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Do Participants Need to Speak Spanish to Teach in Spain?

English class in Spanish Public schools

By Fahd L., Auxiliar de Conversación in Murcia 18-19/19-20/20-21.

As an Auxiliar de Conversación, the main goal is to ensure that children speak English most of the time. That’s the way they will master and learn the language.

So, is it necessary for the language assistant to know how to speak Spanish? From my experiences, yes and no. Here’s why…

Teaching English to toddler

When the language assistant is working with very young children like four- or five-year-olds then it might be necessary for the language assistant to speak Spanish. At four or five years of age, English is a very new language to them. They will be having very little vocabulary of the language and when the main teacher is out of the classroom for a moment, explaining what to do can be a challenge. At that age, the infants are very inquisitive. To entertain their questions which will more often than not, always be in Spanish, it might be a good idea for the language assistant to be able to speak basic Spanish.

I had to speed up my learning Spanish because I work with infants. They like telling me stories of what would have happened over the weekend, like having gotten a new pet, a new bicycle, traveled to other cities, etc. They talk to me in Spanish despite the many times I say, “Yo no hablo español”! And it’s always nice to entertain their stories. It helps connect with them better. 🙂

On the other hand, infants are at an age where they grasp things easily, and one of the skills they have at that age is learning a language quickly. There are some things that they need to learn to say in English. For example,asking for permission to go to the bathroom, asking for things, or the greetings. Basically, everyday classroom instructions and requests. In this case, the language assistant must ensure that the children speak in English.

Well, obviously when the children approached me for the first time asking for things, I had to ask the teacher what they were asking me for. From then onwards I would ask them to repeat their request in English after I would have told them how to say it in English. That is the only way they will learn. If the children do that everyday or as many times a week they have English, they will learn the language quickly.

Teaching English to teenagers

As for the older pupils, they need to speak English to the language assistant at all times! Practice makes perfect, basically. I also work with primary school children aged six to eleven/twelve. The older ones, (i.e. aged nine and above) know quite a lot of English vocabulary. For this reason, the language assistant must speak to them in English at all times. There is no excuse for speaking in Spanish whatsoever to the older children so that they speed up mastery of the language. I personally think that in this case, the language assistant does not need to speak Spanish.

On the other hand, the language assistant may need to speak Spanish just for them to get around the city or town in which they live. They just need to know basic phrases like asking for directions, what to say when getting a coffee, the greetings. Things like that. Although, in my experience, quite a lot of people (young people especially) know a bit of English here in Spain. So, it shouldn’t be too much pressure for the language assistant to learn Spanish. At the same time, if the language assistant wants, then they may make a personal effort to learn the language.

Consider the age at which you will be teaching English

From the above, one could say that the age of the children defines how necessary it is for a language assistant to speak Spanish. Despite that, my conclusion is that it is not necessary for a language assistant to speak Spanish in the classroom. This is because, the language assistant’s main goal is to improve the children’s English. The only way for one to learn anything is by experiencing a bit of discomfort. If the children know that the language assistant can speak Spanish then they will not put in as much effort to learn the language as they would if they knew that the only way to communicate with him or her is by speaking English. Regardless of the age, the “discomfort” is having to speak English at all times to the language assistant.

If you don’t know any Spanish, don’t worry, you will be with the main teacher

The language assistant is very rarely ever alone in a classroom. There’s always a teacher-in-charge. So, if the children want to ask anything they can always ask the teacher how to say the sentence in English and then talk to the language assistant. The language assistant would then have to respond in English so that the children’s ears get used to hearing English vocabulary. If they don’t understand then the teacher would then translate for the children. This way the children will be more motivated to learn the language.

The language assistant does not have to speak Spanish. I have survived the past three months with my very basic elementary Spanish, and I’m doing great!

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