4 Lessons Learned From Being a North American English Language & Culture Assistant in Spain

What’s It Like To Be An Auxiliar de Conversación Extranjero (de inglés) en España? Part II: Lessons Learned

1) Doing the auxiliar de conversación program will change your life.

I loved being an auxiliar and living in Spain so much that I stayed for a second year. Being an auxiliar de conversación extranjero cemented in my mind the fact that I wanted to teach. Even if you decide teaching isn’t your thing, this is an opportunity to live in Spain while earning enough money to support yourself. Plus you’ll have good healthcare and a 12 hr work week that will allow you to travel and do tons of other stuff, too.

Yes, this was just one person’s experience, and yours will no doubt be different. I do, however, think it’s interesting to look at what the other auxiliares in my city ended up doing years later:

Of the six auxiliares de conversación extranjeros in Zamora that year (yes, we all knew each other), 10 years later I still keep in touch with five of them:

  1. Two auxiliares de conversación extranjeros live there 

  2. A third auxiliar de conversación is married to a zamorana (they live elsewhere)

  3. Two auxiliares de conversación still teach English

  4. One auxiliar de conversación extranjero teaches Spanish

  5. Four auxiliares de conversación extranjeros are still involved with education

  6. One auxiliar de conversación works in business and uses his Spanish with clients. 

From the friends you make and teaching experience, to the traveling, learning Spanish, and EATING  sobre todo  - you will not be the same person when you go back home. For example, the untrained eye may see  aceite de oliva  with fish in the picture above. But auxiliares de conversación extranjeros wonder… could they be   sardinas   ?    boquerones   ?    anchoas   ?    bonito   ?    ventresca   ?

From the friends you make and teaching experience, to the traveling, learning Spanish, and EATING sobre todo - you will not be the same person when you go back home. For example, the untrained eye may see aceite de oliva with fish in the picture above. But auxiliares de conversación extranjeros wonder… could they be sardinas? boquerones? anchoas? bonito? ventresca?

2) As an auxiliar de conversación de inglés, you must embrace (or at least accept) uncertainty.

Since I had beginner-level fluency in Spanish, I often didn’t understand exactly what was going on (or, if we’re being honest, I often didn’t have any clue what was going on). While this helped me build tremendous empathy for my own students, it was also incredibly frustrating at times. After all, it’s not something you can just instantly fix (i.e., “okay- I’m just going to start understanding everything now”).

Having another American at my same school was a huge help, as I would often turn to him and say “do you understand what’s going on?” If you, like me, are starting with a low level of Spanish, I promise it will get better and that your Spanish will grow exponentially. Keep reading, watching TV, listening to the radio, talking with your friends, and speaking. Check out my blog post on fun ways to improve your Spanish.

You’ll soon learn that your AP Spanish teacher was right when she said it was a waste of time to look up every word you don’t understand. Instead, you’ll learn you have to guess based on the context: sometimes you guess right, sometimes you guess wrong. When I first met a friend for drinks, she said “quedamos en la farola de Santa Clara.” I was so happy that hours ago in Spanish class I’d learned “quedar” meant “to meet up” I just said “ok,” and walked away thinking I’d translate “farola” later that day. Vaya sorpresa when I found out it meant “streetlight.” WHICH STREETLIGHT!! How could you give those as directions? (This is why living with a Spaniard pays off—turns out it was a well known local landmark.)

OK, so yeah, in retrospect I can see how  “la farola”  is  obviously  the giant, ornate, 30’ (…er 10 meter) statue with a four-sided streetlight… but at the time, it wasn’t so obvious!

OK, so yeah, in retrospect I can see how “la farola” is obviously the giant, ornate, 30’ (…er 10 meter) statue with a four-sided streetlight… but at the time, it wasn’t so obvious!

3) Being an auxiliar de conversación extranjero will greatly expand your “single-story” of Spain into a “balance of stories.”

(If you aren’t familiar with the term “single-story,” watch this TED talk.) Before living in Spain, I knew (based on my Buen Viaje textbook) that all Spaniards had blond hair, ate paella, lived in Barcelona, and danced flamenco. My first day in Zamora immediately broke many of these stereotypes: 

However, I soon built “single stories” of my own: my roommate loved to party, for example (the first weekend I moved in, she invited my other roommate and I to go with her to a party). Well, turns out the night we went out she went out with a different group of friends that she’d never gone out with before or since. The lesson here: careful with your generalizations! 

Agustín Gamazo, del restaurante El Chivo de Morales de Toro nos cuenta cómo hacer una buen arroz a la zamorana.

4) This is the perfect low-risk, low-commitment environment to try out teaching.

What do I mean “low-commitment?” YOU’RE TRAVELING TO SPAIN! Well, yes. But, you aren’t paying $10,000 to get a teaching credential for a year while student teaching for only a limited time during the second semester. You’re “in it” on day 1. Moreover, as an auxiliar de conversación extranjero, you can try out tons of different teaching techniques & ideas on an audience. Why? Because your classes are typically really excited to see you. So, find an AWESOME activity you’d like to try out to see if it works. 

But, you also don’t need to come up with lessons when you don’t want to—because, as the contract says, you’re technically just there helping out. Not every lesson was a home run...or a base hit for that matter. But it is so satisfying to see students “get it” after an activity that you put together yourself.  

Speaking of baseball - just try to explain the rules of baseball to your class. PLEASE. I dare you. Make sure you record it and send it to me. Don’t worry, it will go great, I promise! It will be a 4 tortilla lesson. No sad pandas at all.

Speaking of baseball - just try to explain the rules of baseball to your class. PLEASE. I dare you. Make sure you record it and send it to me. Don’t worry, it will go great, I promise! It will be a 4 tortilla lesson. No sad pandas at all.


Auxiliares de conversación de inglés that have already participated in the program - what were your four takeaways? I’d love to hear your thoughts! Did I miss anything or misrepresent anything? Please leave any comments below.