The Ivy Coach Daily

June 12, 2024

What is the Rassias Method?

A headshot of the late Dartmouth Professor John Rassias.
Dartmouth’s John Rassias pioneered a new way to teach foreign languages.

Previously Published on December 3, 2015:

The Rassias Method is a foreign language acquisition technique developed in the 1960s by the late Dartmouth College professor John Rassias. The method is the favorite of language departments at Dartmouth because of the fluency it can produce in a short period of time. It has become something of a Dartmouth trademark that symbolizes, in an educational setting, the close-knit Dartmouth culture as a whole.

Who is John Rassias and Why is He Celebrated at Dartmouth?

John Rassias was a language professor who started his career as a language consultant in the Peace Corps. He was appointed as a professor of French and Italian at Dartmouth in 1965, where he would go on to establish the Language Study Abroad (LSA) program and the Rassias Center for World Languages and Cultures. Through his early work at the Peace Corps and at Dartmouth, Rassias developed a unique method that would revolutionize language study in the United States and around the world. He left an indelible mark on his Dartmouth community through his eccentric teaching style, playful relationship to learning, and sustained friendships with many students and faculty. 

How Does the Rassias Method Work and Why Is It So Effective?

According to Dartmouth’s admissions office, the Rassias Method “consists of three components: language classes, drill sessions, and a language study abroad program.” Language classes are relatively straightforward, although the method places emphasis on instruction in the target language. Professors encourage students to fully immerse themselves in the target language during the course of the class. 

Studying abroad is a ubiquitous fixture of a Dartmouth education. Two or three courses in the target language are required before students are eligible to study abroad. Among Dartmouth’s undergraduate student body, an impressive 50% of students study abroad, which speaks to the extent to which foreign travel is a norm within campus culture, a norm that can be traced back to Rassias’ legacy.

Drill sessions are the most unique component of the Rassias Method, distinguishing it from other comparable programs. The sessions are also a major site for bonding! Basically, students and an upperclassman tutor gather on the Green in a circle a couple of times per week and play rapid-fire games that encourage correct pronunciation. These games can take many forms — duck, duck goose, improv scenes, Simon Says, etc. While this may appear unorthodox to an outside observer, Rassias understood that learning happens in a state of play, when a student feels supported by their peers and at ease with their target language. 

Students who use the Rassias Method see dramatic improvements in fluency over the course of just one semester. That’s why it has expanded to other institutions and organizations around the world. By some estimates, Rassias’ legacy has impacted millions of learners.

How the Rassias Method Symbolizes Dartmouth’s Unique Culture

The Rassias Method is just one way that Dartmouth has “taken the road less traveled” when it comes to undergraduate education, to quote Dartmouth’s own Robert Frost. The visual of learning through fun on the Green is certainly a powerful symbol of the connection that the College fosters between current students. Life at Dartmouth is about communing with nature, making close friendships in the solitude of the wilderness, and learning and growing from exposure to those from all different walks of life. A healthy variety of traditions and social events facilitate this culture, from the Winter Carnival to first-year trips into the mountains. 

The Rassias Method is the educational cornerstone of this approach to student life. While students across the nation have benefitted from the method, those at Dartmouth learn from those who were directly taught and influenced by Mr. Rassias himself. You wouldn’t want to learn how to cook French cuisine by someone who had never been to France! The Rassias Center is the Mecca of language study; Dartmouth attracts budding language experts and foreign service workers for this very reason.

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