A job where I help someone teach English, my native language? That’s a piece of cake.
When I moved to Spain to be a language assistant, I thought the job would be a walk in the park. Afterall, English is my first language. Not only would I be able to teach students about verb tenses and vocabulary, but I could also teach them all the cool American slang words that we use, and bring some of my culture into the classroom.
Little did I know that the job would be slightly more complex than I had originally thought.
In class, when a student would use ‘go’ in the past tense as ‘goed,’ I was able to tell them that it’s actually ‘went,’ but when they asked me why, I wasn’t sure. I can speak English fluently, but if they ask me the reasoning behind a grammatical error, I’m toast.
Being a language assistant turned out to involve more grammar than I thought it would. I often find myself explaining the minutiae of grammar rules, like the present tense versus the present continuous, or when to use a preposition.
When I tried to explain some of these things, it surprised me how difficult it was. I know what a preposition is, and my students do as well, but explaining how to use them, specifically in the English language, was challenging.
Being a licensed English teacher, I even took grammar classes in college that went over these exact things. But teaching what a verb is, is different from teaching someone who already knows what a verb is, but not how they operate in a different language. They’re two very different skills.
Over the past three months, I’ve learned that studying a second language is a much different experience than growing up speaking that language. I don’t know nearly as much English grammar as my students or co-teachers do.
This blog post is not meant to scare you away from becoming a language assistant; I don’t regret my decision at all. The job is more complex than I had thought, but it is challenging me in ways that are making me a better teacher for my future students. I’ll finally be able to answer the incessant questions kids don’t stop asking: ‘Why?’