If you’re studying a language at university and have to take a year abroad you may be weighing up your options. Perhaps you could work, study or become a language assistant on your year abroad.
I studied French at The University of Warwick and spent my third year – the year abroad – in the town of Grenoble. Instead of opting to go to the university in Grenoble, I worked as a language assistant and I still believe it was the best decision I could have made.
I had a great time, but there were a lot of things I hadn’t predicted and a lot of things I’d do differently. If you’re still deciding how to spend your year abroad, or are soon to become a language assistant, here are a few tips for language assistants on a year abroad that I wish I’d known!
Why I think being a language assistant during your year abroadis the best option
In my opinion, being a language assistant on my year abroad was the best option (out of working, studying or teaching). This is for many reasons which include:
- You’ll be paid. This is probably still the best paid job I’ve ever had (even now that I’m 5 years out of university). You work 12 hours a week and get around 800 euros. Plus, as the French government considers you a low earner you’ll get extra benefits. Not to mention your loan and/or grant from the UK!
- You’ll gain SO much confidence. As a 20 year old moving to France I was a lacking in confidence both generally and when it came to speaking French. Working across three French schools where few teachers could speak English really, really helped improve my French speaking and confidence.
- You’ll get work experience. This looks great on your CV as future employers will understand it’s difficult moving to and working in a new country. Plus, it gives you tonnes to talk about in interviews (way more than had you just been studying abroad!).
- AND SO MUCH MORE! There are so many more reasons, but I believe the above to be the most convincing!
Tips for upcoming language assistants on a year abroad
Don’t be tempted to sign a contract without seeing your new home first (& don’t panic!)
This may sound obvious but there are a lot of people, myself included, who didn’t do this.
My excuse is that I was away over summer in Australia and then panicked when I realised I was leaving in a few weeks. I was worried that I’d have nowhere to live and couldn’t afford a hostel. I searched online and paid a deposit before viewing the apartment which is pretty much a big no-no.
My apartment ended up being fine, but I’m sure I could have found somewhere which was much better value for money had I waited.
As a language assistant you’ll earn roughly 800Euros a month. You can afford a week or two of paying for a hostel when you’re earning this sort of money!
The advantage of waiting is that you’ll get to know your town better. You’ll learn about the areas you want to live in, and the ones you don’t. You’ll also have met some other language assistants within a few weeks so could team up with them to rent somewhere.
Having said this I would recommend looking at apartments before you move. This is a good way to see how much rent is and see what you could afford. I found appartager very useful for this. And of course, fling any questions my way!
Get your bank account sorted quickly
Getting your bank account sorted quickly means you can get paid without delay! Don’t waste any time when you get there as the process can take a while. But you will need to have found an apartment first, or have an alternative address you can provide.
Here’s what happened to me when I tried to open a bank account
On entering the bank (I went with BNP just because I’d heard of them before), I had a sit down meeting with one of the staff. This is where most the paperwork comes into play. I was presented with a stack of paper which I was to look through, read, understand and sign; here, there, here and there.
Once I had signed that paperwork I then had to provide proof of address. At this point it turned out a contract signed by both myself and my landlord was not enough proof. I had to wait for a letter to be delivered to my apartment.
After taking the letter back to the bank I had to wait again until I received a letter saying that my cards were ready to collect from the bank.
It took me a further four visits to get my cards. Once I had them however, I had no further issues!
Not everyone had quite so much difficulty, and some had a lot more. It really seemed to depend on who was working on a particular day as to how long the process would take. Just make sure you get it sorted early!
Don’t expect to just be an assistant
My friends and I found that we turned out to be teachers rather than purely teaching assistants. Guidelines from the British council state that this shouldn’t be the case, but if you’re prepared for this you’ll find the job much easier.
Most of the time I was the teacher. In fact, I turned out to prefer this by the end of the 7 months.
As long as the teacher remains in the room and you’re comfortable teaching the class, you should be fine. I found that I had more control to teach in a way that made sense to me.
The teachers I worked with would normally suggest a topic they wanted to focus on for the following week. This could be body parts, numbers, dates etc. I would then go home and prepare a fun game, song and some vocabulary which the children could cover in class.
On occasions where teachers hadn’t suggested a topic, I’d reuse a lesson plan from a different class of a similar age.
Warm up your vocal chords
If you’ve ever dreamed about being an X Factor contestant then this is your chance – with a room full of primary school children as the judges…
I worked in three primary schools whilst on my year abroad. On my first day I had no idea what to expect.
I entered the classroom and after the teacher had introduced me to the students I was asked if I knew any songs.
Yes, that’s right I had to sing in front of a class of twenty-six 8 year olds who already thought I sounded funny, and that’s before they’d heard me attempt to sing!
The only song that popped into my head was ‘Head, Shoulders, Knees and Toes.’ I had, unfortunately, forgotten how high it goes when singing about eyes, ears, mouth and nose…
After my first performance, it really did get a lot easier. I even had fun remembering childhood rhymes and songs.
The kids loved it; especially the 6 year olds who used to argue about who would come to the front and sing it first.
I recommend you pick a few songs before you go and build up your repertoire.
Take your colouring pencils!
Especially if you are working in a primaire! These are particularly useful for making your own flashcards or for using them to teach colours.
Don’t waste luggage space by packing ‘going out’ dresses
You’ll quickly learn that in France the clubbing outfit is a pair of jeans.
Don’t waste space when packing by taking dresses you’d wear to a club at home. You’ll discover that you just won’t wear them – unless you want to stand out as a foreigner!
You’ll (probably) only do this once so make the most of it and enjoy!