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Q:

Hello! I was wondering if a student could tell me more about the Rassias Method. How does this program work with Dartmouth undergraduates? Thank you!

A: Angie Janumala '22

If you're not already familiar with it, Dartmouth professor John Rassias developed the Rassias method in the 1960s as a fun and speedy way to teach languages. Below, I'll show you a taste of what it looked like in action for me at Dartmouth!

Natasha '23 excellently discusses the basics of the Rassias Method here. My personal experience with it begins with Russian 1 freshman year. I had already filled my language requirement through AP Spanish, but I still took Russian just for fun. My traditional Russian class met four times a week, where we learned writing, vocabulary, and culture. Then, separately from that, my drill section, which was myself and 5 other students, met every weekday (at 7:45am!). My drill instructor was a '21 (a sophomore at that point), and she modeled exercises written by our professor, then randomly picked us to practice repeating or filling in the blanks of the exercises. A vital part of drill is the rhythm of it: John Rassias incorporated his theater background into developing drill, and the drill instructor incorporates rhythmic snapping and movement to keep the section attentive (as you could be called on at any time) and having fun as well.

For example, one exercise type is called substitution. To model a substitution exercise, my drill instructor might read out a sentence like "Простите, а где библиотека?" (Excuse me, where is the library?). Then, she'd say театр (theater), snap her fingers, and say "Простите, а где театр?" (Excuse me, where is the theater?). Then we students would practice substituting - my drill instructor could say музей (museum), then snap her fingers towards me, and I ideally would reply "Простите, а где музей?" (Excuse me, where is the museum?)

Let's say I messed up and said something like "Простите, а где парк?" (Excuse me, where is the park?). Surprisingly, I wouldn't lose any points, and time would not stop still as the other 5 students in my section turned to laugh at me - although I was definitely worried about that at first! Instead, mistakes are actually built into the rhythm of the drill, so everyone can feel comfortable both making mistakes and learning to correct themselves. If I did mess up like in this example, my drill instructor would just snap to another student, who could give me the correct answer of "Простите, а где музей?". Then she'd come back to me, so I'd have a chance to say "Простите, а где музей?" and show that I understood the correct answer. That way, all of us students can model correct pronunciation, grammar, and vocabulary for each other, and I might be a model for the others in a later exercise. I think the communal rhythm is a great way to combine all the strengths of the students in a section, because language learning becomes a team sport, and you succeed when you help others succeed.

Before my model language lesson spoils too much more of the Rassias Method, I'll finish with some of my own personal comments about the method. I genuinely learned so much in those ten weeks of Russian 1, not just of the language but of the culture as well. Nowadays, I actually get to teach drill for Spanish to middle-schoolers, in collaboration with the Rassias Center at Dartmouth and the New England Innovation Academy (NEIA). It feels great to help educate younger kids, strengthen my own Spanish skills, and expand the reach of not just the Rassias Method but the Dartmouth values of community, diligence, and fun that are inherent in the method as well.

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