*This post was originally from 2020 and has since been updated. Applications are still open and running as usual.We are aware that COVID-19 may impact your placement. There are safety measures in place to protect you and your students and hopefully, by autumn 2021, the situation will have improved significantly.*
Do you want to get paid to teach your native language around the world? Been wanting to ‘Shut Up and Go’, but not quite sure how? Then working as a Foreign Language Assistant might be just the job for you!
Common languages that are in demand include teaching Arabic, English, French, German, Italian, Mandarin, Russian, Portuguese and Spanish.
We’ll focus mostly on the British Council’s English Language Assistant programme. If you wish to teach a language other than English, check out your government’s website, or the website of the country that you’d like to live and work in.
English Language Assistants help teachers across the world to teach English to students of various ages and levels.
You may be placed at a university, secondary school, primary school or specialised language institution. You may teach small groups yourself or take a whole class with a teacher in the room with you. The class size depends on the school.
I worked at a lycée (similar to an A level college) and collège (secondary school) in Montauban, France. Classes were usually made up of 12 to 30 students aged 11 to 20 years old of mixed abilities, including students with special needs.
I mostly helped my students to learn new vocabulary and improve their spoken English. This ranged from helping students write speeches about causes they cared about, to teaching students about cultural events or preparing for a trip abroad. Subjects vary a lot and you are given flexibility in what and how you prepare, which I loved!
Working Hours / Spare Time
Your contract will typically be 12 to 20 hours a week depending on the country you work in. Some countries offer full-time hours.
I worked 12 hours a week and had school holidays off – it was the perfect work-life balance 😉
This meant I had lots of time for other hobbies such as learning French, travelling and attending video classes – learning how to edit in French was a challenge! I also joined some of my students’ sports classes and tried out rock climbing, boxing and even – you would not believe it – wrestling!
I chose the programme to improve my language skills (focusing currently on French and Spanish), travel and immerse myself in a new culture.
I had no plans to work with children in the future or even be a teacher. That’s not important, but of course, it looks great on your CV if this is something you want to do.
Others may wish to improve their public speaking skills. It is a fairly simple way to live abroad!
There are so many countries on offer! You can find the list on the programme’s website.
If you are applying through the British Council, the countries available for 2021/22 are:
Argentina, Austria, Belgium, Canada, Chile, China, Colombia, Ecuador, France (including the French overseas territories (Outre-mer) Guadeloupe, French Guiana, La Réunion, Martinique and Mayotte, Germany, Hong Kong, Italy, Mexico, Spain (including the islands) and Switzerland.
When applying, you choose your top three countries. When allocated a country, you then put your preferences for the type of region.
You’re not always given your first choice, so be open to different regions. And remember – being placed in the middle of nowhere could be an exciting challenge, and help you learn about the culture and language at top speed!
Each country has different entry requirements. Many countries don’t require previous teaching experience or even a high level of the local language!
The British Council programme tends to expect that you’ve completed two years of a university degree in any subject, and have a C2 level of English on the Common European Framework of Reference for Languages.
Myth buster: Despite it being a British programme, you don’t need a British passport to apply to teach in most of the countries! However, they do ask for a European passport. You have to have lived in the UK for two years as you will be teaching about British culture.
You fill in an online application form on the Language Assistant website.
I wrote a personal statement that highlighted all the experiences I had with teaching and working with children as well as jobs that developed skills that would be important with teaching.
I have put advice on the application process at the end.
Another myth buster: you do not have to have experience with children or a teaching qualification like TEFL for most placements.
Money, Money, Money
The placements are PAID and your salary is enough to cover living costs.
The salary for each country is different and will be specified on the Language Assistant website before applying, including how much living costs are too.
In France, the salary is around 800 euros a month, after-tax. Remember, this is for only 12 hours a week! You even get paid during the school holidays when you’re not working.
Some schools provide accommodation but other regions expect you to find your own.
In France, you can apply for some money towards paying your rent from the government if your wages are low, in a scheme called ‘l’aide personnalisée au logement’ (APL).
Many assistants also find side hustles to earn some extra money. This can be tutoring, babysitting or working in a bar. Whether you want to save or spend, you’ll appreciate the extra cash. Let the money rollll in. Tutoring and babysitting is usually cash in hand. You can use word of mouth, make posters or advertise online on forums like Leboncoin.
If you are applying as part of a study abroad programme at your university, you may be eligible for Erasmus funding. Check whether grants or scholarships are available for you to move abroad.
If accepted, you will apply for an International Child Protection Certificate to show that you have no criminal convictions. This year, it costs £75.
Placements tend to be six months or one year long. In France, the placements run from October to April.
The months you work depend on the country and region, as you follow the school calendar for the location.
Will COVID-19 impact my placement?
Applications are proceeding as normal. With the vaccine rollout underway, hopefully, by the time you begin your placement in autumn, it will be safer to work abroad. There may be unexpected delays to the process due to COVID-19.
Last year, the scheme still went ahead in some countries despite COVID-19. Many teaching assistants taught online to begin with.
Advice on the Application Process:
But what if I do not have ANY experience working with young people or teaching?
That’s fine too! I added in work experience that was completely unrelated, but I related it back to teaching. For example, having worked with technology and radio, I wrote that I could record a podcast or radio show with my students.
I also mentioned my love of learning new languages and meeting people from all around the world, citing my previous work and study abroad opportunities as examples. Again, this is not necessary, but showing you can adapt to a different culture and that you have an understanding of cultural differences is always a plus!
What examples can I use?
Think outside the box! Perhaps you helped teach others a game, tutored a neighbour’s child with their homework regularly, or showed someone how to work with the software you like using.
You don’t have to have specific experience, but anything related to teaching others or working with young people does help, even if it was a one-off experience. I even included volunteer work that I had done for just one day, and the work experiences I had when I was a naive teenager.
Examples I used included volunteering to teach English to refugees whilst at university, tutoring and babysitting.
I even included work I’d done when I was 14! I volunteered as a Girl Guiding leader and I had work experience at my old primary school. Even though these were nearly a decade ago, I still included them!
Can you choose which region and type of school you will be placed in?
Unless you have special requirements, probably not.
I didn’t put down a preference for class type as I was happy with any age, and each type of institution will have its pros and cons.
In the application, they ask for preferences of which age you’d like to teach, and regional preferences for the countries you put down. However, you are not guaranteed your preferences.
Please read the requirements for each country carefully, to save you time and stop you making the same mistakes I made!
The British Council use the Common European Framework of Reference for Languages.
Spain, China and Hong Kong have no language requirements. The other countries require A2 or B1 level of the local language.
I had studied ‘Spanish 1B’. When applying, I thought 1B was equivalent to B1. Spoiler alert: It’s not!
My Spanish was not of a high enough level for South or Central America but was high enough to teach in Spain, which when I applied required A2 level but now has no language requirements.
Do I need to have an interview?
For teaching in France, I didn’t have an interview. They just used my personal statement, so make sure you spend time writing a very good statement!
For Spain, you do not need to speak any Spanish. However, when I applied in 2018, Spain required A2 level of Spanish. I had an interview just to check my level of Spanish and it was the easiest interview ever. Just 3 questions; “What is your name?”, “How are you?” and “What do you like about Spanish culture?” For the last question, I said I love Spanish music, dancing and food. Fastest and easiest interview ever. It was over in minutes! I found out later that day that I passed.
Make sure you ask someone to write your reference before the deadline, as references should be completed by the 10th of February 2021 at 4 pm GMT, one week after the applications close.
I asked my tutor at university. You can ask previous employers or teachers. As much as it is tempting, do not ask your family or your best friends…
I also asked my language teachers for advice, as many language teachers have previously been assistants in other countries!
Applications are now open and close on the 3rd of February 2021.
If you have specific questions about the application process, I’d be very happy to answer them. Please get in touch on social media or email me!
Meet Nellie: she is best known for her wild adventures and daring challenges. Whether it’s cycling across countries, travelling with strangers or trying to live rent-free, Nellie has done it all.
This post was originally published on Third Culture Nellie.