There are times when language fails, whether you're in Asia, the Americas, Europe or elsewhere. These moments often involve extreme emotions: sadness and joy, fear and love.

One of the most extreme is the sorrow of loss. These are often times when nothing you can say will help. But you have to try, and trying to expressing condolences is even more challenging in a second language.

This happened to me a little over 10 years ago. One of my former teachers emailed me and mentioned that her father wasn't doing well. I was busy preparing to move to Japan to teach English in the countryside, but it would have been rude of me to ignore her. At that point my language skills were strong, but I hadn't spent an extended period in Japan, so I wasn't quite sure how to respond.