When I was a student in high school and university I sang in choir. We would learn a bunch of songs from musical theater, or maybe some Christmas songs and madrigals and such. Then we would do performances for our parents, fellow students, and we even went off school grounds to perform for our community. I learned a little about music and performance. I learned a lot of songs. And I learned how to work in a group. But the most important thing I learned was the right way to make mistakes: make them loud!
I learned this lesson from my high school choir teacher, Mr. Eubanks, who I still remember fondly. We were learning a new song, I think it was Hallelujah from Handel's Messiah. I was having a problem with one particular passage, so, every time we would get to that point I would sing very quietly. I didn’t want to interfere with the other students and I certainly did not want my butchering of a holiday classic to be heard by anyone. So I thought my solution was a good one. After one rehearsal Mr. Eubanks pulled my aside for a chat.
“Chris,” he said, ‘ You’re doing really well, mostly, but sometimes your voice just drops out. What’s wrong?”
I was sheepish, of course. The idea was not to be heard but my quietness brought more attention to myself. “Well, Mr. Eubanks, I don’t really know that part well and I didn’t want you to hear where I was messing up.”
And that is when he taught me the most amazing lesson. “Chris, when you are learning a new song, you will make mistakes. It’s pretty much guaranteed. If you make loud mistakes, I will hear them and I can help you fix them. That’s my job. But if you make quiet mistakes I won’t hear them, I can’t help you, and you will make the same mistakes forever. So, make loud mistakes.”
Wow. This was an epiphany moment for me. I thought about it all that day and have been thinking about it ever since. And as an ESL teacher it is advice I pass on to my students all the time. Learning English is hard, speaking English is harder, and speaking English in front of a group is the hardest of all. When you are in class, speaking with the teacher or with other students, it is understandable that you might feel shy or even scared. After all, you will make mistakes. But please, make loud mistakes. That is the students’ job. My job as a teacher is to help you overcome your mistakes so you don’t repeat them. And I can only do that if you speak bravely, confidently, and loudly, even when you speak incorrectly. The student who makes the most mistakes, loudest, will learn the most in the end. So, please, make loud mistakes.