CAN TECHNOLOGY BE TRUE TO METHODOLOGY?
CALICO ’93 Keynote Presentation
The College of William and Mary
Thursday, 11 March 1993
John Rassias, Dartmouth College
[A written transcription, only slightly edited, in the sedate medium of print completely
misses the heart and soul of John Rassias's charismatic presentation. The following can
be no more than a shadowy, grey record of a technicolor performance, at best a
reminder, to those privileged to have witnessed it, of an extraordinary launching of the
'93 CALICO meetings. In the framework of a classic "Dartmouth Method" workshop,
John Rassias — true to his Greek roots — engaged in a titanic wrestling match with
high technology, "the ogre, " "the monster. " It is far from clear who won, but the combat
was well worth watching. Editor.]
Thank you for that introduction, Frank... I wish my wife and my mother were here. My
wife would have been pleased, my mother would have believed every word you said.
I am really delighted to be here. I really can't tell you how happy I am! So let me start.
Why am I here? I would like to consider myself one of you before you became who you
are now, a model I have selected to follow and actually to realize.
CALICO Journal, Volume 10 Number 2 30
I am still lagging behind, and I am still trying to cope with all the CALL products you
have given us, with which you are flooding us. Most of you, I know are teachers, so
perhaps by the end of this we will come to some kind of all understanding. However, I
am trying my damndest to cope, through my attendance here and experiencing the
energy of this room, the commitment of this room, and, of course, your insistent,
unrelenting, and piercing vision. We are going together to the point where we have to
face reality. We have to come with grips with what is going on.
TECHNOLOGY AND THE DARTMOUTH/DANA COLLABORATIVE
I am trying to close the gap, through my capacity as director of the Dartmouth
College/Dana Foundation Collaborative Program where we bring people to Hanover to
spend the summer to work with us on projects varying from research and pedagogy, to
what new methods can be brought into the classroom and what other techniques we
can profit from in our daily contact with students.
We try in our collaborative efforts to codify cultural signs — we have already done a lot
of work in French, Spanish, Italian, and Japanese to get these codes onto videotape and
somehow tied into the computer and brought into the classroom. We do have a full
component of computer literacy and applications, and through the indulgence of a good
friend and collaborator, Joel Goldfield, I was brought into that domain also, and — give
me credit for the brilliant idea, please — I appointed Joel to be in charge of that entire
component of computer literacy. Marvelous things are being done.
I also have to thank friends in the audience who have enlightened me in this area,
Peggy Beauvois is here and others who are not, Ray Clough of Canisius, and Bruce
Duncan of Dartmouth, Ted Yao of Mount Holyoke, and I would like to pay homage to
Rev. Timothy Healy, Peggy's brother, who died tragically and far too early. I will never
forget Timothy's constant urging to do more and more and more and more to push the
cause of languages.
All these people have had impact — we have to do something about this state of the art,
now! I would like to dive into the subject itself with the two things that really perplex
CALICO Journal, Volume 10 Number 2 31
THE PRESIDENTIAL COMMSSION ON FOREIGN LANGUAGES AND
In 1978, I was appointed by Jimmy Carter to the Presidential Commission on Foreign
Language and International Studies. Some of you may remember those years when we
were charged to look into why the United States lags severely in language education
and what we can do about it, not only in foreign languages but also in foreign studies.
We spent the entire year talking to this entire nation -- including Alaska and Hawaii.
Trying to talk with thousands of people, literally streams of people; these plenary
sessions that we held and we heard them. We read hundreds of papers, and we brought
in the visionaries. It was my charge as the chair of that task force on languages to find
the people in this country who are visionaries. Just about two days ago I started to give
serious thought to where that report was and what had happened to it. Are you aware,
ladies and gentlemen, that in 1979, with some of the best minds in this country working
on that project in languages, and in the technical field, not a single person made a
reference to the computer? Not a single reference went into that report that was issued
to the President in 1979, November. That perplexes me! Why? What went on? Why
weren't we able back then to take the flying leap into the future? Something went
wrong. We were not tuning in. We had about 120 recommendations... why we never
struck on the computer perplexes me.
You might recall what happened at the most recent Modern Language Association
convention in the city of New York. There were 725 seminars arranged a year in
advance, sometimes three years in advance. 725 seminars including the cash bars, by
the way, during which the most stimulating discussions took place. Of those 725
seminars only 6 were devoted to computer literacy and applications. Out of 725 only 6. I
can't even give you a figure in percentages (Ed.: 0.8%). But this is appalling! Why did
that happen? We have to go dragging and screaming and kicking and some of you well
know, those of you who teach languages what a battle we have in the Modern
Language Association to get languages into prominence. It was a question of our
collective energy yelling, screaming, kicking, and boxing and fighting and gouging to
get languages in position for some recognition. There is a moral in that, and a very solid
moral for us. With all the degrees that have been amassed by this group, all the
experience that you have over the years, all the brilliant contributions you made to the
CALICO Journal, Volume 10 Number 2 32
field, there is one area, I dare say, where we are all sorely lacking. We don’t have
enough clout. Regardless of degrees, despite all of this training, we have not been in
touch with fighting the political battle. This is, I think, today, more or as important as
the technological advances you are making.
It is the old story of the rabbi and the priest who go to the boxing match, and as the
boxers are being introduced, and their mouthpieces are being put in, and as the gloves
fitted on, and the robes, and people are giving them their massages, and then the referee
gives them their instructions, one of the two boxers makes a sign of the cross. The rabbi
turns to the priest and says, "what, what, what, what, what is he doing? What is he
doing that for?" And the priest says, "My dear sir it doesn't mean a damn thing if he
does not know how to box." We are in that position. Now we have to do something, we
have to box and we have to hit and hit hard.
First, I would like to follow-up on a critique in the symposium proceedings about the
status of language in this country. Second, I would like to make a very quick reference
to the language laboratory as a perilous parallel and then swing over to my own selfassessment
— what the hell am I going to do with this monster you have created? Am I
going to live with it, am I going to scorn it, am I going to try to run, run, run away or
am I going to face it? I am going to try to face it, and I would like to show you how
through the conducting remarks which constitute the five-step framework for getting to
that kind of, not level of tolerance, but rather that level of full cooperation.
THE STATUS OF LANGUAGE LEARNING
First, I would like to point out to you that the criticism of language learning in this
country might have to do with our own neglect. Once we have recognized the fact, we
know what we have to do. We have to fight; we have to yell and scream. But what
brought us to this position? Unrealistic, totally unrealistic expectations. What we are
supposed to produce, when we have a high school senior graduating body of whom
15% are enrolled in the study of languages, of whom 5%, one out of every twenty, one
out of every twenty, I repeat, go on beyond the second year. What are you going to
CALICO Journal, Volume 10 Number 2 33
learn in two years? Two disjointed, two fractured years? Zero, in terms of literacy,
comprehension, and more important, in terms of understanding the cultures of the
languages we are trying to teach.
Second, consider, of the entire undergraduate and graduate population in this country,
roughly 11 million people, fewer than l% are studying the languages spoken by 80% of
the people with whom we are supposed to share this globe. That would be roughly
110,000 Americans studying languages spoken by some 4 billion. It is an outrage, and
we allow this thing to happen! No! There has to be a consistent and unending pressure
on Neanderthal administrators who pass the buck on languages and refuse to
encourage them in the curriculum. — This is too good a day, too good an audience to
reduce to tears! — We, the only country in the world in the universe — on the planet —
in the galaxy — in anything adjacent where someone can go from the cradle of learning
where the sounds usually emitted are "yah, yah, yah” — past the graveyard of a Ph.D.
which curiously sounds the same "yah, yah, yah, yah, yah" — without once being
obliged to learn a foreign language. This is an outrage — intolerable and a
condemnation of the values of our society. And that has to change.
What net result? Consider the impact of that. How do we do business with the rest of
the world? We can't even do business within our own boundaries! One of the single
largest markets in the United States today is the Hispanic market. It is a multi-billiondollar
business. How do we deal with it? With the greatest stupidity and ignorance
imaginable. It is intolerable! Are you aware that Braniff Air — they are no longer flying
— introduced leather seats? that their slogan was "fly leather?" and in trying to appeal
to the Hispanic market that slogan came out in Spanish as an exhortation to everyone to
Eastern Air is no longer flying, is it? And why? Their logo featured inverted wings and
underneath the motto, "We earn our wings daily." Well put yourself on an airplane; you
are Hispanic. Before you buy your ticket, you go to the counter and you are on the
plane now and you want to give money to this great line that has that greatest interest
in your welfare. Then you hear a mellifluous voice from the cabin that says, "Welcome
and..." The flight is getting close to landing. What are the two most dreaded words
when you fly in the plane? "Final" and "Terminal." And then when that voice says to
you now "Welcome. We are delighted you are flying Eastern Air... Ladies and
gentleman, when we get to the terminal we hope that you enjoy yourselves wherever
CALICO Journal, Volume 10 Number 2 34
your final destination might be." Their logo, their slogan was "We Earn Our Wings
Daily." It came out in Spanish, "We Arrive as Angels."
I saw the following with my own eyes and heard it with my own ears in Atlanta,
Georgia. They were pitching to the Hispanic market. Frank Perdue comes out with this
glowing yellow plastic chicken and, in his inimitable twang, he says "Ladies and
Gentlemen, it takes a tough man to make a tender chicken." The writing underneath is
the Spanish equivalent of "it takes a sexually stimulated man to make a chicken
pregnant." We remember the Russian incident where Khrushchev in that very famous
misquotation, raised his pudgy hands on high and as they screeched toward the
podium his voice met them halfway and the world heard "We will bury you!"
Everything flew into the air, and I felt the planet rock. You all know the truth of the
matter. He never really said that. He was trying to say, not any the less threatening, but
a hell of a lot less alarming, "We will survive you." We now know he was wrong. But at
that time, what did he do to the Cold War? He heated it up and people were plugged —
bang, bang, bang. Because of what? A mistranslation. So the language profession in a
way brought upon itself these conditions because we have allowed these things to
happen. Time to stop, time to end it all.
The Language Laboratory
But let's move, please, to a second category that interests me. It is the language
laboratory. You remember that? No, you don't. Some of you weren't even around then. I
remember all too clearly what happened in the early 50's; money gushed out of every
pore of this government because we had to have a way to learn languages fast. So some
ninny up there said "Oh, you know you can only get money when you subscribe to the
National Defense Act, right?" "You can get anything you want." So what do we do?
Everyone is going: "get that, that, that, that, that," (and when you say that fast it sounds
like "blah, blah, blah, blah"). That's what happened, the labs were installed, and my,
what a glorious disaster they were! What a resounding failure! My experience, maybe
not yours, but mine.
I was asked to take a tour and see what was happening in the language laboratories,
and I went to Connecticut. I went to a high school where they had just brought in — I
think it was dictaphone components, in nice shiny blue booths. I am walking through,
being escorted by the person in charge of the lab, and the person was saying, "these
CALICO Journal, Volume 10 Number 2 35
and new things... and students come in once in awhile... and here they are." Then I
was attracted by something, it stunned me, because on the panel there was a hook and
beads, worry beads. I said "What in heaven's name is that electronic component?" And
she said "No, no, sir, you don't understand." (I think I would put this in the time capsule
as the greatest invention of the mid-half of the twentieth century.) "These worry beads
are intended for use when the urge overwhelmingly seizes the student to take a pen or
pencil and jam it into the circuitry. We encourage him or her to use the worry beads or
digital distractors instead." That was the language laboratory! That was what was going
to help us to teach languages? Do these circumstances still prevail? I fear they still do,
but the perilous parallel is the many, many computer installations throughout the
country which lie fallow. This is an outrage. People are not using them. They become
word processors in most cases. So we need something — you have to produce those
things that will somehow shake these people out of the doldrums.
Self-Assessment and "the Monster"
But now I would like to hit, if I may, the real heart of the problem as far as I am
concerned. What is my role going to be when I've got next to me, available to me, this
electric marvel? What type of situation would call for their use, by someone like me,
driven by passion filled with emotion, sometimes of destructive tendencies,
uncontrolled by worry beads and convinced, convinced, absolutely convinced in my
heart and soul that languages are learned best through the emotions and therefore the
conclusion begs itself: language instruction is an anti-intellectual phenomenon. I am
committed to that belief.
The mind is a cesspool — it destroys whatever goes into it. It creates problems, it tells
people they can't do this; it tells people they have to be analytical; it wants schematics,
matrices; it wants things that language rejects! We don't learn through schematics; we
don't learn through neatly outlined paradigms. So what am I to do with this electronic
ogre? Am I going to confine it to the language lab, to a language learning center? I am
only talking from my personal perspective. Am I going to say I refuse to recognize you
because you ain't got no emotion, because you are just a matter of circuits of which I
want no part? I think many people win take that attitude and many people will just set
it aside. NO! Let me try to acquaint you with, at least roughly, how I view this situation.
CALICO Journal, Volume 10 Number 2 36
Language Learning as Drama
Inasmuch as the language classroom is really a theater, but a theater not in the strict
sense of the word, because theater from Greek means "a place to sit," and see, and stare,
not become involved, it is a stage, more accurately, which is filled with drama, because
it is the drama, which again in Greek which means "action," participatory action. Now
visualize that. When I go into the classroom I am not the teacher. I hate the word
"facilitator," but I guess that is what we are. I rather consider myself a partner or a coactor
in this class. It is my experience that takes me where I try to go.
Because of that commitment to the student, as partners, as co-actors in this drama, I am
going to invite this monster, I will invite this ogre to come into the classroom, and I am
going to introduce him, or her, or it, to the class and say this is our good friend. He or
she is going to play an integral part in everything we do. I believe that it is possible and
I know that it is possible. I see it happening, and I would like to explain how.
I would look upon this animal as a kicking, living, breathing, fire eating, fire-spewing
creation. I could see this thing functioning in a way because I know that I need to
challenge it as much and as far as I can. So to me this powerful tool will be one level of
instruction, but it will help me in sensitization. We as teachers know that the entire goal
of education serves 00, purpose and that is to humanize the people with whom we are
ranking. Now if this little ogre can help me, then I am going to use him or her or it to
the fullest possible advantage. How will I do that?
I need 5 volunteers. I want to show you how the ogre is going to work with me.
Before the experiment, let's consider the following:
There is merit in criticism of language instruction. I think we know why. We have to
change that; we have to learn how to box. You are the power makers in this country,
and a concerted effort going back, supporting the language staffs could make a vast
I tried to point out this perilous parallel to a language laboratory, because it died. They
went as far as visual distractions instead of truly challenging materials.
CALICO Journal, Volume 10 Number 2 37
And now my own self assessment, and I said I would try a five-step approach, very
briefly, to show you how I had to overcome in my own mind confronting this ogre.
I. KNOW THYSELF
The first step of this five-step approach goes to the center of knowing who we are. We
have to know who we are.
I visualize us all coming out of our mother's womb looking like the most vulnerable
creature in the entire universe — in the galaxy — in anything adjacent thereto.
Vulnerability is the first definition that I would give that creature: handsome, beautiful,
unfettered, untouched. And what happens to vulnerability, that most beautiful of all
traits and the one most often exploited? As we grow we acquire crusts. And the first
crust I would call the family. The family, as you know, protects us. Regardless of social,
economic, political, religious backgrounds, we all live behind a white picket fence. The
family protects us from any encroachment, any intrusion. No one is allowed in who
doesn't look like us, smell like us, talk like us, dress like us. So we are protected.
Already our opinions are being formed. I acquired some fabulous notions from my
family, and a few that I had to question in my later years.
The Peer Crust
The second layer is the peer layer. This is the layer where we all want to be, and our
opinions are being shaped regarding languages, regarding computers, regarding who
we are and how we are supposed to relate. It is kind of cool to look stupid. You all
know that... You've seen it repeatedly. How would you feel if on a cold February day,
about 3 years ago in Hanover, where the snow flies free and furiously, student after
student came into my class (with that walk — I'm number one, I'm cool) and I looked at
each kid, and I glanced down at each person's knees... and these very expensive blue
jeans were slashed! And I said "Whoa! Who is your tailor?" Nobody answered! One
after the other — it was so cold that the holes in the jeans revealed the color blue of their
skin! And yet they persisted in this insane dress. Finally, I discovered the name of that
tailor. You know it, and I know it, it was "Mr. Conformity." Now I had to do something
CALICO Journal, Volume 10 Number 2 38
about this situation. I can't tolerate that! I'm not there to alter their minds, but I have to
offer alternatives to the ways of doing things, but before we get to that...
As we grow, from in to out, the last layer is the most difficult one, because that is the
layer we are in; that is the career layer. What is that career layer all about? It is the same
as the bluejean syndrome. We don’t dress that way, but we do conform because we
learned to accept the paradigm of success; you know it, and I know it: "Don't rock the
A lot of my colleagues throughout the country not only where I work say that the
computer belongs in an isolated situation. It shouldn't be a partner in the classroom.
That is absurd. Let it be used only for homework. No, it is not for homework! That is for
learning with us at the same time as we teach, and as we learn. So when we get this far,
the only thing I can think of to shatter these characteristics is to take a keg of dynamite
... now let me show you what would happen if this is the student, and this is the
teacher, and they compete. Does anything ever change? No! But it is possible, I dare say,
that we take the metaphoric dynamite and insert it into the appropriate openings —
blow away these crusts so that communication will take place heart to heart.
We have to do that. We have to show people that it is possible to get and to use these
instruments, making us realize that the new paradigm is going to be: You gotta use this!
It is too valuable a property! Is it going to remain an etch-a-sketch plaything in a
laboratory or is it going to be an ally — is it going to be the Library of Congress? That is
what I think it is.
We have to connect with what we are doing! This is where I come across to you as a
user. Connect with what we are doing. To connect means relevancy. It means to
challenge, it means to excite, it means to amuse, it means to shatter all the known norms
Let me quickly give you this by way of anecdote which is absolutely true! In 1973 the
United States Government started to get involved with the Chinese Communist
government. They sent in the first group of Chinese visitors, a group of ping-pong
players. The second group that came in was made up of administrators — they all
CALICO Journal, Volume 10 Number 2 39
spoke English. I received a call, and this man said, "We would to have you please give a
demonstration." I said, "Fine."
This man shows up — the eleventh hour! — the night before they arrive. And he said
"John, we would like you to do this, and we are grateful to you for doing this, but we
want you please to follow some restrictions." I said "All right, I'm all ears. I want to
cooperate, I want to do well because I am a good person." I got this guy hooked... Now,
"We would like you not to walk while you talk."
I said, "All right, what is number 2?"
"We would like you please not to draw undue attention to anybody."
What is number 3?
"We would like you not to touch anybody."
What is number 4? And he said, I quote:
"And don’t t kiss anyone!"
So I said, "Get yourself another boy. You just crippled me." I walked out of the room,
down the stairs — this guy panicked, ran after me — making the biggest mistake of his
career said to me "John, come back please, just use your own discretion."
He brought twelve Chinese administrators, all knowing English; they spoke it very
well. I was supposed to teach them something. I couldn't use English; I didn’t want to
use English. They knew some French, so I chose Greek.
I went through this lesson, as I was puffing away furiously, bobbing, weaving,
punching, skirting, diving, moving rhythmically, choreographed... they were digging
the lesson! Do not draw undue attention to the school, and the government invited 300
When the lesson finished, I turned to the man who was dead center in front of me, — I
did not know who they were — a very neat, porcelain-figured man, very slight, with a
blue-grey Mao jacket. I said, "Would you please, sir, come forward?" It turned out to
be Mr. Chen. "Now Mr. Chen," I turned and said "Mr. Chen, will you share with your
comrades what you just learned?" I carefully crafted a lesson that contained one
CALICO Journal, Volume 10 Number 2 40
hundred and forty-two words. I tried to structure them so that they could be
manipulated. This was a fifty minute onslaught. This was fifty-minutes of sheer
perspiration. My shoes were sloshing. I was soaking wet, all the way through. And as I
moved, looking like a mad man, Mr. Chen got up — here he -- I swear to you, I swear to
you, as he started to breathe the Mao jacket started to slip away, and in its place came
the Greek free-flowing blouse that was used by the Evzones when they went into battle.
He was no longer Chinese! He was Greek! More Greek than I. And he performed the
most miraculous dance as he gave that lesson to his comrades. I was so completely
overwhelmed, goosebumply actually, I spun around, lifted him up high — I gave that
man two of the wettest kisses he ever could have had in his life! I mean wet! Sloppy,
wet! More like the waves of the Aegean clapping the shores. Imagine, saliva all over the
The security guards started to make their move. No one breathed. And everyone looked
— and I see my life going fast. I see World War III started. As I put him down, he
turned to me and he tried to lift me. He gave up. He stood on his toes and gave me 2
What happens next? The entire room relaxed! All of the taboos, all of the cultural
restrictions, what to do, what not to do — out the window. Because we connected at the
level of raw humanity, true sentiment, the feeling of the only identity was that we
belonged to the human race. The emotional level, not the intellectual level.
The next day, having been invited by Mr. Chen, now that we are friends, to criticize his
textbook; I read the book. The title was Beginning English for Chinese Students, and I
studied it all night. The following day we met in one of the conference rooms, and Mr.
Chen said, "What do you think of the book?" I said "Frankly, good sir, let me begin by
saying to you that any text with which I am familiar in any language usually opens with
a warm embrace."
"When you say in French 'Bonjour’ you know, it is like summer wind, rain shower,
warmth, caress, kiss, love. 'Buenos Dias' is another world you are opening up! But each
word is like an embrace. And Mr. Chen, I don't think your text quite does it. I quote
page 1: 'Hello you imperialist war monger.' This is not going to do it if you want any
I swear to you, this is true. Ok, now they are leaving. They left, they vanished. Eight
years later, a call from the State Department: Take these people wherever you want: no
security, we'll just set it up." So we did. Mr. Chen survived the revolution and brought
me a gift. It was a book.
CALICO Journal, Volume 10 Number 2 41
New Edition: Beginning English for Chinese Students. Are you ready for this? Put on your
seat belts, because this is the way he connected. They were told to connect, connect with
the spontaneity. Here's what he came up with. My eyes caressed the following sentence:
... “’My, that was a quicky,' she said in bewilderment." That was really connecting.
Some of you may know the name of Louis Jouvet. He was one of the best-known actors
of this century, and directors, who with all the speech defects that he had, went on to
become one of the best that France ever produced.
Jouvet once called a congress in Paris, and all of the best directors in Europe, — by best
I mean the most popular, the ones with the greatest success rate, and the most talented
in their craft — all appeared. Jouvet said, "May I remind you that in this room, with this
collected wisdom, which when properly channeled could probably blow this globe into
another orbit? May I remind you not to stop, may I remind you further that given the
opportunity in a theater, the one person who seeks to hide in the dark, if given the
opportunity, that person untutored, unschooled, inexperienced, given the opportunity
n-tight make you look like a stumblebum? His or her imagination could outwit yours
by light years." is what he said.
III. SPECIAL DELIVERY
Let me take you, please, into where the ogre and I will try to do something with you.
This is my classroom. I like to work with a lot of people. I am one of those freaks who
believes that you team language best when you multiply the greatest number. I like the
energy that is generated. I like the intimacy. When you get that into you, it is a fireball
— the class is like a fireball — going back and forth. Everything that goes out comes
back. Everyone is alive! Everyone is awake! Everyone is learning. No one sleeps, there is
no place to hide, there are no desks, there are no books. It is combat. Language is a
contact sport. Language is a physical phenomena, not an intellectual experience. But my
ogre friend is going to pipe in at a certain moment and make this lesson really come
We have in our system some fifty techniques, each of which is wed to a specific
grammatical concept. These can be put into the ogre's brain where it can be a service in
the classroom. Let me give you one technique where language is being taught through
rhythm. We don’t do language through words; we do it through rhythm. That is to say
that you pick up the beat, and you learn by the tone, not by the word itself.
CALICO Journal, Volume 10 Number 2 42
And all the people who work this way soon discover that each language has its own
rhythm. And if you can time or snap to that rhythm, you've got a dance of words; you
have a dance that enters your brain and stays there. Retention is rapid. As a caution, I
repeat this is one small part of a whole configuration.
I will now work with the group of volunteers, and the audience is invited please not to
sleep. As I move around, my point is to try to catch them (the volunteers) off guard. So
as I move, gracefully, I snap my fingers here and... you expect me to call on you. You
are normal, but I am not, so I look at you [right side of the group], but you [far left side
of the group] answer. Now you're listening. The computer is not on.
[Editor's Note: For the sake of transcription, the Greek words used in the following
demonstration are phonetically spelled.]
You learn from what you hear, and how you hear it. In my trip to China, where we
made a film, I met this person... This is absolutely true! I said, "How do you do?" and
she said "I'm swzzzzzz good." Then I asked "Where are you from'?," and she said
"zzzswssss zzzhheeeee swzzzzh anjing." She had learned language from the Voice of
Now, my ogre friend is going to give me all the firepower I need and work with me as
Language learning that is warm and cuddly like a bear, language learning that is
positive and encouraging works best. Count the mind out. The mind is a cesspool. We
go for the emotions.
Suppose.... (Dr. Rassias instructs one of the volunteers to mispronounce the word
"Bross.") you mispronounce the word Bross...
BRAVO! You are excellent! [Kisses kisses kisses.]
CALICO Journal, Volume 10 Number 2 43
I have enough confidence in myself, that by the time I am through with this, that he will
get it right. But suppose I took the, what I call the Karate Teacher... Say "Bross"
R: Warm, human, embrace
R: NO! Ahhhhh! Chop chop chop You are terrible! Guess who is not coming back to
That's what Mamma used to do when I wanted pita. I'd say "Mamma, Mamma,
Mamma — Thelo pita!" And she did not say "I will not give it to thee until thou useth
the perfect participle." Had she done that, I would have become a serial murderer.
R: Bross, BRoss, BROSS! Everyone Bross!
Now another one: Stamata.
R: Stamata, Stamata!, STAMATA! Everyone STAMATA!
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Now see what happens: [Dr. Rassias points to different volunteers who answer: Bross!
Stamata!] That's RIGHT! All too quickly for my taste...
Language is a contact sport. Two and two do ultimately make four. Bross, Stamata, now
quickly: Yeerisay. [The exercise repeats with the volunteers and audience pronouncing
Now to the end: Bross; Stamata; Yeerisay; and now one more: Bross; Stamata; Yeerisay;
Bravo and kisses!!!
Now we are going to try something death-defying. I am going to put my life in your
hands. You are in control.
Bross! Stamata! Yeerisay! Peeso!
In language learning, as with computers, we don’t teach in a linear way, but in
parallelism. What we should do instead of teaching directions alone, is to teach
locomotion along with each movement.
So I am going to give you a horse. Get on a horse, please.
Now I am going to give you, because you deserve it, a Mercedes Benz.
You can only be a submarine captain.
You are on a pogo stick.
You are riding a bicycle.
Now watch what happens very quickly, please, to this class where we truly have the
ogre as our ally.
Bross! Now make horse noises. Go, Go. Neigh!
Yeerisay — horse noises! Peeso, Peeso, Peeso .... stamata. Yeerisay. Stamata. Bross!
Bross! Horse noise! Stamata! Yeerisay! Now Yeerisay with the horse noise! Stamata.
CALICO Journal, Volume 10 Number 2 45
Any of you ever dared to cross a street in Athens? What we hear is RrRrrrrrrrrr POW!
And "beep beep" after the accident.
[The exercise is repeated with the submarine volunteer, who must make “submarine
I would like to give one command and ask the entire group to perform it, but make the
noise of your vehicles, would you please? Then our friend can get into the interaction.
On the count of three make the noise!
All I suggest now is that at this point our ogre friend here can introduce video or
pictures of some sort, that can take these people through the streets of Athens. I can't
bring Greece into the classroom, but this computer can. I think this, as crude as that
sounds to you, is one instance where we can begin invoking technology.
I am not terrified of the computer, I am not terrified of this, I have done some intensely
interactive work, back in the dark ages of 1982 under a contract by CBS and 20th
I will learn along with you, which most of us do in our classrooms anyway. So I see
really and ultimately no change whatsoever. I see bringing this computer in, working
with me, me working with it, studying it as much as anything else I have ever done. I
would just say that again I apologize for the crudeness of that example, but I trust that it
shows you a sign of damned good faith in being willing to tackle this ogre.
IV. STAGE PRESENCE
The classroom requires stage presence. I'd like to connect the two steps that remain in
my five-step approach with the notion of stage presence, of delivery. Look at this room
as it now stands. Whatever is happening in this room, for better for worse; we are
seated in a certain fashion; there are certain sounds around us, some of which we can
hear immediately and others which reach us subliminally. There is smell in the room,
there is taste, there is anything you want; life is in this room. My point in teaching my
students is to try to make it clear not by telling them that, but if I am good, if I am hot
and if I am really on fire, and I should be "on," there is no excuse for not being "on." It
does the students a disservice, and it does all of us a disservice. Teaching is a brutal job.
You know, those of you who teach, as well as I. But what I am trying to get across by
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turning my energy on full-blast, is: show the students that what is happening now in
this room will never happen again. Not in a hundred-billion years. It is impossible. So
everything for me is a one-shot deal. I am dying; you are, too. Therefore, why don't we
make the most of it and make life a one shot that repeats itself If that happens, I believe
that the classroom is a living arena.
Wasn't it Heraclitus who said you can never put your foot twice in the same river? I try
to make it so that once you get that foot out of the water, at least it will be water logged,
and that's the difference. So everything has to fire at the highest level. Language
teaching, when it is properly done, I think, is one of the most extraordinarily effective
instruments in the cause of communication and understanding. When it is poorly done,
it works the exact opposite way. So stage presence is that reflects all the human qualities
we have in our fives.
You (the audience) have to feed us the material, however, that makes us laugh, that
makes us cry; you can do that because when you are smiling in your heart, you are in
the mood. As teachers you are the same as I. We need material; we can deliver; we can
create it in our mind, but when we go into an ogre, we have to have the best you can
V. EMOTIONS AND SENSES
The emotions, I started by saying to you, I believe are the unique path to learning.
When I say the emotions, I include the senses. For the senses too, the only way we
acquire knowledge has to function with the emotions. And what I would like to believe
and say is that you have to give us material, not only that allows us to look at
something and to admire — it is the configuration and physical beauty of it — but
material that makes us look and really see what is going on in other cultures which the
classroom must have. Language cannot be taught unless it is culture-saturated.
Language without culture is disastrous. That is the sad part. What we need is to look to
see and listen but really hear the voices of the people, hear them as they explain
themselves, hear their gestures and see them at the same time. You must give us
materials that really smell, not stink, but smell where we can react to the smell that you
show us. It has to be live, it has to be textured, it has to be something we can reach out
and grab and swallow and eat. And then, too, you have to do this material, you have to
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do this because it is so crucial or otherwise none of it is worthwhile. You have to give us
material to taste and when we have savored that material, it should be so effective that
we should burp after we have tasted it. If we don't burp after we have tasted it, then it is
Last but not least: I think you have to give us material that shows people how to touch.
Of the five senses I believe touch to be the most important. If you show how you can
touch people, as we try to do in our regular live classrooms, then we will all learn how
to be touched. That is what the world needs today: to learn how to be touched. To touch
without being touched is a foolish and obscene act of quitting, of dismissing the
conscience. So we have to be taught how to touch and to experience ultimately a new
sense of our humanity.
I want to give you my greatest thanks for your tolerance, indulgence and giving me a
chance to experience you. Thank you very much.
John Rassias, the William R. Kenan Professor of French at Dartmouth College, is the
originator of the Rassias Method®. He developed this highly effective approach to
language instruction while training Peace Corps Volunteers in the early sixties, and
adapted it to Dartmouth undergraduate instruction in 1967. Now the Rassias Method is
used in hundreds of learning institutions throughout the world. Dr. Rassias is the
Director of the College's Language Outreach Program (LORE) and the Rassias
Foundation, which designs language and culture courses to meet special needs. The
Dartmouth/Dana Collaborative, made possible by a five-year grant from the Charles A.
Dana Foundation, has enabled Dr. Rassias to work with visiting colleagues toward the
improvement of language and culture instruction through developing video and
computer-assisted learning materials.
Dartmouth/Dana Foundation Collaborative
6701 Wentworth Hall, Department MB
Hanover, NH 03755-3526
Phone:(603) 646-2922 or (603) 646-3432
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