Teacher talks: What it’s like living and teaching English in Spain

As a hugely popular tourist destination, Spain, to many Europeans, is synonymous with sunny beaches, sangria and sunburn. It’s where many of us spent our family vacations growing up. As a result we often have a tendency to take this incredible country for granted.  

The fact is, there’s a lot more to Spain than meets the eye, including a fascinating history and a rich culture. Having never explored beyond the confines of the most “touristy” areas in my life, as a fully-fledged adult with my shiny new bachelor’s degree in hand, I was eager to discover the hidden side of Spain.

What better way to get off the tourist trail and get to the very essence of the the real Spain, I thought to myself, than by going on the hunt for a job teaching English in Spain in a remote rural town that I had never even heard of?

Supply and demand for English teachers in Spain

teach english in spain

All that apartment hunting was worth it in the end!

As a country that places a huge emphasis on learning English, Spain has always been a hotspot for ESL jobs in Europe.

If the fact that Spanish children study English from a very young age at both public and private schools wasn’t enough to fuel the relentless demand for English teachers, many parents also enroll their kids in extracurricular English language immersion summer camps and after-school English language courses.

Teaching English to adults in Spain is also a booming industry, as more and more Spanish companies have set new requirements for their employees to upskill and develop stronger English language skills.

While the majority of English teaching jobs seemed to be concentrated in cities like Madrid and Barcelona, smaller towns in more rural regions of Spain also had plenty of ESL job opportunities as well.

As I was seeking a more relaxed pace of life, I set my sights on Ciudad Real, the town of the famous writer Cervantes and Manchego cheese, just south of Madrid, where there was an abundance of English teaching jobs.

My top tip for landing a job teaching English in Spain: Get your TEFL first!

teach english in spain

A weekend spent visiting the famous Alhambra.  

I found a position teaching in a small school in Ciudad Real relatively quickly, working with middle and high school school students preparing for Cambridge exams as well as adult English learners.

Working with two distinct types of ESL students - adolescents and adults - both requiring very different energies and lessons all in the space of one day, was a great opportunities for me to hone my teaching skills.

It was also pretty overwhelming and, at times, terrifying. In central Spain, they still do a siesta so that helped. Who doesn’t want to nap for a few hours in the middle of the work day?

teach english in spain

Siesta time in northern Spain.

Being honest, at that time, teaching job requirements in Spain were a little more lax than they are now. As a result, I had cheaped out and skipped getting TEFL certified, which in retrospect was a big mistake. Having little to no training in the most effective methods for working with English language learners meant that I struggled to find my feet in the classroom for the first while.

If the idea of standing in front of a class full of students without a clue of what you’re doing isn’t enough to break you out into a cold sweat, it’s also worth bearing in mind Spain has also become one of the most most competitive ESL teaching job markets in the world.

Gone are the days when a native English speaker could walk into any language school in Spain and snag a great-paying job, like I managed to do.

Nowadays, there are thousands of overseas teachers, from North America as well as neighboring countries in Europe, all vying for the same English teaching jobs in Spain each year.
So take it someone who’s been there: If you’re serious about teaching English in Spain, do yourself a favor and invest in a TEFL course!

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And with that piece of hard-won wisdom out of the way, let’s cover some things that were awesome about teaching in Spain:

1. Spain has the best food in the world.

teach english in spain

Tapas and canas - my staple diet while teaching in Spain!

As a foodie, I was in my element living and teaching in Spain.

Food is very ingrained in Spanish culture and much to my delight, I spent most evenings after work eating tapas. In the non-touristy parts of Spain, bars still offer free tapas when you buy a small beer (commonly referred to by the locals as cana) or wine.

Ciudad Real is also the home of Manchego cheese so needless to say, I was a bit plumper by the end of my time there from overindulging. In my year there, the most spanish vocabulary I learned was about food and menus. Despite my local bar owner not speaking a word of English, I bonded with him and his wife over the Jamon, Gazpacho and Bocadillos they sold.

2. The European approach to work-life balance is incredible.

In marked contrast to North Americans, Spanish people have a far better balance between work and life (in fact, they’ve been voted the second best in the world for work-life balance).

Family and person time is highly valued and so the working day is much shorter. In my town, the siesta was still used by all schools and businesses, which meant that around 12 noon each day we had a few hours free to eat a long lunch and nap or get the laundry done. The pace of life is in general, much more laid back and relaxes.

 

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3. You can travel Europe on the cheap.

Teaching in Spain meant I was located smack bang in the center of Europe, where travel was relatively cheap and I could visit other cities in Spain and Europe in just a couple of hours.

I spent my spring break traveling around Portugal and Northern Spain, as well as shorter weekend trips all over the country.

4. Spain is one of the countries with the most vacation days in the world.

teach english in spain

Semana Santa Festival.

Spain is famous for its abundance of ancient and quirky festivals and holidays. Each municipality has 13 holidays a year. Semana Santa (Easter) is the biggest, and small towns like mine did lots of really interesting things to celebrate, like burning fish in the town centre.

These were great occasions to share with my students and create lessons and learn about their traditions. Ever want to see a whole town and it’s people covered in tomatoes? Tomatina Festival in Valencia is just the ticket for you!

5. Ever wanted to learn another (very useful) language? Here’s your chance!

Despite Spanish being a relatively easy language to learn, I hold my hands up and freely admit I did not leave a fluent speaker. I did pick up quite a bit out of necessity. however, as locals in the smaller towns in Spain tend to speak little English.

If your goal is to a fluent Spanish speaker, then immersion is without a doubt the best way to learn a foreign language. You would definitely be able to achieve fluency by living in one of the smaller cities, where you can’t reply on others speaking your native language.

6. Living in Spain is very affordable.

Granted, the salaries to teach in Spain are not as competitive as other places like the UAE and China. However, even with my fairly modest teaching salary, I could afford a nice apartment near the central plaza, a beer after work every day and save up enough to travel around Europe on my free time.

I never worked long hours, there wasn’t lots of extra paperwork (that us teachers love so much) and so I had ample time to explore the history and culture of this special country. I have every intention of going back to teach in Spain again someday. And even retire there, who knows?

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