Spanish course Panama Boquete

Spanish Course Panama: Feedback from Boquete

Panama is a fantastic place to learn Spanish and here, a student from our partner school Habla Ya gives us first-hand feedback from her 6-week Spanish course in Boquete learning Spanish for work

“I’m a native English speaker from the U.S., and my Spanish was at a low intermediate level when I started at Habla Ya. I really enjoyed my time at the location in Boquete, and I learned a lot. I am now quite conversational (of course I still make tons of mistakes!), and I am able to speak Spanish with my clients at work. I consider many of the Habla Ya teachers good friends after my experience at the school, and I am thrilled to have Facebook as a way to keep in touch with them.

Spanish Course Panama – Learning Spanish for Work

Spanish course Panama Boquete schoolI attended Habla Ya for six weeks, and I was extremely motivated since I need to be proficient in Spanish for my job. The professors at Habla Ya took this seriously and helped me focus most on conversation and my comfort/confidence level. Through some strange (probably uncommon) circumstances, I think I had all but maybe two of Boquete’s Habla Ya professors while attending the school. This was a terrific experience for me because each teacher has a different style and some focus more on specific things than others. I especially liked the teachers who corrected me when I made the same mistakes repeatedly, as I learned a lot from this. It can be a tough balance because correcting every single mistake would slow the flow of conversation, but the corrections were always very helpful.

It wasn’t easy to be away from home and income for six weeks, but I feel like I really turned a corner after around week four, and weeks five and six were amazing since I could actually hold a conversation and improve my fluency and confidence level. I know it’s hard to get away for so long, but I highly recommend it if you can. I also recommend you take your learning into your own hands too. Bring supplemental materials and study them. Habla Ya can sell you an excellent language dictionary, but I also highly recommend the book 501 Verbs, the Practice Makes Perfect workbooks (they are available in hard copy or downloadable format), basic children’s novels in Spanish, movies (depending on your level, you can work your way up to watching with Spanish audio and Spanish subtitles), and especially podcasts like Buenos Dias America, Notes in Spanish, and Coffee Break Spanish. I would have been lost at times without these supplemental materials, as the Habla Ya texts don’t provide a lot of explanation. The teachers do, but when you’re back at your homestay trying to study or do your homework, it’s nice to have other helpful materials. And it was a serious luxury for me to be able to study Spanish around the clock, so I tried to immerse myself in Spanish constantly, even back at my homestay after dinner. (Also, a tip: if you need office supplies/notebooks, etc. while in Boquete, I recommend going to La Reina.)

Spanish Course Panama – Homestay Benefits

I highly recommend doing a homestay during your time at Habla Ya. My Spanish would not have advanced nearly so far if I hadn’t been speaking it every day, all day. I stayed with a lovely family in which the parents spoke almost no English, and that meant I had to use my Spanish to communicate and couldn’t slack off once classes were over. It was also wonderful to experience the culture of Boquete and the culture of Panama in a family setting.

Spanish Course Panama – Best Places To Go

Boquete is a lovely town, and I was glad I stayed in one place while I studied. I’ve taken Spanish classes elsewhere at a time in my life when the travel part of the trip was more important to me than the language acquisition part of the trip, but for my time in Boquete I was very focused on my studies. Boquete was a good choice as a place where I could concentrate. You just have to be careful you don’t spend much of your lunch and free time at American-owned establishments where you can speak English – it’s easy to fall into this, but it definitely doesn’t help in the long run.

Spanish course PanamaIf you can spend a couple of days in Panama City before heading to Boquete, that is very worthwhile. A trip to see the canal and spending some time in Casco Viejo would be my two top recommendations in Panama City.

If you can get to David while you’re in Boquete, you will see a very different type of city from Boquete, and I enjoyed that too. Taking the bus to David isn’t difficult, and anyone at Habla Ya can tell you how to do it. The excursions are also really fun (you can do these with Habla Ya or a number of other outfitters around town), and Giselle at Habla Ya is amazing at helping with travel booking, rides to and from the bus station, etc. I felt like Habla Ya took really good care of me while I was there. I felt very safe in Boquete, and the people were incredibly friendly. I fell in love with the place and hope to return.

Spanish Course Panama – Teachers & Classes

As I said, I had many teachers at Habla Ya, and I thought they were all very good. I enjoyed both the group and the individual classes. I started with group classes plus one hour of individual instruction each day, and the last week or so I had three hours of individual classes per day with no group classes. I didn’t plan it this way, but it worked out really well.

The group classes are great for learning grammar, learning from questions that other students ask, making friends, etc., and the individual classes allow you to ask all of your own questions, even when they don’t pertain to what you’re studying at the moment, and to talk talk talk talk talk (the most important thing you can do!).

boquete staffI’m very happy with how my experience at Habla Ya played out, as the last week or so I was literally just conversing with my individual instructors for one or two hours at a time, and this is just what I needed. And it was such fun to get to know them and hear about their lives and families and dreams. I highly recommend each of the teachers I had. Tamara was my individual professor for nearly the entire six weeks, and she helped me focus on legal terminology and the language I would need in my job. We did role plays so I could practice working with clients and get more comfortable in that format, and she helped me develop my conversational skills a lot. She is very good at correcting you without interrupting the conversation, and conversations are so pleasant and useful that the time just flies by. She speaks English well, which was helpful when I wanted to know how to convey a specific idea or sentiment in Spanish and couldn’t really explain it in Spanish.

Yubal was my group class professor, and he did such a great job keeping the group cohesive and making sure everyone had the same opportunities to share and practice their Spanish. He is very inquisitive, so it was fun to talk with him in Spanish about different political issues, problems, cultures, etc. In fact, that was one of my favorite things about the school. The lessons were structured so that we were studying and talking about major issues like capital punishment, drug trafficking, etc. The subject matter was fascinating so studying was interesting and kept your attention.

In a very short time I learned so much from Ericka and Widad. I felt like they took my Spanish up an entire level just in my last week or so. Yaira spent hours with me just chatting, which is the best way I’ve found to improve my Spanish, and she corrected some mistakes that I had been making over and over. I only had Irasema for my first week, but that was a great way to get adjusted to speaking Spanish daily, and she was very kind and patient. I think Arelis was my teacher for only one or two days, but she was an excellent teacher and a great friend and spirit throughout my stay in Boquete. Lorena, Maritza, and Alberto were very helpful and generous with their time, and I always felt like my progress learning Spanish was everyone’s biggest priority. They all speak Spanish and English, but no one ever tried to switch to English when I was taking forever to say a simple sentence in Spanish.

I definitely recommend Habla Ya, and I’m very grateful to the school and its amazing staff and professors.”

Thank you to Tiffany from Denver, Colorado, for contributing her feedback, and to Habla Ya for providing images.

Spanish Course Panama: Cactus offers Spanish courses in the thriving capital city of Panama City, the Pacific mountains of Boquete and the idyllic Caribbean beach location of Bocas del Toro.

Spanish courses are also available across Spain and Latin America.

Living in Costa Rica

Living in Costa Rica: An Expat Story

Intercultura is Cactus’ partner school in Costa Rica and its founder, Laura, tells us about living in Costa Rica and realising her dream of setting up a quality Spanish language school

I came to Costa Rica for the first time in the summer of 1990 to study Spanish and fell in love…with the language, the country, the people, the music, even the monsoon-like rains. When I went home 6 weeks later I was determined to come back at some point, become fluent in the language and spend more time in this country that already felt like my adopted home. Three years later, I had graduated from college, spent a year in Asia travelling and volunteering, and I was ready to get back to Costa Rica.

My first year, 1993, was spent working at a language school in San José as a receptionist. I was thrown in at the deep end, answering the phones in Spanish, and while overwhelming at first, it definitely helped me to improve my Spanish – quickly! When their marketing coordinator left they asked me to step in, which I did. My degree was in Literature, and I had never taken a business course in my life, but I found the process fascinating and enjoyed learning a new skill in an intercultural context. I met a lot of people, worked long hours, and at the end of the year chance put me in contact with two colleagues who were starting up a school.

Living in Costa Rica: the start of Intercultura

Heredia Costa RicaThey asked me to come on board as a partner in the project, and I accepted in a temporary capacity, still thinking I would be going back to the US or England before too long. The beginning was rough, especially after we lost the partner who was the financial backer, but with lots of luck and a $600 loan from a friend, Adelita Jiménez and I ended up starting the school, which we named Intercultura, in Heredia.

We had a lot of help along the way: the owner of the house was an older gentleman, Don Jorge Vargas, with two daughters who were teachers, and he was incredibly kind to us. He gave us our first reception desk, lowered the rent, and eventually ended up selling us the building purely on the strength of an IOU, as we had no collateral to put up for a loan. A university group from South Florida contacted us and again pretty much on trust decided to send us their 40-person group down for a month-long Spanish immersion course in the summer of 1994. Their deposit was what allowed us to furnish the school with tables, whiteboards, chairs and the million other things we needed before the group arrived.

Costa Rica classroomThe first couple of years were lean. Adelita and I did everything between the two of us; Spanish teacher, tour guide, cleaning lady, receptionist, you name it. My Tico host family was supremely generous, happily letting me live with them for almost nothing and welcoming me into their lives, and for this they have my eternal gratitude and affection. Adelita’s family was also great to us, providing many a shared lunch during the early days at the office.

Finally, a couple years later, we were making enough to hire a receptionist and buy some furniture for the apartment I was living in by then. The school had taken off, we had 8 Spanish teachers, had opened a low-cost English as a Second Language school for locals, and were doing a beach program in Playa Dominical (then later Jacó) for one week each month. We had made it! Along the way, I was able to study for a Licenciatura in Linguistics and Translation, get my Masters in Cultural Anthropology, and learn French and (some!) German.

Spanish courses in Sámara

Playa Samara living in Costa RicaIn 2001 we decided to look for a permanent home for a beach campus, and chose Sámara for the friendly local community, as compared to other beaches like Tamarindo where we felt like foreigners dominated the population. We wanted a place where we felt like we were in Costa Rica, where we could integrate into the community, and hopefully make a positive difference in the area. Sámara was the ideal place, and once again, we were extremely lucky to meet many generous people along the way who helped us tremendously. Homestay mother Cristina Castillo sold us the first part of our oceanfront property, again with just an IOU to guarantee payment on an installment plan. Jorge Salazar from El Lagarto gave generously of his time and introduced us to everyone we needed to know locally, especially the mothers who would become our first families for the foreign students to stay with. And the whole community in general welcomed us, gave us good advice, and made us feel like this was the place we needed to be.

After several years of travelling back and forth between our main campus in Heredia and our Sámara beach campus I decided to make the move to live full time in Sámara and dedicate my efforts to helping the school grow and reinforce our participation in the community. One of the things I am most proud of is the non-profit association CREAR, which we started in 2005 to provide year-round, free supplementary education to the local children. It also offered periodic workshops for adolescents and mothers, support for community initiatives in general, such as the first public library in town, and volunteer groups and materials for a variety of construction projects in the local schools and community center. In addition to its dedicated coordinators, many local community members continue to volunteer their time and expertise to teach and coordinate activities with us.

Living in Costa Rica: hope for the future

living in Costa RicaNow it’s 18 years later, and I’m still living in Costa Rica. In 2010 our daughter Ela was born. She will have the incredible good fortune to grow up playing on this beautiful beach, speaking two languages, and living in the wonderfully supportive and diverse community that makes up Playa Sámara. People often ask me what’s next. All I can say is that I hope to see Samara develop in a sustainable way, with environmental safeguards in place and new businesses that are committed to giving back to this town and making it a better and safer place for everyone; locals, foreign residents and tourists. Issues such as security, recycling, children’s education and local employment opportunities are among the topics that need long-term attention from all of us, but I think we’re off to a good start this year with the new mayor, Marco Jiménez, who is committed to these and many more issues.

To end, I’d like to say a heartfelt thank you to all of the amazing people who make this area what it is…our incredibly dedicated administrative and teaching staff here at Intercultura, our wonderful homestay families, the great businesses and services in Sámara, and most of all the people who live here and make up our community.

Thank you Laura for contributing this article and to Intercultura for the images.

Cactus offers Spanish courses in Costa Rica through Intercultura in Colonial Heredia and Playa Sámara. Students have the unique opportunity to study Spanish in both historic Heredia and the idyllic beach location of Samara, and experience two very different Costa Rican lifestyles. Courses are available for adults and juniors, and there is even a Spanish & Surfing course to make the most of the excellent surf for which Costa Rica is renowned.

Cactus also offers Spanish courses throughout Central and South America.

Our tailor-made division, Cactus Language Training, specialises in language training for relocation for those considering living in Costa Rica.

Junior French Course Feedback: Montpellier

Cactus recently sent a 13-year-old boy on a Junior French Course in Montpellier. Here, his father gives feedback from a parent’s perspective and describes the importance of giving a child the gift of another language.

“Caspar attended the school at Montpellier when he was 13 (he will return for a fortnight this year). It is, and was, a big step for him – his first taste of semi-independence and that within an foreign culture. He had doubts before going, but thoroughly enjoyed. His words to me were ‘At home I am Caspar with the shocking blond hair, and am treated according to what people think I am. In Montpellier, I could be what I wanted to be. It was freedom’. The cultural experience was / is as important to me as the linguistic experience – there were students there from several countries and continents.

He stayed with Mme Meson, an excellent guardian who took care of Caspar. He will return to her this coming Summer. She has little English; or rather she chooses to use little English, thereby offering a semi-immersive experience in a home environment.

Junior French course MontpellierRegarding Caspar’s French, he had only a very basic knowledge before last year’s course (and his French is still elementary). However, he came away with a nascent understanding of grammar and a basic ability to understand spoken French, but lacking the confidence to communicate in the language – this bridge obviously takes some time to cross. He said that those who had spent several weeks at Montpellier had indeed succeeded in crossing into fluency – a matter of time and money.

My son is not overly gregarious. However, I hope that returning for a fortnight, to a familiar regime and place will give him further confidence to open up and attempt to communicate. On the back of this year’s course he will fly straight from Montpellier to stay with a family in Nantes. They have little English and so he will be forced to use the skills he will acquire in Montpellier.

Would you recommend a Junior French Course?

Junior French course Montpellier - Montpellier schoolYes, I would recommend the course as it offers a young adult both a personal and socio-linguistic learning curve within a regulated environment. Caspar was not the youngest student last year: there were 12 year olds at Montepellier, some more confident than others. It’s all a question of maturity. Any 12 year old will be amongst 14 / 15 year olds and there is, as you know, a huge difference in slight age differences during the teenage years. To be honest, I was more nervous of letting him go last year, than he was of going – both vigilance and homesickness were issues. The same is true this year; he is only just 14. There are always risks. But, these, we felt, were minimised last year as we always had the assurance that a family friend lived in Beziers (a short drive away). I also had some email correspondence with Mme Meson prior to his visit and she seems a good sort (which through experience, was proved and she was a delight to meet).

This year, he will fly out alone and without a family friend in close proximity. However, he will be  returning to familiar territory. We also feel more confident as we have faith both in Cactus (Laura is always helpful) and Mme Meson. Plus, he’s truly looking forward to going – which is a motivational triumph for a 14 year old boy.

Obviously being a minor poses logistic problems as only certain airlines allow children to travel unaccompanied. Air France do and they have a buddy facility (for which you pay extra) which ensures their safety, easyJet also allow children but, correct me if I’m wrong, not if under 12 and unaccompanied. Last year, Caspar travelled out with our family friend and I picked him up – an opportunity to meet Mme Meson and practice the limited French I possess.

The gift of another language

Our hope, when sending Caspar to France, is that we are giving him the gift of another language. We in Britain are bullishly monolingual which, in our opinion is not a good thing (Caspar is also studying Japanese). I’m sure this is partly why you might be considering sending your child to Montpellier. Whatever you decide, I hope they will, one way or another, realise your linguistic ambition for them.”

Thank you to Ian for taking the time to give us his valuable feedback on Caspar’s Junior French Course. We look forward to sending Caspar to France again this year.

Caspar took a Junior French Course in Montpellier with host family accommodation. There is also the option to take a Junior French Course with residential accommodation. Both courses include 20 French lessons each week, an exciting programme of activities and excursions, all meals and full supervision. Contact us or visit our website to find out more about our Junior language courses and summer camps.

Cactus Evening Course Reviews

If you are considering doing an evening language course, first hand feedback and course reviews are a great way to find out what it’s really like. Below are course reviews from our April 2015 intake of evening language courses across the UK.

Chinese (Mandarin) Beginner 1, London Bond Street

“Amazing teacher. Great way to build up language skills. A lot of practice and repetitions for everyone. Really enjoyed it!” Camille

French Beginner 1, London Bond Street

“Tabara is very patient and an excellent teacher. I hope to have her for our next course. Teachers can only do so much in 2 hours – students need to do a little extra between classes to stay up to date. Tabara ensured we had homework but never piled it on us. Loved her classes.” Marcelle

German Beginner 1, London Holborn-Russell Square

“Peggy was fantastic. I found her very easy to talk to and very helpful. She is a great teacher. We had various exercises each lesson and I have learnt a lot from grammar and vocabulary, with lots of reading and writing too. I think I’m well prepared for the next level and I hope it will be with Peggy again.” Joanna

Turkish Beginner 1, London Holborn-Russell Square

“A great introductory course. Harika was a great teacher; it was obvious she cared about the students’ learning and she made sure the lessons were engaging and well planned. The course was exactly what I was looking for and the teacher made sure we all understood. I feel I made good progress – more than I expected.” Ambreen

French Beginner 1, Liverpool

“My Tutor was very good and I’ve made lots of improvement. Now I can go to Paris on my own and be able to communicate.” Bibi

Spanish Beginner 2, Liverpool

“Immersive learning is intensive and a bit like being thrown in at the deep end, but it is very effective! We covered a variety of topics as well as going in depth on grammar use, pronunciation, etc. We had more written and listening work than the Beginner 1 course, which was very helpful.

The teaching was excellent – our teacher was patient, encouraging, explained everything clearly, incorporated individual needs and made classes fun.

We had everything we needed and were provided with any additional materials we asked for.

I couldn’t believe how much I learned in the Beginner 1 course, and the Beginner 2 course has built on that much more than I expected. I feel that I have learned a great deal in a short time and am much more confident in my abilities.” Shelley

Italian Beginner 2, Manchester

“The course is very good, the atmosphere and people are great and Fabiola is an outstandingly good teacher.” Marta

Japanese Beginner, Manchester

“The course was well planned out with a good amount of work set each week. Nicholas is a very good teacher with a good teaching style. He definitely knows his stuff and makes lessons enjoyable. I feel that thanks to the course I now have a solid starting point for continuing to learn Japanese.” Ben

Portuguese Beginner 1, Manchester

“Very effective and enthusiastic teaching. Sara always related our classes to everyday situations and aspects of Portuguese culture where relevant, which made the course interesting and fun.” Paul

Many thanks to all our students who take the time to submit course feedback, as it is important in helping us to monitor and maintain the quality of our courses.

Cactus runs 10-week evening language courses in locations across London and in other major cities across the UK: Manchester, Brighton, Bristol, Oxford, Leeds, Liverpool and Sheffield. Our next courses start in October 2015, with our best ever offering of over 20 languages in 19  locations.

Why not join us for a free taster class and chat to us about your language learning plans?

For more course feedback on evening courses, language courses abroad and corporate language training, please visit our blog. Feel free to get in contact with us by Facebook or by Twitter or contact us here.

My daughter’s language learning adventure: a parent’s perspective

An American mother shares her thoughts with us as her daughter goes to learn Japanese in Tokyo

“It is with delight that I write this blog for Cactus. Right from the beginning Cactus helped us embark on my daughter’s journey to Japan with confidence, enthusiasm, and trust that all would be well. And so it has been…

I can’t say that I was not a bit anxious sending Dana across the world on her own to learn Japanese in Tokyo. And, I can’t say that as each day successfully passes I don’t enter the next with some trepidation. That being said, having reached the midpoint of Dana’s stay I am pleased to share this parent’s point of view.

Dana is 19 years old and has always had a passion for Japanese. So when she suggested that she take a leave of absence from college to “find herself” and explore her passion, I was not surprised. In fact, I was impressed that she knew herself well enough to know that she was not feeling passionate at college and needed to explore. The hardest part for me was letting go and having the trust to let her do this exploration on her own.

tokyo-japaneseDana is accomplishing her objective. Through the impressive curriculum and faculty at the language school, Dana’s command of the Japanese language is developing every day. Her classes consist of students from all over the world and so she has expanded her social network with friends from places like Spain and Sweden.

Given the diversity of the students it has been inspiring to hear how friendly, helpful, compassionate, and tolerant everyone has been. This is a snapshot of what I hope for the world.

From what I can tell the school is located in the midst of fun and interesting places for the kids to explore. Having the freedom to get to these places easily has not only added to the “fun factor” but has given Dana the opportunity to practise her Japanese skills with the “locals.”

Do I miss her? Yes, a lot. However technology has softened the blow for both of us. We video-chat just about every day. In fact, we spend more time seeing each other and talking now than we do when we are living under the same roof. And, video- chat gives Dana the opportunity to stay connected to her dogs.

There are 25 days left of Dana’s adventure. I look forward to sharing the rest of the story.”

Dana studied Japanese in Tokyo with Cactus. Cactus offers language courses in over 120 destinations worldwide.

Dana wrote about her initial impressions of Tokyo when she first arrived and about her experiences mid-way through her course. For anyone thinking about taking a language course abroad, Dana’s articles offer a unique insight into life in a foreign country, including the fears and excitement that come with a long-term course. Thank you both to Dana and her mother Robin for contributing to our website, and we hope that future students (and parents of) will find their comments reassuring and useful.

If you have a language learning or language teaching query, please visit our blog or get in contact with us either by Facebook or by Twitter. Alternatively, feel free to contact us here or call to speak to one of our advisors on  .

Cactus Foreign Language Evening Courses Video

Find out what it’s like to take an evening course with Cactus with our foreign language evening courses video.

Featuring first-hand interviews with a teacher and a student, the Cactus foreign language evening courses video shows you the benefits of an evening course if you’re learning a language for work, love, relocation, a love of the culture or for personal achievement.


Watch > Cactus foreign language evening courses video








Providing plenty of practice for speaking in social situations, and keeping to small groups with an average of 8 students, our courses will give you the confidence and skills you need to use the language in real life. From Spanish courses and French courses to Mandarin courses and Arabic courses, there is a course for everyone.

Foreign language evening courses: locations

Our evening courses are available in 19 locations across the UK (10 locations within London), with the aim of bringing language learning close to you. Courses fit easily into the working week, offering one 2-hour lesson on one evening each week for 10 weeks.

Learn a language in: London, Manchester, Brighton, Bristol, Edinburgh (coming soon), Oxford, Leeds, Liverpool or Sheffield.

Be inspired and book online!

If you have a language learning or language teaching query, please visit our blog or get in contact with us either by Facebook or by Twitter. Alternatively, feel free to contact us here or call to speak to one of our advisors on  00 44 (0) 1273 830 960.

Spanish course Barcelona – a first-hand review

Spanish Course Barcelona: Creative Web Manager John Biddulph takes a break from PHP and Javascript to learn a different language – Spanish in Barcelona

I took a Spanish beginner course in Barcelona last October, and my first day was very organised and welcoming. I met five other students in my group of different nationalities and ages.

The times of my classes were just great, starting at 2pm in a spacious air conditioned classroom. There was one day when I was unwell and was unable to go in, so I contacted Cactus who were very helpful and contacted the school for me.

My teacher, Isobel, was lovely. She was very helpful and we all had fun reading and acting from our activity book and also had time for a few language games.

Being a complete beginner to Spanish, I would advise taking a short evening course beforehand to learn the very basics. This means that you can learn some proper Spanish on your course and practise using it out and about in the city.

Barcelona is an amazing city – there are plenty of nice places to go sightseeing and some great tapas bars and cafes for food and drink. It’s easy to get to and it was a great starting point for me learning Spanish. I can’t wait to go back again!

Cactus offers Spanish courses in Barcelona and in many locations across Spain and Latin America.

Learn some Spanish before you go with our Spanish evening courses in London, Brighton, Manchester and other major locations across the UK. Courses start in January, April, July and September in over 20 languages and at many levels.

Learning French in Lyon: language course review

Cactus Office Manager Claudia Ohde tells us about her French course in Lyon in April 2015

Usually a big fan of any city near the seaside, I had never really considered to visit Lyon – but a tango festival near Lyon at the weekend inspired me to take a language holiday in Lyon the week before the festival.

I was positively surprised by the city. The first two days there was an icy wind but the rest of the time we had the most beautiful weather and I enjoyed discovering the city by bicycle (many French cities have bicycle schemes that allow you to use a bike for free for up to 30 minutes of every ride).

lyon_waterfrontI spent a lot of my time at the Rhône and Saône, sunbathing on stone sunbeds next to river, walking along the river or taking a boat trip. There are also houseboats and restaurants and clubs on boats so I really didn’t get to miss the sea after all.

The language school was not far from the Rhône in a very central and relaxed area of Lyon. The school was small with a very personal touch. We were welcomed by the Director of the school who talked to everyone in the group of newcomers to informally assess our oral level (we had taken a written test beforehand online). We all were given little notebooks with a pen and some chocolate Easter eggs (it was the week after Easter)!

I was placed in the C1 level class and felt that the other students were at a very similar level and that the group worked well together. The teacher was very experienced and made learning easy and fun, but also encouraged everyone to study additionally at home.  The lessons  concentrated on vocabulary, listening comprehension, speaking and of course grammar. For those who had booked an intensive course this was then followed by a writing workshop.

I had a really good time and I can highly recommend a language trip to Lyon!

Claudia took a General French course of 15 lessons per week in Lyon. Prices start at £107 for a one week course.

Cactus also offers French courses in other locations across France and Canada, as well as 10-week French evening courses in the UK.

CELTA course in Philadelphia: 2013 scholarship winner’s blog

Rumina Iftikhar won our Suzanne Furstner Scholarship in 2013, and this summer she took her prize of a 4-week CELTA course in Philadelphia. Here is Rumina’s blog article telling us about her experience. Congratulations Rumina – we’re delighted you gained so much from it!

The Cambridge CELTA certification! It had been my dream for the longest time. This year that dream came true and I got the opportunity to go to the US to do my CELTA. Back home now, I often think about those four weeks that I spent in Philadelphia. It was a memorable time and has left me with many fond memories. At the time, of course, there was no opportunity to think of anything beyond the CELTA. Would I pass? Would I make it through the next teaching practice? What if nobody liked me? It was a new place I was going to and I didn’t know much about their ways and customs.

I soon realized that the CELTA is a lot more than a course that just teaches you ESL techniques. It forces you to challenge yourself, to improve, to grow, to be more, more professional, more determined. It teaches you about life. You are thrown together with complete strangers and these strangers become your family for the next four weeks. You grow to love them, to rely on them for comfort, support and encouragement. For me, it was not easy leaving my family and going off to a country half way across the globe from mine. On the first day I was sure I would fall flat on my face walking in through the door, or say something incredibly stupid and become the butt of all jokes. Instead I found a group of people who, though as uncertain and unsure of what to expect as I was, were incredibly warm and open. For the next four weeks, though I missed my family, I never felt alone. For one, you don’t have much time to feel or think about anything else and secondly, should you stumble or make a mistake, your colleagues are there for you. Always!

During the CELTA, we were thrown into the deep end of the pool almost immediately! Now I didn’t know much about the course so it came as a shock when I was told, on the first day, that I would be the one to teach the first class. Of course, the trainers helped. Their advice and help was invaluable. But the thought of teaching a class while being assessed not only by my trainer, but also by my group members, was daunting! However, if you prepare well beforehand things never go as badly as you fear. I did a lot of things I shouldn’t have done and it was not a perfect class, but the students seemed to enjoy it and that gave me the courage to keep going.   During the feedback session, I was gratified by the encouraging and supportive words of my peers and trainer. Of course that doesn’t mean it’s all praise and nothing else. If you do the CELTA, please leave your ego at the door. Because the feedback is meant to point out not just what you did well, but also what you didn’t do and should have done! So, though couched in the nicest possible way, it is brutally honest. It has to be! You need to learn and quickly. The course simply isn’t long enough to give you time to nurse your ego or learn at your own pace!

The input sessions in the morning were a lot of fun. We got to learn by being the students, by first-hand experience. There was a lot of laughter and a lot of bonding. Then lunch break and the teaching practice. Did we go out for nice, leisurely lunches? No! We ate on our feet and then got down to preparing for the teaching practice. The ‘lunch break’ saw me running between printer and photocopier nonstop. And I had to be quick because everyone else needed the printer too. Actually, I think I had lunch a grand total of ONCE during the course!

The best part of my day was the long walk home. In the morning I would just take the bus, to ensure I wasn’t late. But in the evening, I’d walk back. I still get nostalgic when I think about those walks. It was the only time of the day when I’d put all thoughts of studying out of my mind and the lovely sunshine, the beautiful Philadelphia skyline and the smiling people helped me unwind and prepare for the long homework sessions. For once at home you DO need to put in a few hours to prepare for your next teaching practice. And you should. You don’t want to enter a class unprepared and not ready to deal with questions the students may have. That can be embarrassing and, of course, will affect your grade.

But when it was done, I was almost overwhelmed by the sense of achievement that washed over me. It was over. I’d done it! What did I take away from the course? The knowledge that if I can survive this then I must be made of tougher stuff than I thought, a head teeming with new ideas and creative teaching methodologies and friends who’d warmed my heart. People I didn’t know even existed a month ago, and yet they’d seen me at my worst, at my best, seen me stumble, picked me up and encouraged me when I didn’t think I was doing anything right.

Since I’ve been back a lot of people have asked me if the course was as grueling as people say it is. My answer is, yes! It’s not a course for the fainthearted or for those who think that they will sail by with a modicum of effort. It takes everything out of you and you do NOT have a moment to relax! But is it worth it? I’d answer (again) with a resounding YES!   These four weeks have taught me more about myself than I could have ever imagined. Most importantly, I learned that teaching can be fun! My pet peeve against teaching had always been that I felt that conventional teaching techniques never left much room for the students to enjoy learning. But after the CELTA I have learnt to incorporate fun in my lesson plans. I can’t wait to use all I’ve learnt on my students, to watch as they take charge of their own learning and see how interactive and lively the classroom can be! To watch as attitudes change from resigned boredom to active interest and they grow to love the language as I do. The CELTA has opened my mind! Not only has it given me oodles of confidence, it has also left me thirsting to learn even more and keep growing and improving as an ESL teacher!

Rumina won a CELTA course through the Suzanne Furstner Scholarship, which gives away a prestigious CELTA or Trinity CertTESOL course each year.

Sun, sea, sand and French…in exotic Martinique

Assistant Director of Studies Leticia Artiles has taken many language courses, but this one might top them all…

This is the fourth time I have taken a week of to do a language holiday. I think I can admit I am addicted to them. French was the chosen language. The experience last year in Antibes (see my review here), on the coast of France, was fabulous: I did not think it could get any better, but I was absolutely wrong.

Living in England makes you want to choose a sunny destination, and France in summer is very sunny – but I wanted something different this time, something further and more adventurous. A place where I could have French immersion and where I could feel I was definitely on holiday.

Among the wide range of destinations that Cactus has to learn French, a very special one stands out: Martinique! Do they speak French there? Oh yes, they do (apart from creole). Is it a good holiday destination? It’s an island and it’s in the Caribbean Sea. Just in case that was not enough to make me choose it (and it really was enough!), it’s part of France, which means you need no visa if you are a citizen of the European Union, plus they use the Euro.

It was clear that the experience was going to be a good one, but I did not imagine it would be as good as it was. I went this time with a work colleague but this is the perfect destination to go with your family or also on your own.


We took a 20 hours of French in the mornings. This allows you plenty of time once classes have finished to go and explore the little paradise that this island is. The school also offers the option to combine French with kite surfing or diving lessons. Many other activities are also available.

The school is a small school based in the capital, Fort-de-France. We were staying in Trois Ilets in a beautiful apartment in an attractive tourist area. This area had very nice beaches, lovely restaurants to indulge in local food and bars with delicious cocktails. The school also offers other accommodation options such as host families or residences.

The fun started every morning when we had to go to the school by boat. Nothing better than starting the day early with the fresh breeze and 30 degree sunshine in your face.

The lessons were entirely in French; no other language was used in the classroom. Although my level was lower than that of my classmates, I think I managed to make a massive improvement. The methodology followed is very communicative and tasked-based, so it was a good way for me to learn not only from the teacher but also from the other people in the classroom. After a week my vocabulary had grown considerably and my pronunciation was much, much better. The teacher was excellent and she included a lot of cultural contents related to Martinique and to the ultramarine territories of France which I valued a lot as these are not usually included in other French courses. We even had the chance to learn the basic steps of Zouk and to try some traditional dishes, all at the school!


Our course included a diving lesson. We could have done more than one, but we had no idea how good it was going to be and we also wanted to make the most of our time on the island, explore the diverse landscapes, etc. Taking diving lessons is something that I recommend everyone to do. I never thought that those beautiful shapes and colours did actually exist under the sea. And all is perfectly organized through Cactus and the school.

There were not enough hours in the day, nor enough days in the week, to enjoy every taste of the delicious gastronomy and tropical fruits; to be amazed by every flower and animal; to appreciate every nice gesture and the will of locals to speak to you and explain to you their culture; to learn every step to dance the Caribbean rythms of zouk; to try some of their numerous brands of rhum…

A week was enough, however, to realize that it’s true what they say: Martinique is “a small island with a big heart”.

Cactus offers French courses in Martinique, France and Canada. We also offer French courses in the UK to help you learn the basics or brush up on existing skills before you head off.