The British Council are offering students the opportunity to teach English overseas on a paid six-month or one-year placement working as an English Language Assistant (ELA). Teaching time is limited to between 12 and 20 hours a week, giving you plenty of time to experience the country you are in and pursue other interests. In this blog, current SALC student Lucy McCormick shares her experience of being an ELA, including her top 3 tips for making the most of the experience.

Please be aware that, although applications for this programme for 2021/22 are proceeding as normal, there may be delays or changes to the process due to COVID-19. Any updates will be communicated directly to applicants by the British Council. For further information, please refer to the British Council’s COVID-19 response information and the latest government guidance for students.

Photograph of The Albaicín, Granada, courtesy of Lucy McCormick

Will Residence Abroad be the best year of your life? Unfortunately, I can’t answer that question. I don’t know! However, I can give you my best, first-hand advice and top tips for making the most of your year abroad.

At first, I didn’t even want to think about leaving home to become an English Language Assistant (ELA) in Spain. I was terrified and thought that I was the only one who wasn’t over the moon excited about going abroad. If you feel similarly, I promise you will not be the only one. I know this is cliché but pushing yourself out of your comfort zone is key. There is an ELA orientation event for the assistants to meet each other and, although I really didn’t want to go, it was the best decision I ever made. I highly recommend going to anything similar that is available. I met a group of really good friends and I would have missed out 8 months of fun and memories had I not pushed myself.

I absolutely loved working as an ELA but, from my experience of a Spanish primary school, there were a few surprises so I hope this will prepare you. The school wanted me to teach science lessons in English, using their textbooks to plan. Many schools encourage you to read an English passage from the textbook, have the children repeat it aloud and then orally translate it into Spanish. That way, you can be involved in helping with the children’s pronunciation, translation and understanding. You should also create additional, educational activities, like worksheets or team-based games, which the children can get excited about.


My Top 3 ELA Tips


  1. Go outside with the children at break time. If you build a friendly relationship with them, they will be more likely to engage during lessons.
  2. It’s a learning experience for everyone! The teachers want to better their English and you want to improve your respective language. Don’t be embarrassed about making mistakes, it’s a good opportunity to ask questions and ask for help.
  3. In Spain, you’ll need to embrace the laid-back attitude. Prepare your work but don’t be disheartened or worried if the lesson topic changes and you have to improvise. The teacher that you work with will guide you. Remember that the children’s achievement is not your responsibility.


I highly recommend being an ELA for many reasons. It’s a break from academic study for a year yet offers a fantastic opportunity to improve your language skills. In terms of the future, the programme is widely recognised and so is a wonderful addition to your CV. Although, the most important factor for now is how much fun you’ll have! School trips, opportunities to travel around a new country and the chance to meet new friends from all over the world. The working hours are short, and you will never have so much free time again (especially not in final year – believe me!) so make the most of it!


Both second-year Language students intending to work as an ELA for their residence abroad, and final year students on any degree programme can apply to the Scheme. The deadline for applications is Wednesday 3 February 2021 at 16.00 GMT and you can find more information about the scheme, including how to apply on the British Council Website.

If you’re a second year Language student and want to work as a British Council ELA for your residence abroad, please ensure you’ve read through the ELA briefing slides on your My Placement record. The Residence Abroad Office is available to answer any questions you might have: