Note: this post was originally published in 2017. However, when I came to revive it in 2020, it needed a complete overhaul, and so I deleted everything and rewrote the entire thing from scratch. This is why you will see a 2020 publish date but comments going back to 2017 🙂
When I tell people that I spent a great deal of time teaching English in Poland, they often ask a lot of questions.
What qualifications do you need?
Do you need a TEFL certification?
Do you get paid?
Do you work in a school?
The list goes on.
For many backpackers, teaching abroad is a great way to see the world while keeping costs down, helping other people and making new friends from all around the world. Many people take paid jobs in international schools (this is very popular in Asia), and others teach online using platforms such as Cambly or Palfish.
I decided to take an alternative route and volunteer. I didn’t want to be held back by having a ‘real job’ in a school, having to create lesson plans and control classrooms of rowdy children. I just wanted to be able to travel for free while making new friends and having a good time.
Enter JustSpeak Poland.
Teaching English in Poland with JustSpeak
I was first contacted by JustSpeak on the Workaway website.
Workaway is a website that facilitates voluntary work placements around the world. The idea is that you work a few hours per day in exchange for free accommodation, food and drink. Of course, this is perfect for travellers who want to save some cash whilst on the road without committing to a long-term or ‘real job.’
Volunteer projects on Workaway can involve anything from helping to renovate an old building, to babysitting, to looking after somebody’s pet cats, helping out in a hostel or working on a farm. Perhaps the best bit is that pretty much every country in the world is featured on Workaway, making it an incredibly easy way to organise your travels.
Volunteers can contact ‘hosts,’ or vice versa in order to negotiate work. Because hosts and volunteers both receive reviews on completing work, it is easy to separate the good hosts from the bad, and because Workaway has access to all contact information and messages, it also adds an extra layer of safety for anyone who may be worried about volunteering alone far away from home.
In my case, a host by the name of Małgorzata from a company named JustSpeak Poland contacted me, asking if I was interested in teaching English to adults for 5 days, all expenses paid.
At first, I was hesitant. I’d never wanted to teach before, and the idea of doing so was not appealing to me. However, after looking at the JustSpeak website and realising that the ‘teaching’ really just involved having one-to-one conversations rather than standing up in front of a classroom full of people, I thought I’d give it a go.
Fast-forward a couple of months and I’m on a plane to Poznan for my first JustSpeak Poland programme, nervous but excited for the week ahead.
That initial programme ended up being the first of many, and I estimate that I volunteered on over 10 JustSpeak Poland programmes. Most of these were the full 5-day programmes, but a couple were 2-day weekend programmes.
In this post, I will not only answer any questions that you may have about JustSpeak and teaching English in Poland, but I will also tell you about my personal experiences with JustSpeak. After completing so many programmes, I feel confident that I can speak about this with some authority, and hopefully by the end of this post, you’ll be more informed and a lot less confused than you are right now!
What is JustSpeak Poland?
JustSpeak is a company that provides people with the opportunity to become fully immersed in the English language for anywhere between 2 – 5 days. Each programme takes place in a hotel, either in the countryside near Poznan or in Poland’s capital city, Warsaw. JustSpeak offer programmes aimed at kids, juniors and adults, but I only ever participated in the adult programmes.
To those curious about what teaching English in Poland is like, you must be aware that JustSpeak is not a school, and if you are looking for classroom experience then perhaps it is not the company for you. On a JustSpeak programme, there are no classrooms, textbooks or discussions about grammar. Teaching is done in the form of casual conversation, word games and group discussions, with the aim of improving the participants’ confidence and fluency rather than nitpicking their grammar (although you are encouraged to gently correct them if they make mistakes).
Conversations take place from morning until evening, with meals being eaten together and a break after lunch. After dinner there is an hour of ‘entertainment,’ followed by free time in which you may go to your room to relax or continue socialising.
Although JustSpeak is a volunteer programme, you must keep in mind that it is not simply a couple of hours of work each day. Even though you are ‘only’ teaching in a very relaxed environment, it is still very draining to talk for over 12 hours a day, and I certainly underestimated how much work the programme would be. That said, the JustSpeak programmes are certainly not as draining as the Angloville programmes, which I wrote about in another post.
Gosia (short for Małgorzata), is not only the owner of the company, but she is the coordinator for every single JustSpeak programme, and she makes a point of ensuring that volunteers always have multiple 1-hour breaks throughout the day in order to recharge, something that Angloville don’t do. For me, these breaks were a lifesaver, and being able to disappear for an hour to go cycling in the forest or relax in my room meant that I could always be on the best form possible for my one-to-one sessions with the students.
Is JustSpeak Legit?
YES. JustSpeak is a legit company (that actually just celebrated its’ fifth anniversary!). They are not a scam, they are not illegal and they will not take your money or cause you any harm.
Please don’t just take my word for it – you can read their 167 reviews from previous volunteers on Workaway!
You will also be safe with JustSpeak. You are transported to and from the venue and you stay in a hotel in the countryside. Of course, every room has its own key so your valuables will always be safe, and Gosia is on-site 24/7 to assist you with anything that you may need.
Who Can Volunteer at JustSpeak Poland?
If you would like to work on the kid/junior programmes, then some experience working with children is a bonus but not essential. You do not need to have any teaching experience or qualifications (such as a TEFL certification) to work on the adult programmes.
You just need to be over the age of 18 and a NATIVE ENGLISH SPEAKER (‘native English’ means that you are from any country where English is an official language, such as Kenya and India). A telephone or Skype call may take place prior to being accepted on a programme to establish that your level of English is up to par.
Are There Any Hidden Costs Involved?
Although JustSpeak is a volunteer programme, there are definitely costs involved which you should be aware of.
Although JustSpeak are very clear about what costs are and are not covered, sometimes people still end up being surprised at the fact that they have spent any money at all. Below is a list of what is and is not included if you are teaching English in Poland with JustSpeak.
What IS Included?
The day before the programme commences, you will meet for a dinner at a restaurant in the city from where the programme departs from. In Poznan, this is a wonderful Italian restaurant and I highly recommend attending this meet-up! Not only is this a great chance to get to know your fellow volunteers and learn a bit about the programme, but you get a free dinner and free drinks (alcoholic if you wish).
Transport to and from the venue in a minibus is included.
You get a private room for four nights in the hotel with private bathroom. Towels and bottled water are included.
Three free meals a day for five days. Breakfast is a buffet, lunch is a three-course meal and dinner is usually a buffet as well. One night is always a BBQ where you can cook your own sausages and eat traditional Polish foods such as smalec!
Free tea and coffee.
Two free beers every evening.
Free gym access.
Access to the hotel’s bicycles, basketball courts and lake.
A certificate upon completion of the programme.
A reference that you can use for future employers. This is given on request.
You DO NOT pay any participation or admin fees.
What ISN’T Included?
Accommodation for the night BEFORE the programme and the night the programme ENDS is not included. You will have to find a hostel or hotel in Poznan or Warsaw.
Transport to THE city of departure is not included. For example, I had to fly to Poznan from the UK.
If you wish to purchase snacks such as crisps and chocolate from the hotel then you have to pay for them yourself.
If you wish to drink additional alcoholic beverages then you must pay. The hotel only has beer but there is a small shop nearby that sells other kinds of alcohol.
Health insurance is not included.
A Typical Day
As I mentioned above, the days here are LONG. When you sit down at the breakfast table, you have almost 12 hours before you are finished.
That said, there is a 75 minute break after lunch for everyone, and every volunteer is given at least 1 additional 60 minute break at some point during the day – trust me when I say that these breaks make all the difference!
Each day begins with a mentor meeting. At the beginning of the week, every volunteer is assigned a ‘mentee.’ This is one participant who the volunteer must help to prepare a 5 minute presentation to be performed at the end of the week in front of everyone. This can be on any topic, and the job of the mentor is to help their mentee put together their presentation and gain the confidence to perform it.
The other sessions comprise of one-on-one conversation sessions, practical/role-play sessions and group sessions.
One-on-ones are 60 minute conversation sessions between a native English speaker and a participant. You will be given a sheet of paper with some possible conversation ideas which you are free to use, or you can talk about whatever the participant wants to.
Practical and role-play sessions involve creating an every day situation that the participant may encounter. This could be acting out the process of checking-in to a hotel, asking somebody for directions, or going through customs in the airport.
Group sessions are activities that require a group discussion. For example, you could be asked to write a list of items that you would want with you on a desert island. The Polish participants must then present your findings to the whole group. There are also word games that are used as warm-up exercises, to relax the participants and get them ready for the day ahead.
After dinner, there is an hour of entertainment. This is always in the form of a game, and could be something like Pictionary or Charades.
After entertainment finishes at 9:30pm, you can continue socialising or go to bed!
Teaching English in Poland With JustSpeak – My Experience
As I mentioned in the intro, I was hesitant about teaching English in Poland. Although I have a degree in English, I wasn’t confident that I was the type of person to be able to teach people. I am not an extrovert, and nervous is an understatement of how I was feeling as I boarded my first flight to Poland.
However, what I quickly learnt was that actually, being an introvert helped me. The conversation sessions are designed to let the participant speak, and if you have a volunteer who doesn’t shut up, it can halt their progress. All I had to do, I found, was get them talking. I’d ask questions, and if I sensed that a particular topic interested them, then I’d ask them to elaborate.
Not only did this mean that the participants became more fluent with their speech, but it also meant that I learnt a hell of a lot about topics that I’d never dreamed of! In my first week, I spoke to a television presenter about toxicity in the media, a psychoanalyst about how unresolved mental traumas can impact the body, and I also learnt a lot about what life was like under communism in Poland from people who had lived it.
We were not expected to stay inside the hotel in our conversation sessions, and so we would often grab a coffee and head out to the lake, where we could enjoy the sunshine and get some fresh air. In our free time, I chose to go cycling in the forest, sunbathed with my book or relaxed in my room.
Every 5-day programme I took part in was in the same hotel, in a small village called Kwiejce, with only 100 inhabitants. Kwiejce is about as remote as you can get (and I’ve been to some rural Polish villages!), and it is the location that really makes JustSpeak special.
While the Dom Sportowca, the hotel, is really nothing special (the rooms are fine, but basic, and the decor is definitely in need of an update!), the lush forests and lakes surrounding it more than make up for it, and due to the ample amounts of free time we were given, JustSpeak sometimes felt more like a calming retreat than anything else!
Another highlight of my time volunteering in Poland was the FOOD. We were able to try tonnes of traditional Polish food, from soups such as flaki and zurek to pierogi (Polish dumplings) and much more. The portions were always huge, and I blame JustSpeak for the 10 lbs I gained whilst in Poland!
The BBQs around the campfire were always good fun – the picnic benches would be piled high with sausages, pickles, crusty bread and lard, and the cold beers flowed (two free beers my ass – there were far more on BBQ night!). Gosia would always bring her speakers down and we would dance under the stars until well into the night – the midweek campfire was always the best bit of the week.
However, campfires and bike rides aside, the reason that I kept returning to JustSpeak Poland was the students. Without a single exception, the Polish students always went from being reserved, nervous and lacking in confidence, to outgoing, hilarious and self-assured in a matter of days, and it was really heartwarming to see them improve so much in such a short space of time.
Some volunteer programmes are more about catering to the egos of the volunteers than actually helping the community, but JustSpeak and programmes like it genuinely have a positive effect on the people who they are designed to help.
One of the main reasons why people attend JustSpeak is to move up the ladder at work, or, if they are the CEO of a company, to be able to work with international businesses and really branch out. JustSpeak really plays a part in making that happen. The long days of total immersion act as a sort of fast-track to fluency, and the presentation that they have to give in English on the final day helps show them just how much progress they have made.
So, Would I Recommend JustSpeak?
I honestly cannot recommend JustSpeak enough to my fellow travellers. What could be better than having a few days in a free hotel with beautiful surroundings, in the company of wonderful people?
You don’t have to have any qualifications to join the JustSpeak programme – you literally just need to be a native English speaker! Although the work is definitely draining (JustSpeak is NOT a free holiday), Gosia does everything that she can to ease some of the strain for the volunteers, and if you are in need of a break, all you have to do is ask and she will incorporate it into the schedule.
JustSpeak is a small company. Gosia is the one who makes every decision, responds to your emails and coordinates the programmes. One of the problems with Angloville (in my opinion) is that if you have a problem, the coordinators on-hand will do anything they can to help, but they are ultimately powerless to change things on a higher level. Thus, if you give them specific feedback about the programme’s structure, it isn’t likely that anything will be done.
In contrast, any concerns that you have about JustSpeak can be raised directly with Gosia, and from my experience she is always willing to listen to the volunteers and change things if necessary.
The fact that JustSpeak is a small company also means that you feel valued and appreciated on a personal level. Despite me getting consistently high reviews at Angloville and proving myself to the coordinators, to the higher-ups I was just another cog in the machine, easily replaceable and unnoticed. With JustSpeak, Gosia would often make a point of telling people how grateful she was that I had done multiple programmes, even giving me extra little perks here and there as a thanks.
If you are travelling around Europe and want something a bit different from the typical backpacker scene, I highly recommend teaching English in Poland with JustSpeak as an option.
For more information about how you can volunteer with JustSpeak, just click here!
Disclaimer – I volunteered with JustSpeak throughout 2017 and 2018. As far as I am aware, all of the information here is correct, however, there may have been some changes within the company that I may not be up to date with. Please let me know if anything here is not accurate and I will change it!