Academics Mourn John Rassias

NORWICH, VT. – Prominent Greek-American professor of languages John Rassias died at the age of 90. He was a professor at Dartmouth College in New Hampshire and was known to the Greek-American Community from his work on the present and the future of Greek education and language in America.

Former Archbishop Spyridon of America had appointed him in 1998 chairman of a thirty member’s commission to study in depth the issue of Greek education. The study was one of its kind but was never acted upon because Archbishop Spyridon was forced to resign.

According to the Communications Department of Dartmouth College the late professor John Rassias will be remembered for his internationally renowned teaching method—which includes rapid-fire drills, immersion in culture, and a healthy dose of theater—a unique style that quickly makes students comfortable using a new language. Key to the method was his use of dramatic technique style, the goal of which was to eliminate students’ inhibitions and encourage dialogue from the first day of class.

Rassias grew up in Manchester, NH, the son of Greek immigrants. Before heading to college, he served in the U.S. Marines, piloting an amphibious tank in the 1st Marine Division’s landing in the Battle of Okinawa, on April 1, 1945, the last and largest of the Pacific island battles of World War II.

He studied French at the University of Bridgeport, from which he graduated summa cum laude in 1950. Following graduation, he went to the Universite de Dijon in France as a Fulbright Scholar, and stayed there to complete his PhD. He then went to Paris, where he studied French drama at the Sorbonne and acted in the theater.

His time in the theater served him well as he developed his teaching method.

In 1964, he began a long affiliation with the Peace Corps language programs, working as a consultant and developer. Two years later, he became director of the first pilot program of languages for the Peace Corps in Africa, leading training in the Ivory Coast. The Rassias Method of language instruction was later adopted by the Peace Corps.

Rassias joined the Dartmouth faculty in 1965, and served thousands of students and colleagues for close to 50 years. He was a founder of the College’s Language Study Abroad programs and was the director of foreign study programs for several years.

His commitment to communication and cultural understanding was the cornerstone of his life.

The Rassias Method of instruction lives on, not only at Dartmouth, but around the world. In the past few years the method—brought to Mexico by John’s daughter Helene Rassias-Miles – has been taught to more than 2,000 English language public school teachers who, in turn, have instructed hundreds of thousands of Mexican students throughout the country.

Rassias-Miles, her father, and Dartmouth alumna Luanne Zurlo ’87 created the Mexico project. “It was such a huge love of his,” she said yesterday from Mexico. “He was so excited that I was coming down this week to work on it with our colleagues.”


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