Skip to main content

Vox of Dartmouth, the College's newspaper for faculty and staff, ceased publication in February 2010. For current Dartmouth news and events, see:

· Dartmouth Now
· Periodicals
· Events Calendar

ALPS turns 25

Innovative Rassias Method of language instruction stands the test of time

The Accelerated Language Programs (ALPs), founded by Dartmouth Professor John A. Rassias, is known for being unorthodox. By using theatrical methods, intense language immersion, and demanding a profound personal engagement from students, the Rassias Method has inspired devotion from the tens of thousands of students who come to the Dartmouth campus for the 10-day ALPs program. In the program's early years, language experts were skeptical of Rassias' dramatic approach, but ALPs has withstood the test of time and this year, it celebrates its 25th anniversary.

ALPS logo

Rassias, the William R. Kenan Professor and former chair of the Department of French and Italian, developed the method in the 1960s while working as a consultant for Peace Corps language programs. His inspiration for the method came when he was faced with the decision to take to the stage or to enter the classroom. He decided to do both. "So I just took the essence of acting-the ability to touch an audience-and the essence of teaching—communication—and fused them," he says.

In 1981, Rassias resolved to offer a program that could teach a semester's worth of material in 10 intense days. The program works by complimenting master classes with small group intensive sessions. The Rassias Method focuses on constantly presenting and reinforcing the material in real-life contexts. The goal is always greater participant exposure to the language and more individualized attention. Each student is closely monitored and the instructors' approach is tailored to the individual. Students are required to speak in their foreign language both inside and outside the classroom and classes often involve skits, props, and high drama. It might be described as a language boot camp of the absurd.

The success and longevity of the program lies in its ability to surprise students out of their insecurities and provoke an emotional response that serves to create a lasting understanding of the language and culture. "The program has been successful because it produces results efficiently in an enthusiastic environment that seeks to simulate immersion in a foreign language and culture," explains Helene Rassias-Miles, executive director of the Rassias Foundation and the daughter of John Rassias. "Although the program is intellectually exhausting, our students praise the experience not only for its success in teaching new languages, but also because ALPs teaches intellectual and self-awareness in a fun setting that can only be described as an Outward Bound for the brain."

Over the course of its 25 years, ALPs has offered courses in American Sign Language (ASL), Mandarin Chinese, English as a Second Language (ESL), French, German, Italian, Japanese, Modern Greek, Portuguese, Russian, and Spanish. Custom programs specific to business or group needs have also been offered.

By GENEVIEVE HAAS and LAUREN LOTKO '06

Questions or comments about this article? We welcome your feedback.

Last Updated: 12/17/08