How long have you been teaching English in Spain?
Ages. Since 1990.
Please tell us about the teaching work you did when you first arrived, and what you do now?
In the first couple of years I worked for academies teaching both children and adults, but then I specialized in Business English early on – mainly to avoid having to teach on Saturday morning, but also because I enjoyed learning from those kinds of students.
How did you find your first and any subsequent jobs in Spain?
My first job was advertised on a noticeboard in International House in Barcelona. When I got a job at Merit School in Barcelona I remember walking in on spec, CV in hand and being interviewed on the spot by the Director of Studies. Later, when I got a job as Director of Studies of a centre teaching in-company classes, the vacancy was advertised in the regional business paper, La Vanguardia. These days, I tend to pick up work through a recommendation via a colleague or student, so job searching has changed a great deal over the years, but it’s related to how much experience and how many contacts you have. I think the British Council still have a list of recommended schools and centers.
Did your employers provide accommodation or pay for your travel expenses?
No, that’s not typical in Spain where the market is very competitive, unless you are teaching teenagers on a summer camp.
Is it necessary to have teaching certificates or teaching experience to find employment in Spain?
Yes, the CELTA and a minimum of two years’ experience, and most employers will expect you to have the DELTA once you’ve been teaching for about three years.
Do Spanish schools provide assistance with work visas for non-EU nationals?
Not as a rule, no.
Is it possible to arrive without a work visa and find work?
Yes, it’s certainly more difficult but there are recently arrived teachers who offer competitive rates for reduced groups.
Are there opportunities to earn income on the side from more than one employer?
Most teachers I know are freelancers, like myself. They work for different institutions and/or companies, and also have private students. Teachers on permanent contracts working for one employer tend to be very well-established.
What is Spain like?
How long have you got? Spain, its landscape, food and people, differ incredibly according to the autonomous region you are in. People coming here are usually attracted to the quality of life, the food and the people, who are generally warm, friendly and pretty lively, although Catalans have a reputation for being a bit more reserved, than, say people from Seville. In Barcelona locals always say, ‘We have mountains and sea’, so you can spend your time enjoying the night life in the city, chilling out on the beach, or walking and cycling in the hills. Spanish people love sports, be it football, basketball, tennis, mountain biking, skiing, scuba diving, or synchronised swimming. Then, of course, there are the local fiestas. But it isn’t all bull-fighting and tomato-throwing. The la Mercè festival in Barcelona takes place the weekend of 24th September and the Grec in July, and they are just two examples of Barcelona’s many music, theatre and cultural events.
What is your cost of living?
If you’re renting a room in a shared flat in Barcelona average monthly rent is €350 plus bills. It’s a little cheaper in smaller towns. Spain, unfortunately, has the highest telephone and energy bills in Europe. We also have to pay for water here, which comes to a surprise to some foreigners. As a freelancer you have to pay about €260 monthly for your social security payments, which will set you back a bit whilst you’re waiting for classes to come in. VAT also went up in Spain as from 1st September 2012, so food prices have gone up. It’s definitely not as cheap as it used to be. One advantage is that public transport is still relatively cheap, compared to places like London: you can get a 10-journey travel card for about €9 that’s valid on the bus, metro, tram and trains.
Entertainment is perhaps slightly cheaper than in the UK, for example, cinemas have special offers on Wednesdays. Eating out in a reasonable restaurant went up considerably with the introduction of the Euro and an average evening meal for two will set you back about €90 including wine. It’s better value for money to eat out mid-week at lunchtime because local bars and restaurants offer three-course meals for €12 a head. You can also find discounts for restaurants, entrance tickets, and activities on websites like Atrápalo and LetsBonus.
Is it possible to save much money teaching English in Spain?
No, not much, not unless you manage to find work here or abroad in the summer months. Although centres and academies offer July intensives, there isn’t much work to be found between July to September. Remember in Spain, August is the typical holiday month when most businesses and academies close.
Do you recommend Spain for other English teachers?
Spanish students are chatty and easy-going, although business students are the most demanding, as in other countries. My personal view is that the quality of life offsets the lower salaries. It’s a very competitive market but there’s still a demand for language teachers as many Spanish people tend to have something of an insecurity complex and constantly bemoan their language skills. Having said that, I find that many motivated, younger students studying Business have an Advanced level and are often learning a third or fourth language such as French, German, and even Chinese.
What advice would you offer for others thinking of teaching English in Spain?
As with any other location, I’d visit first and talk to teachers before you make the decision to stay. People are often attracted because of the weather, but the summer months can be very hot in Spain, except for the North, in places like Galicia, Asturias and the Basque country. It’s particularly humid in Barcelona in July and August and the climate doesn’t suit everyone.
Can you please provide some links to online sites geared towards foreigners in Spain?
Favourite Barcelona-based ELT website:
International House teacher training:
Out and about:
Advice on how to become an author:
How many textbooks have you written?
Together with my friend and colleague, Margaret O’Keeffe, we’ve written about four coursebooks, plus CDROMs and online materials, workbooks and teacher books: our first one was a secondary school book for Bachillerato published by the Spanish publisher, edebé, then there was English for International Tourism Pre-intermediate (1st and 2nd editions), Lifestyle Intermediate, and Market Leader Advanced (1st and 3rd editions), all of which are published by Pearson.
How do you work with your co-author?
Margaret and I have been writing together for about 15 years. There’s usually a kick-off meeting with the publisher who maps out the brief. Then we meet up to plan together at the start of a project, we might write some units together, but later we write units separately. We have teleconferences with editors as we write. Editors have said they often don’t know who has written what, but we definitely have different interests, styles and ways of working. I’d say Margaret is more organized and much better at meeting deadlines!
What prompted you to take up writing?
I’ve always loved writing. When I was 11 I wrote and directed a play for school. Later, I studied English and Drama at university and wrote a couple of radio scripts whilst I was doing an MA in Communication Studies. While teaching at Merit School in Barcelona, Margaret and I were asked to take part in a CDROM project, which was a great learning experience. I think we had a couple of lucky breaks but we’ve always enjoyed writing together as a team. After having my son, combining teaching and writing means I can have a flexible timetable and pick him up from school most days.
Did you continue to teach full-time when writing your first book?
When we were writing our first book, it was a bit odd because I was writing during the day and teaching evenings Mon-Thurs. Writers normally do the opposite.
At what point did you feel you had the necessary experience to write your first book?
We were privileged in that we were asked to write our first book, so I guess they liked the way we worked together and wrote.
How difficult is it to break into writing for ELT?
Things have changes considerably in the last ten years or so. If you want to get into writing these days, it’s probably best to have a blog or your own website and offer materials for free to get yourself a name. If you have a great idea for an original book, you could send a two-page proposal to a publishing contact, but it’s more likely that you are offered a low budget project first, like a CD-ROM, or workbook first. ELT conferences like IATEFL are the best place to meet publishers, but there is also the possibility of self-publishing.
Do you have any tips for those who are thinking about writing for English learners?
Firstly, don’t get despondent if your proposal is rejected. Publishers like Pearson do extensive market research to find out what learners and teachers want and they may approach you with a different kind of project all together. Secondly, if you have an idea for a course book, make sure it doesn’t have a short shelf life: ELT books tend to be on the market for about 4-5 years before there’s a second edition. Thirdly, think digital: publishers are looking for ways to offer more and more online materials. And finally, once you are writing, always teach a class or two of the level you are writing for. It’s the best way to get an idea of how the material flows, get instant feedback, and, of course, notice any typos!