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There is such a tremendous amount of marked regional diversity in Spain that one is almost dealing with a mini continent. Life on the costas - Spain’s huge coastline - differs greatly from that in the big cities, which in turn differs from life in the thousands of picturesque rural villages, which is again different from the ski slopes of Andora or Granada. Dispirit locations and circumstances are united in a profound love of life, sometimes combined with a slight disdain for work. Spaniards work to live, they do not live to work. Hence it is very easy to get swept up in a seemingly constant round of fiestas and festivals, music and dancing - eating well and drinking well being all part of pursuing the good life in the best of all possible worlds. Despite the fact that practically nothing runs on time, few who have lived in Spain for a spell would disagree with the idea that, in terms of quality of life, Spain is a world leader.
It’s a big country with climate to suit all tastes. Very hot in the south with temperatures getting into the 40s, cool in the north, and snowbound in the Pyrenees. The official language is Spanish, though Catalan, Basque and Gallego are the official languages in these autonmias. English is not widely spoken outside of the principal tourist areas on the costas. The population is 42 million, and whilst there is plenty of hustle and bustle in the big cities the rural areas leave one with the impression that nobody has been there for years.
Prospects for English teachers have long been good in Spain, with language schools catering to the needs of high school and university students seeking to shore up the tuition they get at their main place of study; However, Spain underwent a huge period of economic growth in the late 20th century, and continues to be Western Europe’s fastest-growing economy. This has meant that more and more employers are requiring English skills from prospective employees, and business-specific academies have sprang up to meet the needs of multi-nationals seeking to improve the language skills of their employees. Despite the plenitude of opportunities it should be borne in mind that pay in the expensive big cities is not dissimilar to that in the rural areas where it is much cheaper to live.
Where not to go? The big cities of the south such as Seville and Cadiz offer a dazzling array of Moorish and medieval architecture - often in the same building - along with flamenco music and dance. The costas range from Benedorm, where you will find it difficult to escape the idea that England has somehow been towed into the Mediterranean, to the beautiful and unspoilt Costa de la Luz - coast of light - where you will have trouble finding people who speak English. There are many fabulous places that fall somewhere in between.
Barcelona, in Catalonia, prides itself on its cosmopolitan countenance, and has fabulous architecture, not least by Gaudi, local boy made good. Madrid has all that you would expect in any European capital city: Art and architecture abound in an air of cool sophistication. In Gallicia you are greeted by mountains and mile after mile of moody, haunting forest.
Just about anywhere in Spain you can expect fabulous food and drink, dancing and music, and a party atmosphere that goes on long into the night. A certain amount of stamina is required, and you have to get used to the idea of going out at ten or eleven at night, and having your last drink and your last tapa surrounded by bus drivers and other workers about to start their day.
Anyone wishing to teach in a state or private school can expect to have a degree, a Post-Graduate Certificate in Education and a TESOL qualification though you should check with your prosepective employer first. Though two-years’ teaching experience is not a requisite.
With language institutes, or acadamias, you can, in the main, expect to find yourself teaching high school or university students - sometimes in the same class. Specialist business schools aim to cater to the needs of large multinationals, and with these any sort of business background is an advantage. Enthusiasm for English amongst the general population is nowhere near as high, for example, as it is in Germany or Holland, meaning both the market is not as broad, and the motivation of those being taught is not quite as great. However, this is changing and there is a move afoot to bring English in earlier in the school curriculum.
In the main you will find yourself teaching students of varying ability, sometimes in the same class. However, a great deal of the Spanish education goes into learning Spanish grammar. So with grammar a Spaniard will tend to know what they are talking about. Preparation of classes is key to maintaining the impression that you do too!
When trying to get work in advance it is useful to contact the British Council in Madrid. They will be able to advise you as to where in Spain the British Council has offices. In general they keep a list of language schools, both private and state. In addition to that the on-line Yellow Pages should be searched using the term academias de idiomas. If in the UK, then consult the Guardian on Tuesdays, and other academic press, since it is not unusual to find Spanish positions advertised in the English press.
With this said, the vast majority of positions are filled on the spot, and, as ever in Spain, right at the last minute. The corollary to this is that timing is a very important issue. Most language schools shut for the summer, so September is a really good time to arrive and look for work. In addition to that there is often a spike of recruitment activity in January, when teachers fail to return to work. Month to month September to June there are constantly opportunities coming up, but in the summer you are best off doing what everybody else does, and head down to the beach.
It is a good idea, before setting off, to contact your local Spanish Embassy to see what materials they have available. Most consulates have a one page document entitled ‘Teaching English in Spain.’, and the consulate in the UK has a list of institutes, though it may not be up-to-date. It is worth contacting the Federation Espanola de Centros de Ensenanza de Idiomas (FECEI) which is an organisation of the better, more established language schools.
There is a recruitment agency, and Irish or British nationals with an undergraduate degree and a TESOL qualification may consider contacting English Education Services, Alcala 20 2, 28014 Madrid, Tel (91532 9734).
English language newspapers included The Metropolitan in Barcelona, and In Madrid, in Madrid. Not to be ignored is the vogue for Irish pubs that seems to have swept the nation. A good place to meet expats, and to find out what is going on locally in the English language world.
Some state schools are not prepared to go through the difficult process of hiring native English-speaking teachers from outside of Europe. However, in some cases it is easier to place teachers from the US than from other countries, such as Australia and New Zeeland. Non-EU citizens should check with the Spanish consulate in their native country to look for language exchange programs, etc. Americans may wish to contact Interexchange (www.interexchange.org), of New York, who run an exchange programme.
One of the complications is the reciprocal social security system that exists within the EU. High schools are required to register their staff for a social security card and also pay part of their contributions which means that they may not willing to take on anybody who is ineligible. It is always best to check with the school first.
Most individuals working for institutes are self-employed, or ‘freelance’. Therefore, they are responsible for paying their own tax and social security. New arrivals are required to register with the police, organise a bank account into which their wages will be paid, and get a tax number from their local tax office.
It is important to be aware that private academies can be a little fly-by-night, and may not be up to the mark in terms of paying your contributions or any of the other things that they are legally required to do. The most important thing is to ensure that you are adequately covered against accident or injury if you are non EU.
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