Advice for future Language Assistants
Emily is studying French at the University of Leeds and has just finished her job as a Language Assistant near Metz in France. Here is her advice for future Language Assistants, and the things she wishes she had been told about being an ELA (and about living in France) before she began her year abroad...
1. Location isn't important
I know choosing the location for a year abroad is often critical for some people. You have a huge desire to be in an amazing foreign city, perhaps one you once visited on holiday, but really your year will be just as good wherever you are. And honestly, if you've applied to be a language assistant the chances are you aren't going to be in the centre of your first choice city! The people will be what makes your experience, and it's guaranteed that you will meet people you'll never forget!
2. "Everyone in Europe speaks English" is NOT true
Perhaps if you're in a touristy area, or maybe Scandinavia, then this may be accurate. But from my experience, you will have no choice but to speak the local language from day one. Even English teachers don't always seem to speak fluent English, so be prepared to be thrown in the deep end!
3. Be prepared!
Even before you arrive, organise yourself paperwork wise, as on arrival you will be bombarded with forms (the French LOVE excessive administration, and I've heard Germans do too!). Also be prepared to wait AGES for internet/phone contracts/insurance/social security etc to be sorted. And after, once you're settled, organise your work schedule and planning for lessons. Do them in gaps during the day to leave your weekends free for...
4. ...Maximum amount of travel possible!
12 hours of work a week is nothing. So definitely make the most of having free time by travelling around Europe. Being in Lorraine was definitely an advantage for me for easy access to the rest of Europe, but wherever you are, make the most of not being water-locked in the UK.
5. Say YES - Or OUI, JA, SI, TAK, etc...
Like the Jim Carrey movie Yes Man, just say 'yes' to everything. At home, maybe agreeing to go to dinner with a 50-year old colleague you barely know would seem a bit weird, but accepting invitations like this gives you great cultural experiences, like tasting traditional meals!
6. Tell your students you speak French
Often schools ask assistants to hide the fact they speak the language, but I really think it's to your advantage to tell them. In my experience (which was at a technical lycée) students aren't confident in speaking English and knowing you speak French and can help them translate words etc. definitely makes them feel more at ease. Plus if they know you understand they can't backchat in French and get away with it!
7. Make a record of your time here
Whether you take photos every day, make a scrapbook or keep a diary or a blog, I totally recommend recording everything you do. When I read back to the beginning of my blog, I am so glad I wrote my experiences down, as so much has happened in between then and now that I totally forgot some memories, especially the little things like conversations or awkward situations when you got lost in translation!
8. Know your role
You are an assistant, not a teacher. You are not employed, qualified, or paid to be a teacher, and it's not fair for schools to expect you to act like one. Obviously if you're eager to teach a whole class every lesson then seize the opportunity, but remember it's not your job and you're fully within your rights to complain if you're asked to take a whole class alone.
9. Bring things from home
Whether you love Marmite or can't live without PG Tips, it's unlikely you'll be able to get it in Europe (and if you can it will cost an arm and a leg!), so bring it with you! Similarly, if you have some good ideas for teaching resources, or you want to show your students photos of your hometown/family/whatever, bring them with you. The lycée I worked in had no electronic boards/projectors/any way I could show them photos unless I had brought them with me (and I know other assistants whose schools still used chalkboards!!), so be prepared to improvise and bringing things from home with you will definitely help!
10. HAVE FUN!
Don't stress about your job, don't spend your year wishing you were elsewhere, don't spend all your days in your room talking to friends from home. Get out there, explore, and enjoy yourself :)