Language Assistants in Bilingual Schools
José Antonio Alcalde, Bilingual Coordinator
Elizabeth Therese Gaughan, Language Assistant
La Arboleda Secondary School, Lepe (Huelva) SPAIN
Importance of Language Assistants
Language assistants are valuable as native speakers of the target language. They
effortlessly model correct English and are able to pick up on errors or unnatural
speech that a nonnative teacher may not notice.
Language assistants are especially important as speaking and pronunciation models.
Through language assistants, students are exposed to native accents, natural
intonations, and authentic vocabulary and usage.
Language assistants serve as a primary source on the culture of their home countries. Conversations and
lessons about holidays, customs, and history are much more interesting coming from someone with personal
Language assistants assist teachers by collaborating to plan lessons, create materials, and teach in class. They
also provide language and moral support in the classroom and help teachers in improving their language
Language assistants bring fresh ideas and techniques to the school. They can draw on their own experiences
both as students and teachers to share suggestions for activities, games, strategies, and projects that may be
different and new for the teachers and students.
Qualities of an Outstanding Language Assistant
Desirable qualities in a language assistant are that they are personable and outgoing.
Language assistants should be openminded in regard to new ideas and cultural differences.
It’s important to be flexible. Schedules change, lessons don’t go right, and technology doesn’t cooperate…
language assistants need to be ready to go with the flow!
Language assistants should be proactive and participative. The teachers and
students will appreciate fresh, new ideas!
Creativity is key. Language assistants generally are involved in creating a lot of
materials and must find different ways to adapt language and locate and implement
Language assistants should like being around children. Whether assigned to a primary or secondary school, they
will be around kids all day.
It’s helpful to have an interest and/or experience in teaching or working with young people.
Programs that Provide Assistantships
Though there are different ways for language assistants enter the program, their duties are the same regardless.
CIEE—Council on International Educational Exchange
Ministry of Education of Spain
Regional Education Departments
The total number of language assistants in Andalucía for the 20092010 school year is 1037. This number is
going up every year.
Number of language assistants in each province: Almería: 96 Córdoba: 96 Huelva: 89 Málaga: 170 Cádiz: 146
Granada: 112 Jaén: 103 Sevilla: 203
Number of language assistants according to language: English: 820 French: 148 German: 38 Others: Italian,
The most typical countries of origin are the United States, United Kingdom, France, Germany, Belgium, Ireland,
The general purpose of a language assistant is to share their language and culture
throughout the school. This is done both in class with students and in simply
socializing with coworkers.
Language assistants have a 12 hour weekly schedule from October to May. These
hours are usually spread over three or four days a week. The schedule is arranged
with the bilingual coordinator at the beginning of the school year and is made to best
suit both the assistant and the school.
Language assistants cooperate with teachers in bilingual classes, prepare materials, and conduct conversation
lessons. They may also be asked to give presentations, chaperone school trips, and help with student
exchanges. During special events like multicultural week, science fair, etc., additional help from language
assistants is always appreciated.
Prior to Arrival
Using this time to thoroughly prepare will make things go much smoother upon
During the summer, it’s a good idea for schools to provide language assistants
with a Welcome Pack by internet. The Welcome Pack should contain
information about their assigned school and town, the duties they will be
expected to carry out, and some suggestions for things to do in their free time. The Welcome Pack should also
explain bureaucratic issues like obtaining identification and opening a bank account.
Language assistants and their host schools can make their first contact by email. They can use this time to
introduce themselves to their host school, inquire about materials that they should bring, and find out more
information about their destination.
It’s important for language assistants to plan their budget as it takes at least a month to receive their first
payment. They should bring enough money to pay for their rent, food, telephone, etc. for one or two months.
Language assistants can find housing with the help of past language assistants, new contacts at school, and
internet/paper advertisements. Some language assistants book a hostel or other shortterm lodging for a week or
two until they get settled. Facebook can be a very useful tool for finding a place to live and getting in contact with
other assistants who have been assigned to the same place.
Language assistants must register as foreign residents. They are provided with
instructions on how to do this at the provincial orientation meeting at the beginning of
October. It’s important to settle this as soon as possible to avoid complications with
opening a bank account.
Language assistants need to set up a bank account to receive their monthly payment.
They can get a debit card linked to the account which can be used to withdraw money and to pay in
establishments that accept credit cards.
The language assistant grant includes health insurance. Language assistants will receive a health insurance card
and a packet that explains where they can obtain healthcare.
When in doubt, language assistants should never hesitate to ask for help or advice from their coordinator at their
Starting at School
There is a provincial orientation meeting during the first week in October. This generally involves some
presentations from people involved in the bilingual program and distribution of important paperwork. This is also
a great opportunity for language assistants to meet each other, exchange contact information, and even find
First impressions are very important. This is the time for language assistants to show their enthusiasm and
interest in the work they will be carrying out.
Any questions or concerns about the job are best asked during the first weeks.
During this week, language assistants meet with their bilingual coordinator to learn
about their job. They tour the school, organize their schedule, and meet the teachers
and students they will be working with.
It’s a good idea to observe lessons during the first weeks. The classroom environment may be very different from
what language assistants are accustomed to in their countries, so it’s wise to get a feeling for things before
jumping in. Language assistants should feel free to talk to the teachers about what they observe.
Working with Teachers
Language assistants and their cooperative teachers must plan ahead, establish
responsibilities, and coordinate who will do what. It can take a considerable amount
of time to prepare materials, so it’s important to plan ahead and schedule when
language assistants and teachers can meet to discuss and plan their classes.
Language assistants and the teachers they collaborate with form a symbiotic
relationship. They work together to find and create materials, help each other by giving reciprocal feedback, and
learn from each other’s strengths and weaknesses.
It’s important to communicate about the teacher’s expectations for the language assistant. Not all teachers want
the same things from their assistants, so it’s essential to develop clear communication.
Working with Students
Language assistants interact with students in the target language, both in class and throughout the school. As
young foreigners, language assistants tend to be very popular with the students, which
they can take advantage of to give students a positive attitude towards the language they
Visuals are very helpful when communicating with students. Realia, body language,
whiteboard, etc. can be used to support language and ensure understanding.
It’s important to have realistic expectations about student abilities. Language
assistants need to understand that learning a language is a slow process and that the
students are not going to be bilingual after a few months or even years in the program. On the other hand, if
expectations are too low, students will not feel challenged and will become unmotivated.
Language assistants must learn to adapt strategies to different age groups and ability levels. They should keep
the age and language level of their students in mind when preparing topics and activities. When in doubt, they
can always ask other teachers for advice.
Language assistants connect with each other at the provincial orientation meeting.
It’s a good idea to maintain social relationships to avoid isolation.
They can share ideas and advice, both personal and professional.
Facebook, blogs, and social networking sites are great ways to keep in touch.
Language assistants have a great opportunity to make friends from other countries and cultures. It’s important to
get out and meet people!
Some language assistants choose to take a language course during their stay. Universities, official language
schools, independent language schools, and private lessons are all options in most major cities.
Many language assistants travel on weekends. With the occasional school holidays, there’s plenty of time to visit
places both near and far. Language assistants can plan ahead to find the best prices for the places they’d like to
visit. For traveling within Andalucía and Spain, the public transportation system is quite economical.
There are lots of opportunities to participate in cultural activities like dance classes, festivals, and gastronomical
events. These are fun ways to learn more about the culture and are especially enlightening when attended with
Spanish coworkers and friends. Every city and most towns have a tourism center with information on main sights
Many language assistants join a gym to keep in shape and meet new people. This is a great way to balance the
enjoyment of delicious Spanish food!
Language assistants’ work paves the way for future assistants. Materials created by them,
especially digital materials, can be used year after year and the experience that students
and teachers have had with their language assistants will facilitate the work they do with
Language assistants serve as contacts to further resources in their home countries. In the future
they might help to arrange penpals, school exchanges, or other international projects. They may also be able to
mail useful realia from their countries.
Benefits for Language Assistants
Language assistants can greatly improve their Spanish language skills by
socializing and participating in activities in and out of school. Their
understanding of the culture is also deepened as cultural immersion
provides learning that can’t be gained from books.
Language assistants gain teaching and work experience to add to their
portfolios and résumés. They can also ask for reference letters from the
teachers they have worked with when they are applying for jobs or graduate
Plurilingualism Promotion Plan in Andalusia:
North American Language Assistants:
British Council Language Assistants:
CIEE Language Assistants:
Sample Welcome Pack:
Education System in Spain:
English Language Assistants in France: