How do you typically apologize? 

In my experience in the United States, ‘I’m sorry’ is the most common phrase. And when I speak to Canadians I almost wait for the inevitable ‘sorry’ for things that often don’t (to me) seem to require the sentiment. 

When I learned Spanish in high school, we were taught to say, ‘lo siento,‘ or ‘I feel it.’  But after years of living in Spanish-speaking countries, I don’t think I’ve ever heard that phrase. 

In Colombia, it is much more common to hear, ‘qué pena’  or ‘qué pena contigo’ which literally means, ‘what a pain’ or ‘what pain for you.’ 

Where is the agency when we compare ‘I’m sorry’ to ‘What a pain for you?’ 

In the Dominican Republic, I most often heard ‘perdón’ or ‘perdóname’ meaning, ‘pardon me,‘ which almost seems in the middle of the ‘I’m sorry’ and the qué pena’ agency continuum. 

I wonder: How does individualistic culture vs. collective culture influence how we phrase our apologies? What role does history play in how we express ourselves, such as colonialism, dictatorship, and civil war? 

These are the type of questions that can make language learning interesting, especially to middle and high school students. 

Even with my young children aged 6 and 8, we ponder song lyrics and word choice and think about why conventions play out in different ways across languages and even across countries with the same language. 

I’m trying to help them understand that language learning is a way of expanding our way of thinking. It is a gift that helps us to better understand ourselves and the human experience of life on earth. 

It’s true! The bilingual or multilingual brain has many benefits including added protection against Alzheimer’s disease. Let’s try this mindset shift when learning another language.

If these ideas resonate with you, consider joining our Modern Language Learning That Transfers online course.