Have you just gotten accepted to teach English in Spain as part of the auxiliares de conversación program?
Maybe you’re considering the option but have no idea what to expect or where to start?
Whatever your current status is, I’m sure you have tons of thoughts and worries running through your head about being a North American Language and Cultural Assistant – as we did.
Between the two of us, we have three years of auxiliar-ing under our belts: 2013-2014 for Sam, and 2016-2018 for Veren. It’s a fantastic way to live in Spain with a low commitment job. Although you must take the job seriously (this should go without saying, but unfortunately we’ve heard otherwise from coworkers), the hours are less than a traditional 9-5 gig, so you’ll have plenty of time for exploring your new city in Spain – and beyond.
Below are some of the frequently asked questions we often get from prospective, future, and newbie auxiliars about how to teach English in Spain with the governmental program. Did we miss a burning question you have about the auxiliar program? Make sure to leave your query in the comments at the end of the article!
So, first things first:
When/where/how do I apply for the auxiliares de conversación program?
First, head on over to the website of the Ministerio de Educación, Cultura y Deporte, which is the branch of the Spanish government that runs the North American Language and Cultural Assistants program. This is where you will apply once the link is live and receive updates once they have started to award placements. (BTW: the auxiliares de conversación program and North American Language and Cultural Assistants program are one and the same. You’ll see them referred to in both ways).
The program application period usually opens around January 1st, so we recommend having all your documents ready (letter of recommendation, statement of purpose, college transcript) by then so you can apply right away. It’s important to know that the program is run on a first come, first serve basis. Applying as soon as you can gives you a better chance of not only getting in, but getting into the region you want. You will receive a number when you apply online and that number will determine your fate.
In 2013, I applied in mid-February, and my number was about 2800. I received my acceptance into the program the last week of June, though I didn’t get into the region I selected as my preference (which was a good thing – I was happy I got to teach English in Madrid). In 2016 Veren applied late January, and his placement was 2281. Veren was accepted on July 7 but didn’t receive his letter of acceptance and school placement until July 20. He got into his region of choice, Madrid! So we continued our Madrid experience.
The application period ends in early April (though if you wait to apply until then, you probably won’t get a spot) and the program usually starts letting people know in late April/early May.
Note: after you receive your acceptance email, you only have three days to accept, so make sure to accept right away before you forget. If something else comes up later, you can renounce your spot, no problem, and they will give it to someone else. There is no penalty for doing this and it doesn’t hinder your acceptance into the program in future years.
For a super detailed walk through of the process of applying, head to The Quirky Pineapple’s post on applying to the auxiliar program.
How much does it pay?: Teaching English in Spain Salary
If you get placed to teach English in Madrid, you’ll work 16 hours for a monthly scholarship of 1000 euros a month. Anywhere else in Spain, it’ll be 12 hours for 700 euros a month.
I know these numbers don’t seem like a lot, especially if you’re coming from an expensive city like NYC, like I was. 1000 euros? That’d barely cover the rent in New York for your basement room in a shared apartment.
In Spain, it’s much different. Rent and the cost of living in Spain are much cheaper. Like, 1 euro beers kind of cheaper.
Provided you don’t eat out every meal and don’t travel every weekend, yes, you’ll have more than enough to live and enjoy yourself. Also, you’re not taxed because the program is considered a scholarship, so you’re taking home that full amount.
Still, most people supplement their auxiliar income with private lessons, or clases particulares. This could be anything from playing with toddlers (while speaking only English) to having conversations in English with adults. I taught a range of classes because I didn’t go searching for classes and simply took whatever fell into my lap through fellow teachers or friends.
I’d recommend against doing this.
You’ll probably like teaching one age group over others. There will be demand for all age groups, so only seek out and take those gigs. You’ll be so much happier and avoid awkwardness of having to back out of a job if you really hate it later.
It’s definitely helpful to have extra spending money, so if you do private lessons, don’t go for anything less than 15 – 20 euros an hour in Madrid (in other cities and smaller towns this will be less, maybe 10-12 euros an hour), depending on the prep you do, how far you have to travel, how often they want lessons, etc. There will be tons of people willing to pay you that amount, they’ll tell their friends, and then you’ll have more lessons than you know what to do with, if that’s what you want. You can also look for classes on LingoBongo.com.
I used the money from private lessons as spending money and just paid for large expenses like rent and traveling with my paycheck from the government, while saving up enough to travel for four months afterwards!
Quick aside: you’ll have to get a Spanish bank account to get paid via direct deposit. We used Sabadell as they don’t require you to have a TIE (foreign residency card) when you open the account, you can just do it with your passport. You’ll need a bank account open before you’re able to get your TIE in hand, as you will be paid by direct deposit from your school.
Should I get a TEFL?: Teaching English in Spain Requirements
You might be thinking, “I’ve never taught English/anything/I don’t have a TEFL (Teaching English as a Foreign Language) certificate – how am I going to teach?!”
First off, chill. You’re not alone. While (unfortunately) the program doesn’t train you, you also don’t need a TEFL certificate to do the auxiliary program in Spain. Remember, you’re a “North American Language and Cultural Assistant” – the key word here being assistant. As in, not a full teacher.
Expect an email with a contact person at your school, and then no more contact until the orientation. The orientation was mostly useless, the mid-year evaluation even more so. If the idea of a program like this scares you, there are teach English in Spain programs like CIEE, which costs $2,000. I didn’t do the program, so I can’t comment on it, but that seems like an exorbitant price just for some hand-holding in the form of accommodations when you first get there, and some activities and orientation. You literally get the same job as others who applied for free through the governmental website I linked above.
My advice would be to save that money for when you get to Spain. You’ll need to have enough saved for the first month or so before you get paid. You’re supposed to be paid November 1st, but timeliness of paychecks varies greatly depending on region. Auxiliares in Madrid never have problems being paid on time. Veren was even regularly paid early!
Luckily, the Internet exists to help you fumble your way through teaching. Lauren of Spanish Sabores has a great post listing English teaching resources. I also used busyteacher.org. One of my co-teachers used lyricstraining.com as a fun activity for those times when a long holiday break is coming up soon and students can’t concentrate on anything.
For private classes, I used www.esl-lab.com for listening activities at a variety of different learning levels. In the beginning of the lessons I asked them what their interests were and then tried to find listening or news (Breaking News English is great for that because they have articles in different levels), that way they learn vocabulary they’re interested in. Just ask them what they really want (listening, help preparing for an exam, etc) and then you can make sure to help with that.
What will my time in the classroom be like as a North American Language and Cultural Assistant?
This is a hard question to answer because teaching English in Spain varies so much based on your fellow co-teachers and the school. I taught in two inner city schools, while Veren taught in a school in an affluent suburb. Our experiences were vastly different, not only with our fellow teachers, but with the students we were teaching.
Some teachers really know how to best utilize auxiliares de conversación, and will give you smaller groups of more advanced students to chat and do conversational activities with. This is where having a native speaker really does matter. These were our favorite types of classes, as you could get to know the kids and make an impact on their English learning experience by making it fun and enjoyable.
In many cases though, you’ll find yourself helping kids fill out worksheets, grading tests (though technically you’re not “supposed” to be doing this), or watching movies with students (this especially happens before Spanish holiday breaks like Christmas and summer). Around American holidays, you’ll definitely be sharing those traditions with classes, probably in PowerPoints with photos of you in embarrassing Halloween costumes (mostly Sam did this). Bring in and show pictures of your family, friends, celebrating holidays or American events like prom – they’ll love it.
Basically, teaching as an auxiliar is unpredictable. It’s a good idea to have to go-to, quick activities for all levels in your back pocket, as you never know when the main teacher won’t be there and you need to teach something. For an idea of what your first couple days might be like, head over to my old blog, The Road Goes Forever On, which I started when I first moved to Spain two years ago.
What can auxiliares de conversación in Madrid expect?
There are the highest number of auxiliares in Madrid so if you really want to live there, you’re in luck! Get your application in early and choose Madrid as your preferred region, and you’ll likely receive a spot there. Madrid auxiliares can expect to be paid on time, 1000 euros per month, and work 16 hours a week. The program runs from October to the end of June.
As the Spanish capital, Madrid is more cosmopolitan than a typical regional capital, and you’ll find many other expats in Madrid. This can be good or bad, depending on if you really want to immerse yourself into Spanish culture (though this of course can be done in Madrid as well). There’s always something to do in Madrid, from free museum nights to festivals, to just going out for tapas. The city has a great public transportation system (and if you’re under 26 you can get an unlimited pass to the whole region for just 20 euros a month!).
Madrid is home to approximately 3 million people, so if you’re coming from a smaller place, big city living might be a bit of an adjustment. Still, Madrid is like a small big city. The historic center is small and walkable. We often ran into people we knew while out and about, giving it a small town feel.
Gah! What do I bring with me to Spain?
Good news! We’ve written a whole post on this one:
Remember that besides key things like your passport, you can get everything you need in Spain.
However, as you’re first settling in, there many be some things that aren’t as easy to find as you’re used to, so you might want to bring them to ease the transition. Also, while most things are cheaper in Spain, electronics aren’t – so make sure yours are in good working order before you make the move.
Also, contrary to popular belief, it does get cold in winter, so make sure you’re prepared!
How am I supposed to find an apartment in Spain before I get there?
Two words: you don’t.
PLEASE do not agree to an apartment before you have seen it in person.
Even worse, do not send money. You’d think this would be common sense, but apparently it’s not. People still do this. An apartment might sound amazing on paper when in reality it’s a shithole. And while it might seem terrifying to move to a foreign country without a permanent place to live, it’d be way worse to arrive at your new apartment, realize it’s awful, and then have to find a new place.
When I moved to teach English in Madrid by myself, I couchsurfed for a bit and looked for rooms, but I had no idea what I wanted or where I wanted to live. I ended up living in a room in one of my co-teachers apartments as she had a language assistant living there the year before. There might be a similar possibility through your school, you’d just have to ask.
In March, I ended up moving to be in a cooler neighborhood with Spanish roommates my age. The first neighborhood I lived in was nice, but it was all families and older people, further from the center than I wanted to be, and while the teacher I lived with was incredibly nice and lovely, it didn’t feel like my space at all. Most people I knew moved a few months in, as they got to know the city and what they wanted.
I knew I wanted to move after about a couple months, but delayed it because I was intimidated by looking for an apartment again. But once I did, I was so glad I did it. Just go for it if you’re unhappy in a place, it’ll work out and you’ll be so glad you did. It’s also much easier to look for an apartment midway through the year. August through October are notoriously the worst. So if you really don’t like the place, moving later is always an option.
For finding my second piso (apartment), I used Idealista, but other people had luck with Easypiso. I got really lucky because the apartment I ended up with was one of the first apartments I looked at. I clicked well with the other girls and it was in a great neighborhood, right on a plaza. And all for 270 euros a month! (This was in 2014 and those days are over. Now the same room would probably go for 400-550).
You can also use the following Facebook Groups for apartment hunting:
Search Facebook using “pisos + your city” to find targeted groups. When looking for apartments, make sure to ask about gastos (expenses: gas, electricity, heat, etc) and what is included and what isn’t. Also, don’t waste your time looking at rooms that aren’t ambuelado (furnished). You really don’t want to deal with buying furniture and then selling it all when you leave. It seemed way more common to me that rooms in Spain were furnished though, so it shouldn’t be a problem.
How do I make friends in Spain?
Yep, it can be pretty damn scary to move to a completely foreign country where you know not a single soul. Making new friends is terrifying for us introverts of the world even in our home countries.
If you’re looking to improve your Spanish and make new friends, definitely attend language exchanges (intercambios). It’s a great and informal way to meet and befriend Spaniards who want to practice their English, while getting to practice your Spanish.
Intercambios can be held in bars, or you can meet someone one-on-one for more dedicated conversation practice. Sadly, the bar hosting my favorite language exchange/pub quiz, Pequeños Placeres, closed in 2016. I had some great times and met fantastic people there with whom I remain friends to this day, despite the fact that none of us even live in Madrid anymore. To find other language exchanges check out LingoBongo.com, meetup.com or even couchsurfing.com.
I wish I had done more of the hobbies I do at home, as I think I’d have met more cool people that way. I was still too nervous of my Spanish abilities when I first got there. Learn from mistakes and find the thing you love in your new Spanish city.
How can I travel around or outside of Spain?
As an auxiliar, you get three day weekends every weekend (what???) longer weekends when there are bank holidays, and several week long breaks for winter and Semana Santa. You’ll probably end up traveling with other auxiliars, as they have the same schedules (just make sure you all want the same things out of your trip)! Transportation options depend the availability of the city you’re placed in. If you’re an auxiliar de conversación in Madrid, you’re pretty much in the center of everything, so you can weigh your different transportation options. Most of these will be available in larger cities:
- Train – Renfe; AVE is the high speed
- Bus – Alsa is a big one
- Plane – Ryanair is the go-to budget airline for auxiliars
- Car – Rideshare with BlaBlaCar or rent (we’ve always used Sixt and it’s cheap and great)
For more Spain travel tips, head to our Spain archives.
If you love pets, you could even travel around Spain and Europe via house sitting! During our time in Spain, we loved house sitting over long breaks. We house sat in Florence for Christmas, England and Scotland over the summer holidays, and Granada and Valencia over long weekends!
Cadaqués, Spain. Renting a car allows you the freedom to explore smaller towns, and can be affordable if you split with a group of people (provided someone can drive stick shift!).
I’m vegan/vegetarian/gluten-free – will I survive in Spain?
In most big Spanish cities, you’ll be more than fine, as most have vegan restaurants and little vegan scenes. You might find things a bit more difficult in smaller towns, but there are always fresh and cheap produce and other groceries available for cooking on your own.
Madrid is one of the most vegan-friendly cities in Europe, with over 30 vegan establishments, several vegan grocery stores, vegan bakeries, and more. We’ve written a lot about vegan Madrid, including an entire vegan guidebook to Madrid! We also have a Vegan Madrid Tapas Guide, a Guide to the best vegan Menus del Dia in Madrid, and an Ultimate Vegan Guide to Madrid.
If you’re in Granada, check out our Vegan Tapas in Granada guide. Gonna be in Valencia? We’ve got a vegan Valencia guide too. Basque Country travels got you worried you won’t find veggie-friendly pintxos? Check out our Vegan Guide to the Basque Country.
In all of our guides, we note gluten-free options too.
Where do I find other information and ask questions?
Again, the program is very hands off. Expect aloof responses to emails if you get them, and forget about going somewhere in person to get your questions answered.
That being said, current and previous auxiliares de conversación have rallied on Facebook, creating immensely helpful groups for others teaching English in Spain. While some people treat the groups as Google and will ask anything, start trolling, etc, there is a lot of gold on there if you wade through the muck and know what you’re looking for.
I’ve stored bags for cheap at people’s houses (while traveling), found private lessons, bought things, learned about the visa/residency card process, and found out about lots of events through the Facebook groups.
Just for the love of croquetas, use the search function. Chances are someone else has asked the same question.
Key Facebook Groups for Auxiliares de Conversación:
Auxiliares de Conversación en MADRID: This group is massive. There are also year specific groups that pop up every year, as well as region-specific groups, so just search Facebook for those. But please, for your own sanity, turn off notifications. You don’t want to be hearing that ding every time someone is trying to exchange dollars for euros.
Auxiliares de Conversación en España: This group is for all of Spain and is a little smaller and more manegable than the Madrid one.
2018-2019 specific groups: search “Auxiliares de conversación en X place” to find the group for this year and your desired region.
No matter where you’re placed you’ll probably pass through Madrid at one point or another, so for more info on exploring Madrid’s main sights on a budget, head to this round-up post: