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New director of World Languages Center to grow connection between culture, language

To completely immerse oneself in a different culture, Stacey Katz Bourns, professor and the new director of Northeastern’s World Languages Center, says it’s critical to learn and understand that culture’s language.

“I truly believe culture is embedded in language,” said Bourns, who joined the faculty in the College of Social Sciences and Humanities this semester. “If you don’t have the insights of studying the language and immersing yourself in the culture, you are really at a disadvantage.”

In her new role, Bourns sees the World Languages Center as an integral part of Northeastern’s preparation of its students to be global citizens. The center was created to offer students an expanding array of languages in a variety of instructional formats, and ensure students can take at least two years of instruction in any language offered.

You have to feel a passion for the culture. Research has shown that knowing multiple languages can lead people to think differently and feel transformed in their own bodies when speaking an entirely different language.
— Stacey Katz Bourns, professor and the new director of Northeastern’s World Languages Center

“We have an important role to play,” Bourns said. “It’s very exciting to be here. I am amazed by the university’s support, and the students seem very motivated and know what they want to do.”

A French-language expert, Bourns said she was inspired to learn the language after studying abroad in Martinique, where she was able to see the American culture from a different perspective. She noted that learning a new language—and deciding which language to learn—is a very personal decision.

“You have to feel a passion for the culture,” said Bourns. “Research has shown that knowing multiple languages can lead people to think differently and feel transformed in their own bodies when speaking an entirely different language. And so much of the experience is having made the effort to learn a new language.”

Prior to coming to Northeastern, Bourns served as director of language programs at Harvard’s Department of Romance Languages and Literatures since 2009. She earned her doctorate in French linguistics from the University of Texas at Austin. She is currently writing a book titled Linking Second Language Pedagogy and Meaningful Content: Theories, Approaches, and Practices.

Bourns said the future is bright for linguistics and language learning. Under her leadership, the World Languages Center will look to adopt several innovative educational tools moving forward, including increasing the number of available hybrid courses and giving more students more opportunities to converse with natural speakers of the language they are learning.