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Embracing our imperfections

Updated: Jan 18

Last Friday, I took part in a Come & Sing in King's College Chapel.

The idea is simple: you come, they give you scores - in this instance, Fauré's Requiem and 'Le Cantique de Jean Racine', and Parry's 'I was glad' - you rehearse the pieces for a couple of hours without the orchestra and organ, then with them. And after a short break, you perform the pieces in front of an audience.

Contrary to standard concerts which have been rehearsed for months with forensic precision (as anyone who's ever spent half a rehearsal singing the same three bars will attest!), the whole point here, is to come together and enjoy the singing for the sake of it. There's no time for perfection, everyone's wearing their everyday clothes, and the mood is relaxed (when dress rehearsals can often feel tense).

Walking home, it occurred to me that this is a pretty good metaphor (find me a teacher who doesn't like one!) for language learning.

When you're learning a foreign language, you acquire tools to communicate with others. While you may already know some before opening your mouth, many are acquired as you speak. With the speaking comes the learning. And if you're happy to engage with other human beings, foregoing perfection and choosing to relax into it, then communication happens more fluidly than you ever thought was possible.

Had I stepped into King's, dead set on performing the pieces the same way I had with the Cambridge Philharmonic some 15 years ago after months of rehearsals, I would not only have felt frustrated, but I wouldn't have enjoyed the moment. As it happened, I was simply looking forward to singing beautiful music in a stunning place.

The mindset we bring to most things determines the outcome. If you've decided that speaking to a native in the language you're learning is going to be painful, chances are it will be. And if you think only intense preparation is the solution, then you will never get to the point where you actually speak.

Sometimes, it's about grabbing the score, looking up to the conductor, opening your mouth, and singing. And in doing so, trusting yourself that you can sing that note and the next one after that. Maybe not perfectly, maybe not always sustaining it as long as need be, but singing nevertheless and, crucially, enjoying it.

Don't hesitate to send me your questions.

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