I took Spanish in high school and college but after two years of zero Spanish practice, I went from a high intermediate level to a high beginner level. So people have been asking me how hard it is to be in a country where I don’t speak much of the language.
First off, it was not required for my job nor is it required for most teachign abroad jobs. I was asked if I spoke Spanish after the job offer. They don´t really care. While with preschool it has been helpful to know enough to get them to clean up and get in a line, I don´t speak a lot of Spanish with the kids. Sometimes I explain things in Spanish with the help of my Android translator. Many times I explain in English and do it on the board then leave it there so they can clearly see the instructions.
It´s a little isolating because to have a conversation with an adult or understand a child is a chore. It´s like a mental pull up because I just can´t understand everything. I mostly understand words and try to fit them in context. Sometimes I get exhausted from being surrounded by words I can´t understand but I am picking up much more vocabulary than if I was taking a regular Spanish class in America.
I can get by though and I learn quickly by looking up phrases I need during the day and using them often. You can get by without speaking any Spanish. Many people that come here just come because it´s a easy way you travel the world. There are many teachers that come here with no language background and they do fine in their jobs.
You learn fast and it´s important to minimize Spanish in the classroom, anyway. I find myself speaking in a lot of Spanish sometimes. I have to stop and remember they need to be exposed to the language. While they don´t understand now, they figure it out through hearing it and using it. You better believe they know¨sit¨, ¨quiet,¨and ¨can I go to the restroom, please?¨
I wouldn´t let language get in your way of a very positive experience. I would say that it´s not bad once they hit 5-6 years old but before that it is very difficult. I struggle all the time because I simply can´t understand the children let alone the language. You do get to learn their body language and figure out what is happening.
It´s worth all the stress to be able to travel Europe. I´m going to London in two weeks and backpacking for winter, then Istanbul and Portugal are on the to do list. All of this travel because I keep my head down and get through the tough job. It´s a great reward. And the reward isn´t always the smile of a child but it can be.