A day in the life of a Language Assistant in Vienna

A day in the life of a Language Assistant in Vienna WU Hörsaal by WU Vienna

This article was written by Alice Preedy, published on 19th May 2012 and has been read 6219 times.

Alice is studying Modern Languages and European Studies (French and German) at the University of Bath, and after spending the first semester of her year abroad as an Erasmus student in France, studying politics at the Université de Strasbourg, she is now a Language assistant in Vienna. Here is a day in her life...
They say never work with children or animals. Well, one out of two isn’t bad! I had very little idea of what to expect from being a language assistant here in Vienna so hopefully this will help give you some insight into what it’s really like.

Having been assigned to two different Gymnasien, I work alternate weeks at each school. One, thankfully, is just round the corner from my accommodation (a mixture of some internet research before applying for accommodation and a dash of good luck). Unfortunately, the one I’m at this week is 40 minutes away. With lessons beginning at 8, the 6am start can still be quite a shock to the system for a stereotypical, morning-hating student like me. Anyway, it’s a Thursday morning, I’ve got my lesson plans in my bag and I’m ready, but maybe not quite raring, to go (it is 6am and I’m a student, let’s be realistic when it comes to motivation levels shall we?).

The morning rush

6:00am Alarm! After 2 months of dreary-eyed scrambling for the U-Bahn, I’ve finally worked out that three different alarms with equally annoying rings are the solution.

7:00am Off to work Hop on the U-Bahn, change lines without even a glance at the network plan (not to brag but after 2 months, I’ve pretty much got public transport down to a tee).

So I arrive at school about 20 minutes before lessons are due to start (always a good idea, the Austrians love their punctuality, and if you’re early, well you’re practically a saint). I’ve got three lessons to do today, one with the 5th, and two with the 8th form. The teachers told me earlier in the week what we’d be doing with the class and what I needed to prepare so I’m all set to go. There’s just time for some quick photocopying, and a chat auf Deutsch with some of the teachers before I’m off to my first lesson.


8:00 – 8:50am Lesson with 5B Dealing with teenagers at 8 in the morning who would (understandably) rather be in bed, can be difficult to say the least but luckily, 50 minute lessons go by pretty quickly most of the time. This class is one of the nicer ones – they are generally responsive, not too sullen and sarcastic just yet (unlike a certain one of my 7th form classes who I’ve been known to compare to the devil incarnate).

Next, a quick break, during which the staffroom is always pretty manic so don’t be too offended if the teachers aren’t at their friendliest,

8:55 – 9:45am Lesson with 8B Even 2 months into my assistantship, I still find it slightly strange dealing with students in the 8th form who are only 1 or 2 years younger than me. Fortunately, in this lesson, I have an assisting rather than a teaching role (i.e. adding vocabulary, pronunciation, offering comparisons with the UK etc when needed by the teacher) so I just ignore their looks which say “we’re never going to respect you” and watch the minutes tick by.

I then have a 10 minute break, during which I’m cornered by one of the teachers just as I sit down with my Kinder-Bueno in the staff room (typical). They ask me to plan a lesson for a difficult 7th form class for tomorrow and the topic? A short story I’ve never heard of. 1 day notice, ouch, but not entirely unexpected from this particular less-than-organised teacher.

9:55 – 10:45 Lesson with 8A Pretty uneventful, I’d prepared a lesson on the Olympics (newspaper article, topics for class discussion and the like) and all went smoothly. Winning.

Free afternoon

I kid you not, I’ve now finished work for the day! So culturally inquisitive person that I am (well, sometimes…Ok fine, I’m a bit bored and no one else has finished work this early), I grab some lunch supplies from Anker (a kind of Austrian version of Greggs) and head to the Kunsthistoriches Museum, I spend a few hours there putting last year’s university lectures on French art to good use before heading back home for lesson planning and dinner. I may have also stopped by Zara on the way back. And H&M. And Mango.

Lesson planning

On the way U-Bahn home I read through the short story for tomorrow’s lesson. Now I have a couple of hours to go through it again (highlighting, annotating), do some internet research, sort out the lesson’s activities, finalise my plan and get changed all whilst wolfing down a Frankfurter and ketchup sandwich (yes, my diet is just that varied and healthy over here) before I head off to my German language class.

German language class

7:30 – 9:00pm Thanks to the annoyingly well-enforced ‘English only’ classroom policy in my schools, getting a chance to practise my German in the 5 and 10 minute breaks between lessons can be a nightmare. Luckily, I found an amazing German class with Wiener Volkshochschule. So after some conversation practice and a few grammar exercises, I leave feeling pretty darn good about myself and my German skills (a much needed confidence boost after my German vocabulary meltdown the other day at the train station with a long queue of impatient Austrians behind me. If looks could kill…)

Evening shenanigans

Although I’m normally busy with friends at the weekend, week days can get a bit lonely, especially when you finish work so early. The teachers, though normally friendly, didn’t seem interested in socialising outside of school at first. But, much to my surprise, a teacher from my school has actually asked me to come for a drink tonight! And thanks to my now well-developed organisational skills, I can go without a guilty conscience reminding me I’ve got work to do.

So, after my class has finished, I go to meet this teacher and some friends at a bar. I wasn’t sure how an Austrian night out would compare with the standard student formula (i.e. drink/dance/drink more/trip to Mcdonalds) but surprisingly it turned out to be quite a laugh. Thank you alcohol, the ever-reliable reliever of social awkwardness. Luckily, I’m free until 11:50 tomorrow so after a lie-in, it’s back to work.

Not a bad life really is it?

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