Recently, the Department of Languages and Literature changed its name to Department of World Languages and Cultures to accurately reflect the classes and research it provides. Department Chair Katharina Gerstenberger sat down with @TheU to discuss why the change is important.

Q: Why did you change the name of your department from Languages and Literature to World Languages and Cultures?

A: Our department has adapted itself to a changing world and we wanted to give ourselves a name that reflects better who we are today. Department of World Languages and Cultures communicates what we offer to our students as teachers and as researchers. We provide instruction in more than 20 different languages and while keeping our commitment to teaching literature, we now include culture in a much broader sense into our classes and our research. The new title aligns us prominently with the U’s advances in global learning and should increase our visibility to all students who wish to study a language and culture of this world.

Q: How has the department evolved since it began?

A: The department started under the name of Department of Modern Languages when the U was founded. At the time, classical languages were taught in the Department of Ancient Languages and Literature. In the early 1950s, the two departments were combined into one, first under the name Languages and later as Languages and Literature. Over the course of the years, we have added more languages and began to develop classes on topics like film, different aspects of culture, including music and media, as well as business language. As in the past, we aim to serve the needs of our students in a changing world and to challenge them to develop deep insights about the cultures they study as well as their own.

Q: Why is it important for students to learn about and understand the culture of the language they are learning?

A: Language and culture are inseparable and, to be truly competent in a language, one must also have expertise in reading culture and its expressions (literary and other aesthetic forms, material culture, customs and conventions, discourse and belief systems) just as to have true expertise in a culture, one must have competency in that culture’s language(s). Culture and language are profoundly interdependent, each providing the frame and context through which the other can be understood and through which people understand themselves, their lives and their world.

Q: How does a student’s fluency of a foreign language and knowledge of the respective culture help them in the global marketplace?

A: Fluency in a foreign language and knowledge of the respective culture, or cultures, prepares students to be successful in our highly interconnected world. Traditionally, many students of foreign languages have gone into teaching professions and that still remains an attractive option, especially in a state like Utah with a strong emphasis on dual language immersion at the K-12 level. Many businesses operate internationally and someone who speaks another language will be more successful in communicating with partners from another country. But, most importantly, students with good language skills will always be more highly regarded due to their cross-cultural communication skills. And thus they will be more competitive in any number of settings that require an understanding of cultural differences and the ability to imagine themselves in the place of others.

For more information about the Department of World Languages and Culture, please visit the website.