Why teaching your native language abroad isn’t as easy as it sounds

Next week I fly out to Spain to begin my Year Abroad as an English Language Assistant working for the British Council.

Spending a year in the Spanish sunshine teaching my native language to children sounds easy right?


After three months teaching English in Paris and running private English lunchtime classes in France during my gap year, this job should be a breeze. But it really isn’t!

In fact, I found it easier teaching French during my university placement working in a Yorkshire secondary school this year.


Any languages student at university would agree that often we are thrown in the deep end with the grammatical elements of our degree due to the lack of grounding of the English language in our primary education.

I could tell you all about forming le subjonctif plu-que parfait in French,  el indicativo pretérito pluscuamperfecto in Spanish or el temps futur compost in Catalan, but when it comes to explaining basic English grammar to a class of children, it’s not so easy.


Whilst working in Paris, I remember briefly looking at my lesson plan of The Conditional Tense and thinking that I wouldn’t need to do much preparation. Any English speaker can teach the conditional tense right?

So when it came to the lesson and I had a group of 15 year old French students sat in front of me asking questions, it took me by surprise to realise I wasn’t exactly sure how to answer.

Why can’t you use that modal verb with that phrase?

Why is that irregular in the conditional tense when it’s regular in the past?

How do you translate *incredibly complex French conditional sentence*?

Unfortunately the English language comes with many irregularities which can sometimes make teaching it fairly complex; this complexity paired with children’s inquisitive nature often requires a clued-up teacher. During this particular class on The Conditional Tense, you could say I was somewhat not so clued-up.

Despite speaking and using English all of my life, this doesn’t necessarily mean that it’s the easiest language to explain to English learners. Sometimes it’s easy to pick up that certain verb is irregular in one tense but not quite as easy to explain why.

Thankfully this year I will be teaching primary-aged children, so hopefully will be focusing on playing games and basic English topics as opposed to formal explanations of grammar structures, but it only takes one bright spark in the class to catch you off guard with a question and you’re stuck!


The British Council and ESL Base have some great online resources for teaching English. Have a read if you are about to begin your adventure as an English Language Assistant this year.

Thanks for reading!




3 thoughts on “Why teaching your native language abroad isn’t as easy as it sounds”

  1. Your experiences sound so interesting! I am interested in perhaps teaching English abroad but it is so complex and bring a native English speaker there are many irregularities we just take for granted!

    Liked by 1 person

Leave a Reply

Fill in your details below or click an icon to log in:

WordPress.com Logo

You are commenting using your WordPress.com account. Log Out /  Change )

Google photo

You are commenting using your Google account. Log Out /  Change )

Twitter picture

You are commenting using your Twitter account. Log Out /  Change )

Facebook photo

You are commenting using your Facebook account. Log Out /  Change )

Connecting to %s