11 Things You Should Know About Teaching English in Spain

by Danielle DeSimone

ESL teachers in Spain? Yeah, they’re an elite group of instructors. They work in one of the most competitive TEFL locations in the world, shaping young minds Monday through Friday, and spending their weekends at las playas. Teaching English in Spain is challenging, exhausting, beautiful; it is a lifestyle that sets ESL teachers in Spain apart from other teachers around the world. So, before you begin teaching ESL in Spain, here are a few things you should know about teaching English in Spain straight from your predecessors: 

View of Barcelonas shoreline
Barcelona does not equal Granada does not equal Madrid.

1. Every city is different.

While Spain has a nationwide love of futbol and good wine, each small village, city, and region is unique in its own way, which makes each ESL teacher’s experience different, depending on where they live. The Arab-influenced community of Granada provides a completely different experience of teaching English in Spain from the bustling streets of Barcelona. 

Living and teaching in a small town is also, obviously, vastly different from working in a large city. Regardless of where you live and teach English in Spain, your experience will be uniquely your own, so take pride in your adoptive city and rep it far and wide!

2. Teaching methods: you’ve gotta be flexible.

You can’t expect every ESL teaching method to fit every classroom throughout the world; different strokes for different folks! As an ESL teacher in Spain, you know that the pedagogy in a Spanish classroom is completely different from a classroom back home, or in a Korean classroom, etc.

For example, Spanish students are used to interacting with their teachers and contributing to the classroom’s lectures. They’re also far more likely to learn better phonetically, rather than if you just make them write notes all day. It’s important to tailor your teaching style to the students you are teaching in Spain, whether you’re in a classroom full of children or adults. 

3. Being “on time” is a fluid concept.

You should know that when your Spanish friends tell you to meet them at 7 p.m., they won’t roll up until about 8:30 p.m. or 9 p.m. Spain tends to run on a different timeline, with everything happening just a few minutes (or hours) later than scheduled. From your tutoring appointments to your dinner dates to train departures, you’ll learned to embrace the fact that you probably won’t ever be on time. The good news is, neither will anyone else!

Sky view near a cathedral in Barcelona, Spain
You need to be open to changing your point of view.

4. Lesson plans (you won’t always stick to them).

As an ESL teacher in Spain, you should know that despite weeks of preparation and an all-nighter of practicing your lesson plan, the day you walk into your classroom, things might not always go according to planned. Your training is obviously invaluable, but when dealing with rambunctious students who have no interest in learning pronouns, sometimes you have to deviate from the plan in order to engage your students. 

Like many aspects of living abroad, as an ESL teacher in Spain, you’ll sometimes just have to compromise. It’s better that you give a little and teach your students vocabulary that they’re interested in, rather than not teach them anything at all!

5. Futbol is life.

Whether you’re rooting for Real Madrid, FC Barcelona, or the national team, one thing is for sure: futbol is essential to daily life in Spain, and the love of the sport is addictive. Soccer (futbol/football) is more than just a sport, though; it’s a way of being a part of Spanish culture, making friends, and supporting your adopted city or team. Don’t miss out on the chance to connect with your inner futbol fanatic during any teach English in Spain program. 

6. Siestas and Sangria.

Who said teaching ESL in Spain was all work and no play? Spain knows how to celebrate the finer things in life, like middle-of-the-day naps and incredible cuisine, and as an adopted native you’ll get to experience these things while teaching English in Spain, too! 

There’s no better way to become ingrained in Spanish culture than getting in on the tapas scene; everyone knows that the best tapas bars (or pinxtos in the Basque country) aren’t bustling until 9 p.m., and it’s cheaper to stand at the counter (la barra) than to sit at an actual table. Platters and platters of chorizo and jamón serrano for dinner? A country that understands the need for adult nap time? Yeah, count us in. 

Mountains in Vacarisses, Spain
Balance work and wanderlust, and don’t forget outdoor adventure.

7. Standard Spanish is not the standard.

You’ll probably arrive in Spain with years of hard-earned Spanish lessons, fully prepared to impress the local barista with your vocab skills. Small problem: you weren’t prepared to be fluent in Catalan, Basque, Galician, and every dialect in between. Spain actually has a lot of different languages and dialects that are much different from standard Spanish, or the Central American variety that is often taught in North American schools.

It can be hard to adjust and learn the regional slang and accent, but you’ll eventually get the hang of it. Local dialects are just one more thing that make teach English in Spain programs unique! 

8. Plan to be spontaneous. 

Once you decide teaching English in Spain is right for you, you have to accept that you can’t plan everything, and that spontaneity pulses through the daily lives of the Spanish people. Spontaneity begins the minute you arrive at the airport, since most schools and English-teaching programs in Spain require in-person interviews with prospective teachers, so you won’t actually have secured a job until after you arrive. 

Even after you’ve landed that awesome, life-affirming job teaching ESL in Spain, you still have to go with the flow. Teaching English abroad will always challenge you, and no two days in the classroom will ever be the same. Even your interactions with your Spanish friends will force you to let go of that rigid schedule you had back home, with dinner or drinks after work being thrown together at the last minute (and probably around 10 p.m.). 

Adventures will come suddenly and without warning, so jump on that moving train when it comes (not literally, safety people!), and you’ll have an incredible experience teaching English in Spain. 

9. Life reevaluation required.

Living and teaching abroad brings on the inevitable experience of culture shock: the sudden feeling of being out-of-place while adjusting to a “new normal.” It might not seem like it right away, but this feeling of discomfort is a good thing. Culture shock forces us to reevaluate our own lives back home: how we work, how we spend money, how we eat, and even how we interact with family and friends. 

As an ESL teacher in Spain, the culture shock of living in another country will teach you just as much as you will teach your students. Through the cultural differences between your two countries, you will learn more about yourself and where you come from, as well as your new home. 

Girl looking out at a sunset
Reevaluating your life is a given.

10. Saving is important.

Okay, yes, you’re going to Spain to teach English and make money. However, teaching ESL in Spain (or anywhere, really) doesn’t guarantee you a salary that lets you live the high life. Luckily, the cost of living in Spain is relatively low, and even the simplest of activities, like taking a stroll through town or sitting out in a plaza for an afternoon, can be entertaining enough without emptying your bank account.

Still, it’s important to arrive in Spain with a little jangle in your pocket. Having some savings beforehand will ensure that you can travel and explore the incredible country you’re living in!

Pro tip: discount airlines are the way to go when booking cheap European travel (thanks Ryanair and EasyJet!). 

11. So much to see, so little time.

Balancing your work life and your wanderlust can be a challenge while teaching English in Spain. The country is an endless traveler’s dream; from sweeping coastlines to rugged mountains, Spain has it all. Spain is also home to 45 UNESCO World Heritage sites and has been used as a set to film Game of Thrones. What can’t they do? 

As an ESL teacher in Spain, you may always be struggling to put in the time and effort to teach your students, as well as taking time to travel for yourself. The important thing is to not deprive yourself of either experience, and always remember the real reason why you’re teaching English in Spain: to teach your students valuable language skills that will serve them later on in life.

Teaching English in Spain is not for the faint of heart. You have to throw yourself headfirst into a chaotic, challenging work environment, all the while speaking a new language in a country that is not your own. But, regardless of the tough times, teaching ESL in Spain will always deliver. If you are lucky enough to be living and learning in a country filled with beautiful people, food, and sites that will stay with you for the rest of your life, you have should be grateful for it!