challenges and their solution(tips)
Thanks for your kind comment. If you have any challenges that you would like us to write about, please let us know.