36. A Tidal Wave of Love: The John Rassias Legacy

In our continuing series of episodes featuring the most well-known summer language immersion programs in America, in Episode 36 we travel to Dartmouth College in New Hampshire, home of the famed Rassias Center, named in honor of the beloved professor John Rassias.

For years, almost since I began studying bilingualism in America, I heard about John Rassias—mostly from former students who raved about how he was such an inspiring and effective teacher. I knew I would have to learn more about him and meet him for myself, but something happened before I could. That something was his passing in 2015.

Notice of his death at the age of 90 elicited warm tributes in The Atlantic, The New York Times, and The Wall-Street Journal. Congress had a moment of silence.

Three years later my friend Wayne Welch, my dog, Chet, and I arrived at Dartmouth with my mobile recording unit (aka my Ford F-150 crew cab pickup). One question above all others was nagging me as I swung into a parking lot and turned off the engine. Given that John Rassias was so beloved, such a larger-than-life figure, would it be hard for his language center to continue without him?

I called the number for the administrator who had coordinated our trip. To my surprise, Helene Rassias-Miles, John’s daughter and now the center’s executive director, got on the phone. Stay where I was, she told me; she would come out to meet us.

And when she came, she walked right up and, even though we had never met, gave me a big hug and a warm smile. Immediately, I felt some of that Rassias love I had heard so much about.

Helene arranged for me to interview six other faculty members at the center besides herself. It was a long day, and full of surprises, as you’ll hear in the episode. You’ll also learn about the Rassias Method from people who teach it.

You’ll learn how much some people can advance their language skills in only 10 days of this program’s intense immersion. You’ll learn that the impact of John Rassias is larger outside of the United States than inside, and perhaps you’ll learn something more. We invite you to listen and judge for yourself whether the legacy of John Rassias shall long endure.


Listen on iTunes by clicking here: America the Bilingual by Steve Leveen on iTunes. Or on SoundCloud here. Steve comments on Twitter as well.


Learn about the program at Middlebury College in Episode 35 of America the Bilingual. Coming soon will be an episode on the Concordia Language Villages, with more to follow. And do let us know if your child dives into a language immersion program this summer.

Thank You

Our thanks to faculty members Tamara Smith, Joel Goldfield, Raul Lopez Acero, Jim Citron, Fernando Ausin and Michael Friesner. Further thanks to Rassias Center alumni Deborah Hannam and Ron Katz, who provided valuable background information, as well as to Rassias Center Board member Todd Gibby.

The work of John Rassias is carried on in Latin America through the organization Educando, and the Inter-American Partnership for Education (IAPE) founded by Dartmouth alumna Luanne Zurlo.


The America the Bilingual podcast is part of the Lead with Languages campaign of ACTFL—The American Council on the Teaching of Foreign Languages.

This episode was written and produced by me, Steve Leveen, and edited by Fernando Hernández, who also does the sound design and mixing. Mim Harrison is the editorial and brand director of the America the Bilingual project. The associate producer is Beckie Rankin, who provided ace background research, as always. Rob Kennedy, Alejandro Capriles and the rest of the team at Daruma Tech power our website. Graphic arts are created by Carlos Plaza Design Studio. Meet the America the Bilingual team—including our bark-lingual mascot, Chet—here.

Support for the America the Bilingual project comes from the Levenger Foundation.

Music in this episode, “Quasi Motion” by Kevin MacLeod, was used with a Creative Commons Attribution License. Our thanks to Epidemic Sound for helping us make beautiful music together.

Tamara Smith

Tamara Smith had already learned French, Spanish, Italian and Russian as a high school student before attending Dartmouth and becoming one of John Rassias’s stars. Today she teaches French to fifth-graders at the American School in London. She returns to Dartmouth each summer to teach at the Rassias Center. Here she leads a drill class in French.

Tamara Smith

Michael Friesner, Helene Rassias-Miles and Tamara Smith. “We have people that are so incredibly qualified to do anything,” says Helene. “They just believe in the Rassias Method.”

Tamara Smith

Raul Lopez teaching teachers in Mexico.