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Top Ten Tips for Being an Effective Language Assistant

Language Assistant in the classroom

Being a Language Assistant with Meddeas can be a truly rewarding experience. But it all depends on how and if you prepare for it. Here are my tips for being an effective Language Assistant!

Plan and Prepare to Be and Effective Language Assistant

“Failing to prepare is preparing to fail.”

You’ve probably heard this quote before. While it’s definitely true in life, it’s even more true when you’re a Language Assistant.

Planning your lessons helps both you and your students. A good plan will greatly increase your confidence when you are teaching. Personally, I find it much more nerve-wracking when I walk into a classroom without a clear idea of what I am going to teach. Your students will also benefit because a clear plan will help you to teach more effectively.

The online course provided by Meddeas helps immensely in this regard. The first module is all about lesson planning and equips you with the necessary tools and strategies to create effective lesson plans.

Be Flexible

Although you can plan to your heart’s content, being a Language Assistant is unpredictable. There will be times when you are unexpectedly thrown into new situations. For example, trying to keep a group of teenage boys quiet is hard enough. Making sure they don’t cheat is even harder!

Another day I came to school and was told that it was a school trip day. I ended up accompanying a teacher and their class to a chocolate factory. It was one of the tastiest surprises during my time as a Language Assistant. Some surprises will not be as fun: Technology will fail. 

Luckily, you can still prepare somewhat for these situations. At the Meddeas Induction meeting, you will learn about a variety of different games and activities that you can use in the classroom. These are especially useful as go-to activities when you have to unexpectedly manage a class. You will learn invaluable lessons on how to think quickly and act on your feet which you will carry with you into your future endeavours.

Never Speak in Spanish (With the Students)

What’s the quickest way to stop your students speaking English? Let them know you speak/understand Spanish. Maybe you don’t know any Spanish. If so, this is one of the few times in Spain your lack of Spanish is extremely useful! In my experience, once a student knows that you understand Spanish, they will tend to switch into Spanish whenever they struggle. Or perhaps, they will try and speak Spanish with you all the time. It’s quite hard to help your students learn English when they won’t speak it. The easiest way to avoid this problem is to make sure to never speak Spanish around your students.

On the flip side, the teachers will appreciate some level of Spanish knowledge from you. Although you will be collaborating in a bilingual school, it is likely some of the teachers will not understand English well. Speaking in Spanish with them will not only help you improve but will make them form a better relationship with you.

Team Up with the Teachers

When I first arrived, I thought of myself as a Language Assistant. I was in the school, as a Language Assistant but I wasn’t really a teacher. However, after a couple of weeks, I realized my fellow teachers did not see it that way. I was treated as an equal. My colleagues were interested in me. They asked questions about England, the culture, the schools. On the flip side, I learnt a lot about Spain and Spanish culture by talking to them. 

I made sure to always go the extra mile when helping my fellow teachers, and it paid off big time.

Also, I learned that if I helped my colleagues, they would help me. I made sure to always go the extra mile when helping my fellow teachers, and it paid off big time. One teacher took me to a local soccer match. Another traded Christmas gifts with me. I gave him some tea from Sri Lanka (he was an avid tea drinker) and in return, he gave me some beautiful extra virgin olive oil from Jaen.

Do not underestimate what can happen when you befriend your Spanish colleagues!

Embrace the School’s Ethos

When you become a Language Assistant, you become a role model to your students. Kids will be obsessed with you, especially when you arrive. They will want to know which football team you support, what your favourite food is, whether you have a boyfriend or girlfriend, etc.

While this admiration is fun, it means that kids will copy you. That is why it is your job to understand the school’s ethos. It is your responsibility to represent yourself in a way that correlates with the school’s ideals.

Take Initiative (Inside and Outside the Classroom)

It’s impossible to be an effective Language Assistant without taking initiative. There will be many times when you will be given a task and expected to complete it independently.

If possible, try and observe a lesson in your first week. It will really help you understand the dynamic of a Spanish classroom.

For example, in my first week at my school, I was told to assess the English level of every child in the school alongside the teacher. Furthermore, I had to do so using the Cambridge Speaking Criteria. I took it upon myself to learn how to use this marking criteria in about a week.

Taking initiative inside the classroom with also help you take initiative outside of the classroom. This will make your experience in Spain 100 times better! Go to that Tandem. Sign up to that Salsa class. Every memory you make makes your time in Spain all the more special.

Share Your Culture

When you arrive at your school, your students will already have an idea of what your country is like. It’s likely that your students will have many ideas about you and your country that will be incorrect. Be prepared to encounter stereotypes.

Ultimately, it’s up to you to decide what part of your culture you want to share with your students. It’s also up to you to have fun with it, and help your students learn about parts of your culture they’ve never heard of before. For example, I created a quiz about Christmas traditions in the UK. Students were amazed by the idea of a Christmas Stocking and had no idea what a mince pie was.

Choose the Right Placement

It’s hard to be an effective Language Assistant if you’re not on the right placement. There are two aspects to consider here. The age group you are teaching and where you are living.

Remember, you’ll be doing this for a whole academic year. Don’t make the mistake of teaching teenagers when your passion is pre-school. The same goes for where you are living. It’s going to be difficult having to commute for an hour in the city when deep down you know you love the countryside.

Street in Seville
I ended up living in Seville, an amazing medium-sized city which is the perfect place for me!

When applying, it may be tempting to tick every box possible to boost your chances of success. But it’s better if you are truthful with Meddeas and with yourself about what type of position you will find fulfilling. That way, when you start your internship, you can be the best Language Assistant you can be. Meddeas is a profile-based program, not location-based, but you can share your preferences regarding the size of the city where you would like to be placed at.

The Internet is Your Friend

There is a wealth of online resources made particularly for Language Assistants. Especially in situations where you need to get something together last minute, an online lesson plan is a lifesaver. One of my fellow Meddeas Assistants found a customizable PowerPoint version of Jeopardy within her first week. The class loved it so much that she now plays Jeopardy with her class at the end of every lesson!

There are also plenty of online communities where Language Assistants help each other. At the start of the academic year, Meddeas will add you to a Facebook group where you can discuss ideas with other Language Assistants. This type of connection is invaluable.

Have Fun!

Make sure to ask your fellow teachers where the best tapas bars are

Being an effective Language Assistant can be daunting at times, but ultimately, it’s an incredible experience. Make sure that at any point it gets difficult, you remember that! Furthermore, when you make it clear to your students and fellow staff that you’re having a great time, they will respond better to you.

It’s up to you to spend your time outside the classroom wisely. Travel to far-flung Spanish provinces. Meet people from countries you didn’t know existed. Never turn down an opportunity to dance.

Your #meddeas experience will go faster than you imagine, it’s up to you to make the most of it!

3 Responses

  1. I wish we have more assistants like you!!! Im a bilingual coordinator and we are having many problems with one assistant in specific. She only sits in children ´s chair ( like she was a student) and observes how we teach… I have given a document with tips she can use in class, I ve had meeting with her…Nothing works. No interaction with teachers or students. She only talks when I ask her to do it. I will have another meeting with her.

    1. Hi Eva, thank you for your comment. We are sorry to hear that!

      Being a Language Assistant is not easy sometimes. That is why we provide our Meddeas participants with tools on how to teach English as a foreign language through a TEFL-related university course. This prepares them for the real-life teaching, and gets them to be more active and to take initiative in their classes.

      In case you are interested and you want to share some tools with your Assistant, we suggest you other blogs:
      How to Teach Abroad Without TEFL Certification.
      Teaching Abroad With No Experience: How to Hit the Ground Running!
      Fun TEFL Classroom Activities and Games.
      TEFL Classroom Activities to Use As A Language Assistant.
      Top 5 English Teaching Resources.

      We hope you find them helpful!

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