Talking English Good: the trouble with teaching English in Spain

Talking English Good: the trouble with teaching English

As previously mentioned I’m currently teaching English in Spain with the auxiliares de conversacion programme in Madrid.

However, I have no official teaching qualifications – not even a CELTA or TEFL certificate. I got the job simply because I’m from New Zealand, English is my first language and I have a university degree, albeit in a completely different field of study.

However this responsibility of being a kind of English expert, has put a lot of pressure on my native tongue, making me question words and phrases that’s I’ve used millions of times before.

the trouble with teaching English

I now pay more attention to the articulation of each letter and sound in every word. I question the positioning of words within sentences and am constantly repeating myself to determine the correct pronunciation and intonation that I should be using.

It can be harder than you’d think – especially when you think about it too much.

For example, take the word: Chocolate
How do you pronounce it? I mean, if it was spelt phonetically, would it be:

  • Choc-o-late
  • Choc-late
  • Choca-late

I’m stuffed if I know, to be honest.
I’ve thought about this too much and now every time I say it, I feel like I’m forcing it.

It’s these small differences that send my head into a spin and have me phoning a friend, quite literally, as I send voice messages home to my mum (an actual teacher) for a final answer.

There are also all these battles of British English vs American English.

You know,

  • colour vs color
  • maths vs math
  • centre vs center
  • capsicum vs pepper
  • autumn vs fall

As a New Zealander, we tend to speak and spell the British way, which is great as this is how schools in Spain usually prefer to teach it.

However saying this, I’ve still come across a few discrepancies between New Zealand and British English.

For example, how would you phrase this question:

  • What did you do on the weekend?
  • What did you do at the weekend?

Personally, I would say ‘on the weekend’ – yet I know a handful of Brits who repeatedly ask me the latter.

Or how about:

  • Meet me on the corner
  • Meet me at the corner

This ones your call…

Now I know these are not huge differences and I realize the way you pronounce these words largely depends on where you’re from, even within your own country. TV guilty pleasures Made in Chelsea, The Only Way is Essex and Geordie Shore clearly attest to this.

But when I’m in charge of teaching children how they are to speak English, I like to try my best to teach them the correct way.

The last thing we need is to spread lazy grammar.

It’s bad enough in Auckland, where fobby mistakes like asking ‘Where do you stay?’ instead of ‘Where do you live?’ and saying ‘chur’ instead of ‘cheers’ are all too common.

the trouble with teaching English in spain

So what does this mean?

Should I be teaching English when I’m unsure about the language myself?

Of course I should.
My English is probably better than most of yours. (JK)

The fact is I work with 8 and 9 year olds, so things never really get too technical. I also work with some amazing (qualified) bilingual teachers, who have already learnt English from Spanish – meaning they know all those English rules that us native-speakers tend to take for granted and solely learn through speaking.

You know, sub-verb agreements, predicates, relative clause verbs, participle, superlative, comparative and demonstrative adjectives, subordinating conjunctions, etc. etc – all that easy stuff.


And although other foreigners I’ve met swear to me their English has worsened since arriving in Spain, I’m almost positive that my own has improved.

My only real fault being that I’ve managed to pick up the Spanish habit of answering far too many questions with ‘more or less’ which is a rather ambiguous and annoying answer.


  1. Lovely article & immensely helpful! I’m wanting to teach English in Spain by next fall & I’ve heard only good things about that same program. Thanks for all the info, Liz! 🙂

  2. Hi!

    I’m a first time reader – found your blog after you featured my globe trotting friend Shennae. Just wanted to say this post totally resonated with me – I’m not a teacher but I’ve just started a job as an au pair in Zaragoza and it’s part of my job to help the children learn English – argggh. I’ve found that I’m always second guessing how I speak and also my parents have told me that I now speak with a posh accent – this is because I don’t want the girls having a sloppy kiwi accent haha. Thanks for sharing your experience, it’s nice to know I’m not the only one questioning my own language!!

    Adios 🙂

    • I was just home for 6 weeks, and my mum also told me I speak with a small accent now?! Haha I’m sure its also just from trying to pronounce words correctly instead of like a typical kiwi ‘yeah, na, yeah bro, sweet cuzzy’ etc..
      Hope the au pair gig goes well, if you’re ever in Madrid give me a yell 🙂

  3. I have picked up the ‘more or less’ as well! I really need to stop picking up English off non-native speakers. I’ve also started ‘taking a coffee’ instead of having or going for a coffee….. :/

    • ahaha I remember the first time someone asked me if I wanted to ‘tomar algo’ – I was convinced they wanted me to take drugs with them or shoplift something! We just don’t ‘take’ things like the Spanish!!

  4. I definitely agree about second-guessing myself when it comes to vocabulary and pronunciation. The teaching assistant-teacher relationship certainly had a lot to do with this delicate matter.

    For example, when the teachers at my previous school didn’t like it when we inquired about their use of a particular word, they would simply say it was the British version. (From our perspective, we didn’t want to question the profe’s authority. First, we knew they had studied the British version. Secondly, like you, we hadn’t studied English in college/university.) They had some odd rules, such as saying that “pupils” was only for kiddos in primary school, while “students” could only be used for those in high schools. I wondered if this was just something I had never picked up on, or if it was a specific to British use. However, the following year, a new auxiliar came from London and was just as confused as we were about some of their choice of vocabulary!

    • I have never heard of this pupil/student rule?! How bizarre.
      But glad I’m not the only one who’s second-guessing these things and getting shown up by ESOL teachersQ

  5. It’s so true! I feel like us, Kiwis and Canadians, have the weirdest predicament with English because we have our own way of doing things. Canadians spell like Brits, yet for the most part, have American-sounding accents. At the same time, we have sayings that sound more British, and others that sound more American. It gets really confusing for teachers from Spain. I had so many ask me why Canadians have such a blend of English, but most seem to like it because it encompasses a lot of different things. I’m sure the same is true of Kiwis!

  6. I’ll be beginning my journey of teaching English in Spain this fall, and since deciding to become an auxiliar I’ve become more aware of my own commonly used phrases that are not “proper.” I’m excited for the adventure and cannot wait to get to Spain!

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