Tuesday, July 3, 2007

Why teach English in Barcelona or elsewhere in Catalonia?


People often ask me why so many English teachers choose Catalonia, especially its capital city, Barcelona, as their teaching destination. Of course any answer would need to include the attractions of Spain in general – the relaxed attitude towards life, the rather large number of holidays, the gastronomy, the culture, the language and the history. Then there are personal life-style reasons that are more-or-less unique to Catalonia: the moderate year round climate, the Mediterranean light, the miles of beaches, the Pyrenees mountains, the proximity to the rest of Europe and the cosmopolitan charms of Barcelona: exciting night-life, justly famous architecture, excellent public transportation, numerous festivals, various museums, abundant monuments and sights, etc., etc., etc.
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However, there are reasons that people actually enjoy teaching here. One is the wide array of settings to work in, due to the number and variety of language academies and other schools. For example, the online Yellow Pages lists over 500 “academias de idiomas” for the Barcelona metropolitan area and nearly 300 more for the rest of Catalonia. Schools range from branches of all the major international language school chains to small one-owner language academies; from in company communication specialists to networks of teachers who have banded together to offer classes.
Most language academies hire teachers with a TESOL / TEFL / TESL certificate. An individual with public school teacher certification in his/her home country may be able to find opportunities to teach English at one of Barcelona’s “international schools” – private schools for children with curricula based on one or more of the following: the International Baccalaureate, the American curriculum and the IGCSE from the UK. Those with Masters or Doctorates in TESOL may find opportunities at one of Catalonia’s several universities. Teachers with a great deal of experience and advanced training, such as a DELTA or a Masters, who are interested in working as teacher trainers will find a dozen or so TESOL / TEFL / TESL Certificate programs in Barcelona.
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Another reason people enjoy teaching here is the relatively high level of interest in learning English. I believe there are two major factors that contribute to this. First of all, people in Catalonia seem to know how important a good knowledge of English is to getting ahead in today’s world. Second, about 70 percent of the local population is completely bi-lingual, already equally adept at two languages -- Spanish and Catalan. (The remaining 30 percent of the locals are Spanish-only speakers.) Among natives, studying a third or fourth language is viewed positively and, perhaps, not so dauntingly since they have already mastered two. English is definitely the most popular language to study, however, it is not uncommon to meet Catalans who are not only studying English, but also French or German or Chinese or Arabic or one of any number of languages. Indeed, many language academies thrive on the Catalan thirst for languages by offering a menu of languages to choose from.
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Something that many teachers find pleasant about the city of Barcelona is its high concentration of bookstores. Whether the desire is for books in Spanish, Catalan, English or other languages, it is relatively easy to find them here. Most local bookstores have an English language book and periodical section, but there are also at least five English language bookstores in the city. There are also at least two monthly English language magazines, BARCELONA CONNECT and BARCELONA METROPOLITAN, as well as one daily newspaper in English, CATALONIA TODAY.
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English language libraries are available at the BRITISH COUNCIL and the NORTH AMERICAN INSTITUTE. Both are great resources for English teachers and other English speaking expatriates. Located within a few blocks of each other, each library offers annual memberships to the public for a small fee. Non-members may use the facilities for study. Both have excellent selections of teaching materials as well as fiction and non-fiction books available for check-out. Additionally, the extensive Barcelona City library system is modern and most, if not all, branches have English language fiction as well as English language learning sections. All of these libraries are great places for lesson planning as well as personal relaxation and study.
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Currently in Catalonia the demand for English instruction is strong among business persons, university students and young learners. While most of the teaching work is available in the greater Barcelona area, the largest metropolitan zone in the region, work is also available in smaller Catalan towns like Tarragona, Girona and Lleida. Timing would play an especially important role when it came to seeking work outside Barcelona.
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The absolute best times of year to look for teaching work in Catalonia are at the beginning of the school year, just before and after the new calendar year and just before and after the Easter break. During the summer months, the situation is similar to elsewhere in Spain, with some people teaching English in summer camps, some providing intensive summer classes at their schools, some taking a vacation and some returning to their home countries for summer jobs and/or visits.
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Barcelona is large enough to make it possible to find English teaching work other times of year, especially if the search involves help from someone who knows the local job market well and has connections, such as a friend who has been teaching in Barcelona for some time or a job guidance counselor from your TESOL / TEFL / TESL certificate course who can refer you to local schools. Teachers who do not have this sort of support may find it rougher going, even at the best times of year, primarily because of competition from the monthly graduates from the many TESOL / TEFL / TESL certificate courses located in Barcelona. Therefore, a person who goes it alone would need to be well prepared in order to be successful at finding teaching work in Catalonia. Whatever the situation, a local job search is advisable, as it is not common for schools to hire teachers from abroad.
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A question I am often asked is if employers and/or students have a preference of accent for their teachers. In my experience, this is not usually the case. Schools often seem to prefer a mix of accents among their teaching staff because although most students do not ask for a teacher from a particular country, they want to be prepared in case a student does. For example, students working for a U.S. based company may want North American teachers, whereas students planning to study in the UK may request teachers with British accents. From what I have seen overall, schools that hire teachers of only one nationality are few and far between.
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Another frequent question is whether or not a person needs to know Spanish or Catalan in order to teach English in Catalonia. The answer is most definitely, no, it is not necessary to know either language. However, knowing one of the two languages would be of benefit in one’s personal life. And the next question usually is, “Should I study Spanish or Catalan while living in Catalonia?” The answer I give is, “The choice is yours.” The region is officially bilingual, so one can learn either language here. Most expatriates in Barcelona choose to learn Spanish. This is evidenced by the large number of places offering Spanish courses, as compared to the smaller number that offer Catalan.
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The business of teaching Spanish to foreigners is another booming sector of language education in Barcelona. People interested in learning Spanish often find that two of the best options in terms of cost and quality are the free classes offered through the Barcelona school system’s adult education program and the low cost classes offered through the Escuela Oficial de idiomas. Both of these programs require students to sign up at the beginning of the school year. The University of Barcelona offers Spanish classes on a semester system. There are also hundreds of private academies that offer Spanish classes with enrollment open throughout the year. Of course, there are also many private Spanish teachers available. In addition, there are organizations and bars that sponsor “intercambios,” where one can find persons willing to teach Spanish (or Catalan or French or Japanese or whatever) in exchange for English lessons.
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Regarding some of the practicalities of teaching English, language academies in Barcelona generally pay entry level teachers between 10 and 16 euros an hour. Experienced teachers can earn 18 euros, 20 euros or perhaps more an hour. The pay may be less in some of the smaller towns of Catalonia, but the cost of living should be, too. A full teaching load is generally considered between 18 and 25 teaching hours a week. I have rarely heard of new teachers wanting to have a weekly schedule of more than 30 hours. The record-holders I have come across are a former public school teacher from the U.S.A. who had 38 class hours a week and another North American with no previous teaching experience at all who built up 40 class hours. This last person also lived rent free in the home of a single mother in exchange for teaching English to the woman’s primary-school aged child. Some people might say these two individuals were extremely diligent and dedicated teachers -- others might say they were workaholics.
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Regarding the ability to live on earnings from teaching English, some people seem to do fine with 18 hours a week while others require 25 hours or more. How many hours a teacher needs in order to live really depends on an individual’s lifestyle and factors such as how much his or her rent is. Rents in Catalonia vary depending on things like location, space and amenities. Generally speaking, in Barcelona rent for rooms in shared apartments may range from about 250 to 450 euros. One bedroom apartment rent may range from 450 to 800 euros.
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Teaching private classes can be lucrative, especially in Barcelona. A private teacher can charge more per hour than he or she might earn from a school. Most private teachers in BCN charge in the range of 12 to 24 euros a lesson, although I've known very experienced teachers to charge more.
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One newly certified teacher I knew set herself up in Barcelona as a private teacher exclusively right after obtaining her certificate. She initially charged 14 euros an hour but within a few months had gained enough confidence to raise her rates to 18 euros an hour for conversation lessons and 21 euros an hour for grammar lessons. This person did well during her year and a half in Barcelona.
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Two other individuals I know, one American and the other British, are also good examples of what can be accomplished by teaching private students. These two people, now a married couple, chose to settle in a town near Barcelona in October 2003 where they formed a partnership to teach private students. In October 2004 they opened their own language academy and, so, are now employing other teachers.
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During my time here, I have come to know Catalonia as a fascinating place and I feel fortunate to live in an exciting, progressive city like Barcelona. I have enjoyed getting to know the place, making friends with locals and expatriates, as well as developing relationships with others in the English teaching arena, from newly certified teachers to professionals with many years of experience.
The English teachers in Catalonia that I have seen achieve the most success and satisfaction in this field, were those who possessed qualities that Catalans themselves are known for – dedication and a strong work ethic. While these attributes will contribute to accomplishment anywhere in the world, I would say that, along with having credentials and the support of someone who knows the local market, they are key in this very special part of Spain.

2 comments:

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