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.

Junior language camps – a wise choice for the summer

Learn a language, make friends of the same age, enjoy fun activities and excursions – and pass those exams!

If your child is learning a language, a summer language camp will give them the holiday of a lifetime and put them one step ahead when they return to school in September.

These camps  offer a fantastic opportunity for students aged 5-18 years to learn their chosen language in a safe and fun environment, where small group language classes are accompanied by exciting activities and excursions, comfortable accommodation in a host family or residence and 24-hour supervision.

Why book a language camp?


  • Hand-picked selection of locations to study French, Spanish, Italian, German and English
  • Stimulating programme of social, sporting and cultural activities
  • Courses geared to different ages between 5-18 years
  • International environment guaranteeing new friends of the same age from all over the world
  • Great way to boost confidence and improve language skills naturally
  • Excellent preparation for GCSE and A Level exams
  • Increased employability and opportunities upon leaving school (see how studying abroad can make you smarter)
  • Courses for parents available in the same location

Where do we offer language camps?


Spanish language camps:

Spain: Seville / Denia / San Sebastian / Segovia

Costa Rica: Heredia

French language camps:

France: Montpellier / Cannes / Antibes

Canada: Quebec City

German language camps:

Germany: Berlin / Lindenberg / Augsburg

* Summer programmes for young adults aged 16-20 years are also available in Berlin and Vienna.

Italian language camps:

Italy: Salerno

English language camps:


England: London / Cambridge / Canterbury / Nottingham / Southampton / Brighton / Manchester / Liverpool / Cheltenham / Bournemouth / Ascot

Ireland: Dublin

Scotland: Edinburgh

USA: Long Island, New York / Brooklyn, New York


Most courses are available from one week upwards during the summer months. We are also experienced in arranging school trips abroad, in these and other locations.

Contact us or call us on 00 44 (0) 1273 830 960 for further information and a quote.

For full information on junior language camps please visit the Cactus Language website.

Top 5 romantic places to learn a language

Love is certainly in the air around Valentine’s Day, but there are some places in the world that ooze charm every day of the year. With this in mind, here are our top 5 destinations for sharing a little romance whilst learning some of the local lingo.

1. Cologne, Germany


If you want a romantic European city break but something a little different from much-lauded Paris, then the German city of Cologne may just hit the spot. This is a place that inspires couples to fix padlocks to the railings of a bridge and, to ensure everlasting love, throw the key into the river below – and not just on Valentine’s Day. As the river Rhine collects keys of all sizes, so its visitors fall in love with the city too. Oozing with history, magnificent architecture, a stunning Cathedral, cobbled streets, boutique shops and traditional bierkellers, this is an unforgettable and charming place that is likely to steal your heart.

German courses in Cologne

2. Cartagena, Colombia


Some say that Cartagena is the most romantic city in South America, and it’s easy to see why. Sitting on Colombia’s northern Caribbean coast, you can’t help but fall in love as you walk through the Old Town’s narrow cobbled streets, tropical flowers spilling down from balconies above, the infectious beat of salsa on every street corner and warm days drawing to a close as the sun dips below the horizon each night. The natural warmth and affection of the locals, coupled with an inherent love for life, is nothing short of infectious.

Spanish courses in Cartagena

3. St Petersburg, Russia


A city steeped in history, legend and intrigue, St Petersburg is an unexpected yet wonderful choice if you want to whisk away your loved one. It has no shortage of romantic spots, such as the spectacular Heritage, the fairytale-like Winter Palace and the elaborately decorated Mariinsky Theatre, home to the city’s best ballet and opera and a wonderful opportunity to dress in your finery. Special moments should be saved for a cruise along the Nevsky Prospect, which is equal if not better than a boat ride on the Seine in Paris. And when it comes to eating out, St Petersburg is a treasure trove of exquisite places to dine.

Russian courses in St Petersburg

4. Québec City, Canada


Québec City is one of the oldest cities in North America and as such is full of history, character and charm. It is a perfect romantic winter getaway, celebrating its Winter Carnival just before Valentine’s Day – a perfect excuse to wrap up warm, play in the snow and dive into a friendly bistro for a chocolat chaud. Amongst the city’s many magical spots are the Quartier Petit Champlain, an enchanting European-style neighbourhood of boutiques and cobbled streets, the magnificent Château Frontenac and the UNESCO World Heritage treasure of Old Québec. This is a place that makes you feel warm on the inside even when it’s snowing outside.

French courses in Québec City

5. Florence, Italy

florence duomo

It would be impossible to talk of romance without including Italy. Although the whole country is synonymous with amour, Florence is a wonderful place to base yourself. In the heart of Tuscany, surrounded by rolling hills dotted with cypress trees and vineyards, its historic centre is a magnificent concentration of some of the world’s finest art and architecture. Head for one of the city’s magnificent squares, such as Piazza della Signoria and Piazza della Repubblica, which make perfect spots to sit down to a real Italian gelato and watch the world go by. Wander hand in hand through the city’s cobbled streets beneath magnificent Gothic and Renaissance architecture and indulge in delicious Tuscan food by night; for a romantic couple’s escape, it doesn’t get much better than this.

Italian courses in Florence

Cactus offers language courses in locations across the world, for all ages and levels.

Fun in the snow…Québec Winter Carnival!

To experience a true winter wonderland there is no better place than Québec in February…perfect for the young and the young at heart!

It may be cold in Canada, but they sure know how to use the weather to their advantage. For two weeks each year, the snow and ice so familiar of a Canadian winter transform Québec City, a UNESCO World Heritage Site, into a magical winter wonderland, as visitors and locals wrap up to celebrate the Québec Winter Carnival.


Celebrated in 2015 between January 30th and February 15th, the Québec City Winter Festival is the largest winter carnival in the world. Anyone who missed out on a white Christmas or who just can’t get enough of the white stuff will not be disappointed, for you can’t help but get swept up, rosy-cheeked, in the joie de vivre of this huge outdoor party.

Perhaps the most important feature of the festival is the shimmering Bonhomme Ice Palace, built from some 5,000 blocks of ice, and home to a maze of towers and exhibits as well as a magnificent son et lumiere (light and sound) show. Bonhomme himself is the ubiquitous carnival mascot, a large smiling snowman with a red stocking cap who will welcome you in both French and English (as is common practice in Québec) and pop up cheerily at various points throughout your stay.

Also unmissable during this 2-week period are the colourful night parades, when some half a million spectators brave the sub-zero temperatures to line the streets and watch marching bands, floats and clowns pass by. Pile on the layers and huddle within the crowds and it will be an unforgettable few hours.

If however you’d rather be snuggled up in your ice hotel and wrapped in a bearskin by night – which is entirely possible, given that they build a new Ice Hotel each year for the very purpose – there are plenty of activities to enjoy by day. You may not rush to join in the snow bath, which is exactly as it sounds except you wear nothing more than a swimsuit, but you should certainly catch the legendary canoe race on the St Lawrence River. Not to be thwarted if the water is frozen, teams may resort to pulling their wooden canoes across the ice rather than through the water, and the race will inevitably be completed to much merriment and cheering.

It goes without saying than anyone with kids cannot go wrong by bringing them to Québec during the festival. There are countless activities to keep the little ones entertained, including a huge Children’s Village at The Plains of Abraham, former site of the battle in which the British fought the French and conquered Canada. With intricate snow sculptures lining the entrance, this wonderful playground for families offers dogsled and sleigh rides, snow slides and tunnels, snowmobiling, aerial trampolining, an obstacle course, an ice climbing wall, and more.

Other activities going on throughout the festival, for adults and children alike, include snow rafting, the opportunity to spend the night in a tepee or to learn ice fishing, and sampling of traditional Canadian food (the chocolate crepes always go down well).

The list of entertainment goes on, but needless to say this is one way to enjoy all that winter has to offer and see this usually dark and cold time of year in a completely different light. Take the kids or just go and play in the snow yourself – just remember to pack the woollies and you may find that you don’t really notice the cold too much after all.

Cactus offers French courses in Quebec City and also in Montreal.

How to say ‘Happy New Year’ in 20 languages

Wherever you are in the world, make sure you welcome in 2015 in style! Here we have the translations for ‘Happy New Year’ in 20 different languages

Afrikaans: Gelukkige nuwe jaar / Voorspoedige Nuwe jaar

Arabic: (helol alseneh aljedīdah) حلول السنة الجديدة

Bulgarian: Щастлива Нова Година (Štastliva Nova Godina)

Catalan: Feliç Any Nou


Mandarin: xīn nián kuài lè / gōng xǐ fā cái

Cantonese: sàn nìhn faai lohk / gung héi fáat chōi

Hakka: sin ngien kwai lok / giung hi fat coi

Shanghainese: sin ni kua loq / kong shi fuh ze

Danish: Godt nytår

Esperanto: Feliĉan novan jaron

French: Bonne Année

German: Guten Rutsch

Greek: Ευτυχισμένο το Νέο Ετος (Eutukhismeno to Neo Etos) / Καλὴ χρονιά (Kalí hroniá)

Hindi: नये साल की हार्दिक शुभकामनायें (Naye sāl kī hārdik śubhkāmnayeṅ)

Irish: Athbhliain faoi Mhaise Duit

Italian: Felice Anno Nuovo

Japanese: akemashite omedetō gozaimasu

Malay: Selamat Tahun Baru

Polish: Szczęśliwego Nowego Roku

Portuguese: Feliz Ano Novo / Próspero Ano Novo

Russian: С наступающим Новым Годом (S nastupayuščim Novym Godom)

Spanish: Feliz Año Nuevo / Próspero Año Nuevo

Welsh: Blwyddyn Newydd Dda

10 great reasons to kick-start the year with an evening language course

Whether you’re determined to start the new year with a ‘new you’, need to prepare for a holiday overseas or want to improve your job prospects, now is the ideal time to take a language course!

1. Cactus is welcoming in 2015 with fun, engaging language courses in London and cities across the UK. We offer the five mainstream languages of French, Spanish, Italian, German and Brazilian Portuguese in most centres, plus rarer languages in our main centres. New evening courses start w/c 19th January 2015.

2. Learning a language is an excellent resolution as it will give you a skill that will last way longer than the average resolution – and one that might come in handy on holiday later this year!


3. If you’ve had a hectic festive season, then it’s proven that giving your brain a workout is the perfect way to de-stress. Learning a language stimulates your mind, stretches your imagination and, ultimately, helps your brain to relax…in fact it is more effective at reducing stress than opening a bar of chocolate.


4. If you’ve decided to de-tox in January then going to an evening language class – and doing homework in the week, if you’re diligent – will take your mind off the pub (that is, until your last night when you’ll probably all end up in the local tapas bar – but by then it will be March and it won’t matter!).

couple and bar sign

5. You can be sure of a consistent teaching framework that falls in line with other internationally-recognised language level systems – meaning that what you learn on our courses will be easily recognised outside of Cactus. Unlike many other providers, with Cactus you also receive a certificate of attendance on completion of your course.


6. When times are tight employers will be looking for that little extra in job applicants. Knowledge of a foreign language is an asset in itself, but it also shows initiative and an appreciation of other cultures, which is valuable in today’s global society.


7. Language learning makes you clever! If you feel like you need a kick-start after the Christmas break, learning a language will boost cognitive development in areas such as mental flexibility, creativity, problem-solving and reasoning.


8. 2015 promises a stellar list of foreign language film nominations in the upcoming Oscars, and there’s no better way to appreciate these films than with an understanding of the language and culture. Watch out for Ida (Poland), Mommy (Canada), Leviathan (Russian), Winter Sleep (Turkey), Wild Tales (Argentina) and Saint Laurent (France).


9. With a reduced number of children learning a language at school, let’s lead by example and show that learning a language is a passport to other cultures and a huge asset when you travel. Don’t forget we have new after-school language courses for kids aged 7-15 in London starting in January too!


10. Let’s face it, January can be a bit depressing. The excitement of Christmas is over, the days are still short and the weather can be miserable. If there was ever a time to take an evening course it’s now. Having a goal such as learning a language will make the weeks pass quickly and make you feel that you’re using the dark evenings productively!


Cactus runs adult evening language courses and junior afternoon language courses in schools across London and in cities nationwide. Courses are available at many levels and on regular start dates throughout the year, starting in January.

Research project for French speakers in London – earn £50!

Opportunity for French speakers to earn £50 for a 40-minute smartphone project

Saros research is recruiting French speakers in London for a 40-minute user session testing an app on a smartphone. Participants need to be either native speakers or advanced/fluent in French.

The one-to-one sessions last 40 minutes and will take place during the week Mon 15th – Fri 19th December, during the daytime, in Chiswick, London (W4). You can let Saros know your preferred dates and times.

The thank you payment for taking part is £50 – a great way to earn a little extra Christmas money!

To register your interest in this project please complete the online form.

French Christmas carols: chants de Noël

Bring some festive fun into your home this Christmas with these traditional Christmas carols…en français!

French Christmas carols, or Chants de Noël, are popular across France where Christmas is an important holiday. The French typically celebrate en famille, generations of the same family gathering for big festive meals and attending religious services at Church. For children it is an exciting time – children’s Christmas songs are sung and played at home, at school and in shops across the country in the run up to 25th December.

Although the French have their own carols, they do translate carols from other countries of the world. Below are lyrics to Silent Night, O Christmas Tree and much-loved Jingle Bells…

If there’s one fun way to learn a language and pick up new vocabulary, this is it – and no dictionary in sight!

Douce nuit (Silent Night)

Douce nuit, sainte nuit!

Dans les cieux! L’astre luit.

Le mystère annoncé s’accomplit.

Cet enfant sur la paille endormit,

C’est l’amour infini,

C’est l’amour infini!

Sweet night, holy night!

In the heavens the star shines.

The foretold mystery comes true.

This child sleeping on the hay,

Is infinite love,

Is infinite love!


Mon beau sapin (O Christmas tree)

Mon beau sapin,

Roi des forêts,

Que j’aime ta verdure.

Quand vient l’hiver

Bois et guérets

Sont dépouillés

De leurs attraits.

Mon beau sapin,

Roi des forêts,

Que j’aime ta parure.

My beautiful tree,

King of the forests,

How I love your greenness.

When winter come

Woods and tillages

Are stripped

Of their attractions.

My beautiful tree,

King of the forests,

How I love your finery.

Vive le vent (Jingle Bells)

Vive le vent

Vive le vent

Vive le vent d’hiver

Qui s’en va sifflant soufflant

Dans les grands sapins verts


Vive le temps

Vive le temps

Vive le temps d’hiver

Boule de neige et jour de l’an

Et bonne année grand-mère

Joyeux joyeux Noël

Aux mille bougies

Qu’enchantent vers le ciel

Les cloches de la nuit.


Vive le temps

Vive le temps

Vive le temps d’hiver

Qui rapporte aux vieux enfants

Leurs souvenirs d’hier.

Sur le long chemin

Tout blanc de neige blanche

Un vieux monsieur s’avance

Avec sa canne dans la main

Et tout là haut le vent

Qui siffle dans les branches

Lui souffle la romance

Qu’il chantait petit enfant


NEW adult evening courses in London – starting Jan 2015

Take your pick from 8 fantastic locations for our upcoming courses in January 2015

Cactus has added three new locations to its offering of evening courses in London. Ready for the next intake in January, these extra locations bring language courses closer to you, to make it even easier to access a course close to work or home.

Kick-start your new year’s resolutions with a language course and you’ll deserve a holiday to practise it all!

NEW for 2015 are:

  1. Canada Water
    This new school, just 5 minutes’ walk from Canada Water overground and tube station, boasts a cool and contemporary environment. It is ideal for those working in the Canary Wharf business district who want to join friendly and professional small group evening courses.
    Languages available: French, Spanish, Italian, German, Arabic, Mandarin Chinese
  2. Aldgate East
    We are excited to offer our first location in East London, conveniently situated between 3 underground lines (District Line, Circle Line and Hammersmith & City Line), the DLR station (Shadwell) and major bus routes. It’s right by Altab Ali Park, which connects the City at Aldgate to the Olympic Park at Stratford.
    Languages available: French, Spanish, Italian, German, Portuguese, Russian
  3. Tottenham Court Road
    This is an excellent new addition to our selection of schools in Central London. Two doors down from the British Museum, it has 9 fully equipped classrooms and a student lounge to relax in outside class.
    Languages available: French, Spanish, Italian, German

Don’t forget that these new locations are in addition to our existing schools in Bond Street, Kings Cross, Holborn-Russell Square, Islington and Wimbledon.

Visit our website www.languagecoursesuk.co.uk for full information and booking.


* Stuck for a present for a loved one this Christmas? *

Why not give the gift of language through a Cactus gift voucher – perfect for a male or female of any age!

Call us on 01273 930 960 for more info or order your voucher online.


Top 5 cities for Christmas shopping

With Christmas just around the corner, shops are busier than ever as the search for that perfect present begins. Easier said than done! Why not book a quick break away, and you’ll pick up unique gifts that will delight your friends and family, plus you’ll get a few days to soak up the festive spirit in foreign climes – or escape the frenzy if it’s not really your thing. Either way, you’re sure to find plenty of fantastic Christmas goodies in these top 5 cities for Christmas shopping…


Whatever you’re looking to fill stockings with this year, Paris is sure to have it. Haute couture? Tick! Head for Faubourg Saint-Honoré. Trendy boutiques and antique shops? Tick! Look no further than Le Marais. Big brands and department stores? Tick! Hit the Champs-Elysées and Boulevard Haussmann. Foodie treats such as cheese, bread, meats and wine? Tick! Follow your nose to Les Halles and Rue de Rivoli. Paris also hosts a number of special winter markets which are perfect for picking up regional delicacies and beautiful arts and crafts; Noisy le Grand Christmas Market is one of its best, offering a magical festive atmosphere for young and old, with hand-crafted wooden toys, traditional glassware and horse-drawn carriages just waiting to be wrapped up for Christmas.

French courses in Paris



Marrakech’s maze of souks is a winner if you’re after a unique and exotic stocking filler. From multi-coloured spices and stained-glass lanterns to intricate jewellery and high quality leather goods, you will find stall after stall of crafts, foodstuffs and souvenirs to put a smile on anyone’s face. Be prepared for a bit of haggling and you never know, you may even be invited for an impromptu mint tea (thé a la menthe) if you linger long enough. Rip up your shopping list and go with the flow – not knowing what you might find is all part of the magic here.

Arabic courses in Marrakech

New York


You can’t help but get caught up in the festive spirit in the Big Apple. It’s great for shopping any time of year, but pre-Christmas it’s a fairytale of twinkling lights, extravagantly decorated trees, roasted chestnut sellers and an appropriate chill in the air for wrapping up and feeling snug. Browse the elaborate department store window displays (Macy’s and Bloomingdale’s are a must), pick up some novel gifts at holiday markets such as the Grand Central Holiday Fair or the Holiday Shopping Market in Union Square, and top it all off with ice skating at Central Park. It’s just like in the movies, but better.

TEFL (Teaching English as a Foreign Language) courses in New York

English courses in New York



Italy’s always a winner when it comes to shopping, so why not head straight to its most stylish city and bag yourself some real Christmas treats. At any time of year Milan is a shopper’s paradise, with a wonderful variety of shops and boutiques selling haute couture, antiques, furniture, home accessories and more. In the run-up to Christmas, Milan really gets into the festive spirit, with many shops staying open on a Sunday and Christmas fairs such as the ‘Oh Bei, Oh Bei’ market near the castle, and the craft fair of L’Artigiano in Fiera, tempting you with their magnificent array of artisan goods and unique gifts.

Italian courses in Milan

Top 10 things to see and do in Milan



Munich is a wonderful place to get into the Christmas spirit. Think Christmas markets, mulled wine, crafts, sweets, cakes, twinkling trees and cosy bars. The most famous of its markets is the Christkindlmarkt at the Marienplat, open until Christmas Eve, where eating and drinking are as much a part of the experience as is shopping for people back home. Munich is heaven for shoppers away from the markets too, its shops combining international brands and designer goods with traditional Bavarian crafts. Wood carvings (Holzschnitzereien), pewter-ware (Zinn), traditional clothing (Trachten) and the famous Nymphenburg porcelain all make gifts unlike no others – plus you get to soak up all the culture and entertainment that the Bavarian capital has to offer, too.

German courses in Munich

Top 5 Christmas markets in Germany & Austria

Cactus offers language courses in more than 20 languages and 120 destinations worldwide. We also run our own language courses in the UK, which are the ideal way to learn the basics or brush up on previous language knowledge before a holiday or business trip abroad.