Wendy Newman, ALL Professional Officer

British Council Language Assistants will bring language and culture alive in your school – here’s everything you need to know about the scheme.

What is a Language Assistant?

Every year, around 2,500 Language Assistants from the UK support the teaching of English in 14 countries around the world. Each one is taking part in a project that traces its heritage back to 1905. It began as an exchange programme to enable graduates from France to help English students to learn French, with ‘young Masters in English secondary schools’ heading to France to perform a similar role. Shortly afterwards, a similar agreement was reached with the government of Prussia. Since those early days, the initiative has remained committed to increasing language skills across the world.

Language Assistants are native speakers of Chinese, French, German, Irish, Italian, Russian or Spanish, and are usually 20-30 years old. They have a good command of English and seek to gain valuable work experience in a UK school while further improving their English and learning about UK culture. They study English, are recent graduates or are trainee teachers in their home country. Chinese Language Assistants are all qualified teachers. They can work with your students to improve their  language skills, increase their cultural awareness and boost their confidence.

Why should classroom teachers recruit a Language Assistant?

Experiencing a language and culture in another country is great – but it’s expensive and can be logistically complicated. Hosting a Language Assistant in your school is an ideal way to improve language learning for your students because they bring their language and culture directly to you. Language Assistants provide a fresh approach to teaching which benefits both pupils and teachers. Because they are native speakers, their language is authentic and up to date. Hosting an assistant can also help your school develop an international dimension in education – supporting international partnerships, giving valuable input to eTwinning arrangements (http://tiny.cc/ETwinning), gaining International School accreditation (http://schoolsonline.britishcouncil.org) and applying for Erasmus+ funding for staff training (www.erasmusplus.org.uk), and more. (For further information, see the Summer 2014 issue of Languages Today.)

What kind of work do they do?

Language Assistants can support teachers by helping to develop lesson plans and enhancing teachers’ language and cultural knowledge – as well as planning and delivering classroom and extra-curricular activities (for example, lunchtime clubs) focused on their country’s culture. They can also work with students in smaller groups to introduce basic language or improve linguistic  ability, focus on oral skills to increase confidence, and help to prepare students for examinations. By working across the school, many contribute to cross-curricular work in collaboration with other subject areas, and even support the creation and/or development of international partnerships.

Feedback is extremely positive, both from students: “It is good to be taught by a native speaker because we can pick up the accent,” and teachers: “I have really benefitted from hearing a native speaker to refresh my memory of certain pronunciations. She has been an immediate source of knowledge and information about anything I wished to check.”

How much do they cost?

The cost of employing a Language Assistant will depend on which part of the UK your school is located in. The compulsory  appointment period is October to May in England and Wales and September to May in Scotland and Northern Ireland. Normally you can employ a Language Assistant to work a minimum of 12 hours per week and a maximum of 18 hours per week. However, the British Council encourages a flexible approach where an assistant can be shared by up to three nearby schools, both primary and secondary – reducing the cost to as little as £2,300 per school on average – as long as travel arrangements are reasonable and the assistant works a minimum of 12 hours per week. This limit is down to outcomes – the British Council wants to ensure that assistants have as much impact as possible in the institutions they work in. With fewer schools, there is more time to engage and support pupils, staff and the wider school community.

“In terms of value for money, the ability to share a Language Assistant between three primary schools means that many more children are having this opportunity,” says Clare Kelly, Head Teacher, Dane Royd Junior and Infant School, Wakefield. “There is a very small impact on your own budget allowing them to have a big impact on your school.” The British Council provides induction and training on arrival, and continued support for schools, local authorities and Language Assistants. Support for visa applications is offered to all non-EU assistants.

How to apply

For more information, details of funding opportunities and deadlines, and to apply to host a Language Assistant in your school, visit the website http://tiny.cc/LanguageAssistants or email language.assistants@britishcouncil.org. You can also hear directly from students, teachers, local authorities and Language Assistants about how the programme has benefitted them via short films on the British Council’s website. Visit http://tiny.cc/LAshortfilms.

The British Council Primary Languages Initiative

This new scheme is designed to place Language Assistants in primary schools in England and Scotland to help schools meet new national requirements for languages. The assistants selected for these posts are usually undergoing or have graduated from teacher training courses to become primary school teachers and have a solid grounding in teaching at this level. As well as enthusing pupils about languages, these assistants also make an important contribution to intercultural understanding and supporting teachers with their own skills. Under this scheme assistants can be shared between up to six schools to reduce costs. To find out more, contact Vicky Gough at the British Council: vicky.gough@britishcouncil.org.

Be an Ambassador

The British Council is looking to employ people who have experience of the Language Assistant Programme, to help them promote it to schools. If you think this might be you, contact nishma.menon@britishcouncil.org.

About the British Council

The British Council is the UK’s international organisation for educational opportunities and cultural relations, managing a  variety of education opportunities, providing funding for international linking, curriculum projects, teaching and professional development. Visit the website to find out about programmes that support the teaching and learning of languages http://tiny.cc/BCSchoolsOnline.

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