How to Apologize in Italian 

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Dr Talia Walker Compares how native Italian Speakers Apologize compared to Learners of the Italian Language

By Alberto Macchione

An apology in any language can be an important restorative component in keeping and repairing relationships. This is true in almost any scenario including the one between teacher and student.  Language expert, Dr. Talia Walker explored this idea among Italian language learners and Italians in their native Italy. 

The idea, which Dr. Walker explored for her thesis in the University of Sydney in Australia, looked at students apologizing via email for having not completed their academic duties. Dr. Walker included a cohort of Italian language learners whose native tongue was English and then surveyed a group of students in Italy and looked at the differences in how they apologized to their teachers. The findings were presented in an online conference recently and the findings were fascinating. 

Dr Walker’s highly engaging seminar spoke of three strategies in apologizing which she relayed in both Italian and English. The three strategies were “Explicit apologies, explanations and remedial Actions”.

In America, we say “sorry” or “Apologies” whilst in Italian there are literally dozens of words and phrases available to apologize with. Examples provided in the presentation included ‘Chiedere scusa’, ‘pregare di pardonare’, ‘rincrescere’, ‘Mi dispiace’ and so on. Dr.Walker’s research found that English speakers had a tendency to translate words as opposed to choosing the most common or most suitable word when apologizing. Dr Walker noted, for example, that Italian language learners favored the use of the word ‘Dispiacersi’ when apologizing to their teacher whilst Italian language natives favored the word ‘scusarsi’ in the same context. 

She also found differences in cultural context. This was exemplified by Italian natives being much vaguer in their responses whilst their English speaking counterparts were far more explicit in their responses to their teachers when required to do so. Specifically, Dr. Walker found that among English language speakers there was a tendency to be more explanative as compared to native Italians who often didn’t find a need to explain their misgivings at all. 

The differences in cultural background illustrated a difference in word choice, exposing that the same language was being used differently by native speakers as opposed to non-native speakers and introduced some poignant insights that will have Pedagogical implications in the future. 

Dr. Walker’s charming and highly engaging talk was the first in a three part series exploring language learning in an Italian language context. Her work as a Researcher in the arena of Italian Studies and her highly enjoyable presentation style provided listeners with some highly poignant and highly entertaining points of interest in language learning.

Importantly it highlights the contextual differences and influences that bleed into language learning in a non native speaking company and can provide questions, insights and possible strategies for teachers of all languages in all non native speaking countries. The impact of this study is highly significant in an increasingly globalized world and a testament to Dr. Walker’s insightfulness as a bilingual leader of the language community.