A language assistant serves as the support system for a school’s language department. Language assistants are native speakers of the foreign language taught in the school. Duties often include leading discussion sections on language and culture, providing supplementary feedback for student work, tutoring small groups of students or individuals, proofreading, and even teaching a full lesson under teacher supervision. What information should language assistants consider prior to starting the job?

The Language Assistant and the Language Department

The language department is an important resource for language assistant support. Teachers can recommend resources, provide insight on lesson planning, and educate assistants about the country’s school system. Getting to know the teachers in the department is important; they can help with any questions, including about the foreign country in general!

Don’t be afraid to go to the department with questions or concerns. Language assistants are not expected to be all-knowing. Here are a few things to ask about, by no means an exhaustive list:

What are individual teachers’ expectations of the language assistant? Each teacher may have a different interpretation of the assistant’s role.

To elaborate on the above question, how much freedom will the assistant have in choosing a lesson topic, structuring the lesson, etc.?

What are the school’s expectations for students’ language ability at a particular level?

What is the extent of the school’s library and media resources for the language department?

Are there any particular recommended lesson formats?

How is the education system in the school/country structured? Are students at a specific level preparing for a major end-of-year test, or are there ongoing student projects in a particular year?

Teaching Material Suggestions for Language Assistants

Language assistants should, if possible, learn in advance the resources available at the school, e.g. whether there is modern technology such as internet, projectors, etc. available. If a language assistant owns a laptop, this is often an essential lesson accessory, especially if the school itself lacks technology resources. Here are a few useful materials to get started:

Newspapers and magazines (including online versions if materials are too bulky)

DVDs (or YouTube, which is good suitcase space-saving alternative)

Photographs from home, school yearbooks, or an online or computer photo album of photos from home and school to save space

Favorite classic stories/folk tales from the home country

Lesson Plan Ideas for Language Assistants

A variety of conversation games is essential, as this is one of the language assistant’s primary purposes: to get students talking! Here are a few suggestions:

Introductory lesson: name games, getting to know the language assistant (photos, a quiz, etc.), two truths and a lie, pairing up students to ask each other questions and sharing information with the class

Creative everyday lesson ideas: creating a newspaper article or comic strip, performing skits using specific vocabulary, debating two or more sides of an issue, listening to a song and analyzing the lyrics, practicing everyday situations with new vocabulary

Backup activities for extra time: Hangman, Twenty Questions, I Spy, quiz game on that day’s lesson

Being a language assistant in a foreign country is not only a teaching experience but a learning experience. It is a job requiring creativity, imagination, spontaneity, flexibility, and an interest in teaching. A job as a language assistant abroad can be a fun, challenging, and rewarding experience.