So what exactly does ESL mean? The acronym is an abbreviation of ‘English as a Second Language’, and the demand for qualified native teachers who provide this here in Spain has never been higher. Since the recession in 2007 Spain has been working hard to build itself back up. The ability to speak English is a key step in this process because English is globally recognised as the international language of business and politics.

Many parents make it a priority that their children learn English and many businesses are budgeting for English classes for their employees, so there really is a lot of variety in ESL teaching and there is a type of student to suit every different teacher’s style. Whether you are about to arrive here or still thinking about whether or not to teach ESL in Spain, here are a few things you should know. 

1. Find out which students suits your teaching style

Find out what your teaching style is and what student age group it will suit best. For instance, I love teaching ESL to primary school kids in Spain, I find that their enthusiasm and energy is infectious. I am a bit of a clown myself and enjoy playing about and being silly, so primary school aged kids connect well with my style of teaching.

However, many of my ESL teaching friends are uncomfortable being silly and playing games and much prefer having a grown up discussion about grammar. They work better when they can connect with their students on an intellectual level, and therefore prefer teaching teenagers and adults. You will discover what student age group suits your teaching style best through practise, but it is a good thing to keep in mind before you start. Try teaching student groups of all ages to find out how you can best flourish as an ESL teacher.

ESL course material for Tefl Barcelona for different students of different levels of English

2. Remember that Spain has many languages

Don’t get fooled into believing that as an ESL teacher in Spain you will be speaking Spanish! Spain has many different languages – Catalan, Galician, and Basque. I’m living and teaching in Barcelona, and before I moved here I thought I was pretty clued up about Catalunya and Spain. However, I didn’t realise how different Catalan would be to Spanish (or Castilian) until I actually arrived.

Make sure you research your region and learn a bit of the local language before you get here. Sure, you will be fine speaking English or Spanish, but you will gain respect with the locals if you make an effort to speak their language. Not only are you benefiting from a new language you are also learning the culture, with its own unique traditions and customs. Embrace the region of Spain that you are in, it will help you gain a richer and more authentic experience.

3. Always think on your feet

No matter how prepared you think you are for your first ESL lesson, it will not go to plan. I worked all week lesson planning for my year 1s. I created a game based on the Hungry Caterpillar book, which involved handmade costumes of all the different foods that the caterpillar eats. The idea was that each kid could be a different food and the caterpillar would eat through each of them, then transform into a beautiful butterfly.

The kids loved the game and became extremely excited. Probably too excited. I had not anticipated that they would all end up fighting over who would be the butterfly. Year 1s can be very territorial, so if you are not clear with setting up their roles they will fight.

The positive is that now I know that next time I will have to delegate the roles myself instead of letting them pick. I really enjoy this adaptive and constantly evolving aspect of teaching. No two lessons are the same.

4. Consider that your students won’t necessarily be in Spain

I teach in a local primary school but many of my fellow ESL teaching friends do a combination of private classes and teaching online. Teaching online is a great way to have the security of the constant income and regular hours tailored around your own schedule, whilst teaching 1 to 1 provides that direct face to face interaction. Therefore it is a great way to meet new families and feel ingrained within the community you are living in. Combining the two can create the perfect teaching balance. If you teach ESL online you can be working from Spain but your students could be all the way in China! Isn’t the internet wonderful?

5. Discover what motivates and inspires each student

Getting to know each student and discovering what motivates them is a real joy. For example I have one student who is quite shy and resistant to speaking English. However, I discovered that she is very good at maths. Therefore, I tailor our 1 to 1 English time towards what she feels confident in. We were learning numbers in English. We played a game where I would give her a maths problem to read aloud and solve, then she would give me one. She was a lot better at maths than me! (which I must confess is not very hard) but it made her very happy and proud to see this.

On the other side I have a very different student who is very active. He switches off if he is made to sit down for too long. With him I adapt the lesson to include physical games. We would memorise a paragraph together or go over learnt vocabulary whilst throwing a ball, adding more and more complex moves to the game. The more he has to concentrate on the ball catching and the memorising the better he is at both!

My biggest tip would be to take the time to find out what area your student is confident in. Help them learn English through that.

6. Focus on spelling for ESL students in Spain

From my experience many Spanish students learning English as a foreign language find spelling extremely difficult. Spanish is a much more phonetic language  – you speak the way it is spelled, whereas English has plenty of exceptions to the rule and many words with silent letters, that are spelled on paper but not pronounced.

Depending on the student, sometimes it’s important to point out these mistakes but be aware that too much criticism can have a detrimental effect and lower your students confidence. Being a good teacher is knowing when to push your students and when to give them some space.

A child's drawing of a girl and a kitten and a rainbow with text reading 'my favourite food is espageti'

7. Don’t be afraid to make fun of yourself

My students think it is incredibly funny that I can’t pronounce their names ‘properly’. An ongoing game is asking me to pronounce their surname which I then do and then they laugh. This game has been going on for about a year and provides endless entertainment.

8. Teach adults as well as kids

Don’t think you can’t become an ESL teacher if you don’t get on with children. In Spain there are plenty of opportunities to teach English to adults. English is an international language and speaking it vastly improves your career prospects. You’ll find that many companies run their own English language programs for their staff, and many self motivated adults also choose to go to evening classes at language schools. There are also plenty of opportunities in the public sector. With the right qualifications you could also find work teaching in a college or university.

A TEFL Barcelona student teaching an English class as part of her training.

9. Become TEFL qualified in Spain

A TEFL certificate or equivalent is essential. Teaching English in Spain is competitive and those with proof of their experience will fare better than those without. However a TEFL certificate is not just a piece of paper, it is a thorough course that prepares you very well for teaching. You want to go into the field already qualified and knowing what you are doing.

If you want to begin your ESL teaching career in Spain I would suggest doing your TEFL course in Spain, as opposed to back in your home country or online. If you are already here while you are studying you will be a step ahead of the others. You will be building your network naturally, and with the help of your course. Teaching is the same as most fields, finding work is about who you know. At TEFL Barcelona, they provide a thorough career advise section to the course and run practical classes where you plan and teach your own ESL classes (with your mentor in the room for support), so you get guidance and real life experience of teaching.

Nothing will prepare you better for teaching in Spain than actually teaching in Spain!

Tefl Barcelona also has a good rapport with language academies in Spain, so if you prove yourself to be a motivated hard working teacher then they will help you get a job.

hands cutting with scissors preparing a ESL lesson plan

10. Get help with your Spanish Student work visa

Sorting out the paperwork to work as an ESL teacher in Spain can be tricky, especially if you are doing it solo. It is easier for Europeans.  There are ways to come and work in Spain as a North American such as through the Language Assistant Program. You are hired through the Spanish ministry of Education. Though this is an okay option you will have a fixed salary that I found out to be a lot lower than that of my friends who worked at language academies in Spain. Plus, it is highly competitive. There is a year long application process. If you are successful you only have permission to work for the duration of your job.

If you want more freedom and the option to choose a higher paying ESL teaching job I recommend going through TEFL Barcelona. It is an easy and convenient way, as they help you with student visas free of charge. By studying with them then you will benefit from their guidance and support in obtaining a student visa. You will be able to live and work anywhere in Europe for 12 months. 

Written and photographed by Emily Badescu