A dream out of reach

It has always been my dream to speak Spanish fluently. To be really and truly fluent. I know I will never sound like a native speaker–I’ll never fully shed my accent–but I want to speak the language with the ease of a native speaker, and with the ability to fully express who I am, without losing parts of myself in translation.

I really felt like I was getting close, but after a month of sessions with my tutor in Guatemala, I doubt I’m ever going to get there.

And the reality is, I won’t get there. Not if I don’t live in a Spanish speaking country for a long period of time. At least a year. Two would be better. If I never do that, I won’t achieve the level of fluency that I dream of. It will always be just out of my reach.

The problem is, my husband isn’t all that interested in living in a Spanish speaking country for a year. He is happy where he is. He was born in this city. He has lived his life in this city. He wants to die in the city. He has no desire to go anywhere else.

The thought of living here until I die makes my skin crawl. 

I wonder if this is what ultimately will drive us apart.

The thing is, I’m okay living apart for a year or two, if that is what it takes. It will suck, yes. It will be hard, definitely. But I’m willing to do it. Of course I’m willing to do it because it gives me something I really want. I can imagine I’d be a lot less enthusiastic if I were doing it to appease my spouse.

I think that was what was ultimately getting down last week. The sessions with my tutor have been so eye opening, in a ton of negative ways. It turns out that while I can chat with my kids about all the same shit every day, I can’t express myself adequately in a million other kinds of conversations. Also, it turns out I make a lot more mistakes than I realized, and I catch a lot of my own mistakes.

I’ve been doubling down on my studies. I spend about 30 minutes every day reading a dense grammar resource and practicing precise usage. I pay careful attention to what I listen to and read, no longer content to simply understand, but desperate to cement in my own brain the foundation upon which the meaning is conveyed.

And now, as I wait to hear back about the high school jobs that I applied for, I’m terrified that it will be my Spanish that keeps me from getting a position. It’s one thing to pick a native speaker over me (which will always happen if all else–mostly teaching experience–is equal), but what if I don’t get the job because I just don’t have a high enough command of the language?

For the first time in my life, I’ve seriously considered studying for another single subject credential. Maybe I would make a good math teacher… They are always looking for math teachers…

It’s hard. I fell into a teaching position that was both a blessing and a curse. A blessing because it allowed me to teach something I love, and was still learning, and kept me interested. A curse because how and where I can teach it is constrained by my own limitations.

I can NEVER be the ideal candidate for any Spanish teaching job I apply for. That’s a sobering thought.

It’s also hard because I have no one to talk to about this stuff. It’s such a weird situation, so unique. I’ve never met anyone who didn’t feel they could teach what they wanted because their command of the material limited them. There are plenty of non-native Spanish speakers in the world, but they all seem to be a lot more fluent than I am.

It’s all making me feel so hopeless. Should I abandon this course and start off in a new direction? I don’t want to do that, but I also don’t want to stay where I am. I’m ready to move on. I can’t teach this low level Spanish my whole life. I feel stagnant, and frustrated, and sad.

Is this yet another goal I will never achieve? Another dream I’ll be chase after my whole life, but never quite catch? Like minimalism, and financial responsibility, will I always be striving for something and never feeling like I’ve achieved it?

 A dream always out of reach…


  1. I think you’re being too hard on yourself. Continue with these lessons, do your intensive trip this summer, and continue to learn and challenge yourself like you always have. Take a step back and a deep breath about all of this – I really, truly think you’re working yourself up to a level that’s not necessary. You are good at what you do, and not many people make the dedicated effort you do to continue to learn and broaden their depth of knowledge about their career choice. Maybe you’ll live abroad for a couple of year (MY DREAM) and maybe you won’t, but you’re right – at least for now you are teaching something you love that keeps you in touch with the language every single day, and that’s awesome!

  2. I would give serious consideration to a honest evaluation with a reputable psychiatrist for depression, and not a GP’s depression screening, to rule out major depressive disorder or something else. If you have untreated or undertreated depression, it’s going to color how you look at all of these issues and how you feel in terms of dread or apprehension versus contentment in the journey. A psychiatrist will look at things differently than a GP and it can end up in more adequate treatment if there is an issue.

    That said, and this could be depression speaking, you’re putting a lot of pressure on yourself and seemingly not taking enough joy in the good things you have going on. This is not another thing to beat yourself up over either. Just that you seem to be self punishing with your viewpoints, which is why it’s so important to look into the psychiatric side of things if this is chemically induced, so you can remove that barrier and have a better chance at feeling the way you want to feel.

    I believe everything we pursue, we do so to feel a certain way. If you were simply looking for more challenge (and were not clinically depressed), the tutoring might give you some feeling of contentment, satisfaction, etc. If you’re looking for other things, like recognition, then the tutoring alone can feel more like preparation for starting your “real life,” like teaching at a grade level you feel matches your goals.

    One thing that comes thru clearly in your posts is a love for the language. I think I’d try to build on that right now by finding more outlets to use your language skills in social situations… Spanish clubs, discussion groups, book groups, or even online, etc.

    I think adding more joy will enhance your creative problem solving skills and energy to find the job, living situations, etc you want. And it will get you more focused on today, which is good because this is your real life. If you didn’t have 2 healthy children, you could possibly follow your heart more in your career and not worry about the income. But you chose the children route and are blessed that both are healthy (if they weren’t you wouldn’t possibly have time to pursue tutoring or possibly even full-time work). So, try to go easier on yourself and smell the roses more (maybe the roses could be enjoying and engaging the children in your classes more… if not, maybe teaching isn’t your real love). There’s no race to the end of life.

    I wish you all the best.

  3. Well, I guess one question is what percentage of native speakers you’re competing with. My kids go to an immersion school and there is no way the school would ever hire a non-native speaker, no matter how fluent that person was. There are just too many qualified native speakers available.

    But even if that’s not the case where you are, it can’t hurt to consider other possibilities. What about applying to bilingual schools to teach subjects in English? There your ability to speak Spanish would be a huge plus. A math teaching credential sounds like a great idea too.

    I really sympathize with you. I’m very good at my second language, but no matter how hard I work at it, I’m never going to be totally fluent, even after spending much of last year living abroad.

    1. It’s interesting that you at your kids’ immersion school they would never hire a non-native speaker because there are so many native speakers who can teach there. That is not the case here in San Francisco. My daughter’s current teacher is not a native speaker and I don’t think either of the 2nd grade teachers are either. I wonder why it is that here in California, a state where such a large portion of the population speaks Spanish as their first language, there is such a dearth of native-Spanish speaking teachers. There are a lot of immersion schools though, so maybe it’s just that there are a LOT of those positions available, which makes it harder to fill.

      I’m not sure what I’m going to do next. I suppose I should feel thankful that if I wanted to, I could keep teaching Spanish in my district for the foreseeable future. Sure, maybe some day they will get rid of their language electives but it probably won’t be for a while… So at least I have that. It’s not small thing.

      1. Interesting. My kids go to a French immersion school and they are super picky about the accent. All of the teachers are not only native French speakers, but native French speakers *from France* (i.e. not from Canada or French-speaking Africa) It’s a private school though, which may explain it.

        One of my kids went to a public Spanish immersion school through second grade. Some of the teachers were non-native speakers and the Spanish-speaking parents (about 50% of the class) were constantly complaining about it. They saw it as evidence of discrimination against Spanish speakers. Obviously, it’s not the same in a non-immersion context.

        I can’t imagine they’ll get rid of language electives — esp. Spanish in California.

        1. And I’m sure that (despite your doubts) you are totally qualified to teach Spanish at high school level and would be fantastic at it. The amount of thought and preparation you’ve put into it shows that.

      2. The preference for native speakers above all else is interesting. You also need to be able to TEACH well, correct?

        My dad taught a language (military facility) for decades that he was extremely fluent in, however he wasn’t a native speaker (although what does that mean? What if you learn it at a young age?) anyway, he regularly had to deal with native speakers who were horrible teachers (their students would desperately flock to my dad) and who would often be favored due to their native speaker status.

        1. I was taught Hebrew at Jewish day schools and after school Hebrew schools by native speakers who had absolutely no teaching skills. It was basically useless. I can see why it would be different in an immersion context though. But, I think it’s kind of weird that the French immersion program insisted on a specific accent. It’s sort of nativist, don’t you think? There are brilliant writers in English who speak with an accent.

  4. Abandoning your direction and teaching something you don’t love, will only fill you with regret. I believe you’re doing all you can (extra studies, going abroad this summer, etc.) in order to get you where you would like to be; You need to stop doubting yourself. I do agree with feeling stagnant – craving change professionally – and wanting to do something about it. Keep on thinking about living abroad. Maybe focus all your vacations in a Spanish speaking country & eventually, live there. Maybe your spouse needs to get his feet wet/see your dream to get used to the idea of actually living there. It’s a start.

  5. I think there is a point with any intellectual endeavor, or any major project really, that you start to feel really hopeless that you won’t finish it or achieve your goal. It’s usually a sign of knowledge — it’s an awareness of the magnitude of what you are taking on. I think your skills will get a lot better with this tutor and when you go to Ecuador. Take a deep breath.

  6. Don’t panic. Even with your imperfections, being a good teacher is important and a major part of getting a new job. How likely is it that you would be interviewed by someone who would be able to judge your Spanish skills anyway?

  7. A couple of things here. I studied Mandarin Chinese full-time for a year (as my job) with two native Chinese teachers. There were only four of us in the privately commissioned university class, and we would hang out for the one hour a week when we had a non-native speaker come in to review what we’d be doing. He was the one who had had to learn Chinese in the same way we did, he was the one who understood our questions, and could clarify issues. Native speakers don’t always know (even if they are good teachers) what the students need to know.

    My husband is perfectly happy living here in this city where he grew up. Like you, I can’t imagine living here until I die either … well … unless I get the chance to live overseas again. Yes, we’ve lived overseas. I plan to again, if we can figure out how to do it. Seems to me there are compromises that can be made, and whether they’re made now or in ten or twenty years, there is always that possibility. At one stage I had accepted a job internationally which meant that I would work overseas and my husband would come when he could. A friend of mine has spent about seven of the last ten years living and working overseas, and her husband has stayed here as his career blossomed here. You never know how it will work out.

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