German evening course in Brighton: Cactus staff review

I decided to take a 10-week German course to refresh what I had learnt at school ahead of a holiday to Berlin I had planned.  At first I felt a little out of my depth, having hoped that it would all come flooding back to me, but discovering during the first lesson that what I had learnt at GCSE was not quite as well etched in my memory as I had thought.  However, after a couple of lessons and some self-study at home I began to feel more confident, at least with reading and listening exercises.  The teacher, Valentina, was very kind and supportive, and flexible to suit our needs.  If there were areas that we were struggling with, she was very patient with reviewing them and thinking of exercises for us to complete to help us to understand.

I was pleased to find that quite a lot of what was covered during the course proved useful to me on my holiday, particularly the topics on transport, travel and directions.  In fact I was able to put what I had learnt into practice not long after stepping off the plane, when I was (embarrassingly) somewhat confused when trying to buy a train ticket. Although it was daunting attempting to communicate in the little German that I knew, especially when I believe I was probably making quite a lot of mistakes, I think it was appreciated that I was putting in the effort.

I found that spending even just a short amount of time in Germany was the perfect way to practice and consolidate what I had learnt, and it has inspired me to continue.  I am now enrolled on the next level course, which has continued with the same teacher and most of my fellow students from the previous level.  On completing this course I am considering taking one of the German courses abroad that Cactus offer, perhaps in Vienna.  I think that taking an intensive course in a German speaking country will really help me to revise and practice what I have learnt so far.

Find out more on Cactus’ language courses in Brighton and other cities around the UK.

German course in Brighton: Cactus staff review

I recently completed my third German 10 week evening course in Brighton, and am on my fourth course at the moment. The weeks always seems to pass by so quickly, and having a great group with easy-going classmates and an encouraging, fun teacher always makes me want to continue for another 10 weeks.

I am currently doing Cactus Level 7. I studied German at school for several years, and therefore had covered the grammar before but was looking to brush up on my German. The evening courses are great as refresher classes and for getting some speaking practice in order to not forget what you already know. Our lessons have a strong focus on practising conversational skills, and we often spend the first 30-45 minutes chatting about a range of topics. Even though the conversation often flows freely our teacher keeps an eye on the quality of our German and corrects our pronunciation and grammar, which is just what I want. I am aiming at both being able to speak fluently and to get the grammar right. It doesn’t always feel so easy considering that German grammar, in my opinion, is not the simplest! But ‘Übung macht den Meister’, ‘practice makes perfect’ as my German friend once encouraged me when I was struggling with my homework.

Besides the valuable conversation practice, we also read and translate articles about various topics, give presentations about our home countries, international group that we are, and have little verb tests and grammar tasks every now and then just to see if there is anything we need to brush up on. Every once in a while we also have role plays which teach us some useful vocabulary as we always play situations we might actually get into when travelling into German-speaking countries. The role plays are valuable practice as afterwards we always go over our mistakes and try to learn from them.

Having a nice group and a variety of activities motivates me to go to the class every week, and I’m always looking forward to it. Simply put, we have fun while practising our skills, and learning is so much easier when you enjoy what you are doing. In my class learning is made fun!

Find out more on Cactus’ range of part-time language courses around the UK

Taking the CELTA in San Francisco – feedback from our 2010 scholarship winner

Ascending the escalator from the Muni metro, I remember the feeling of seeing Market Street reveal itself to me for the first time. I had arrived in San Francisco a day before and hadn’t yet seen the city as I was knackered from the travelling and wanted to shake off the jet leg. I chose to be a hermit on the Sunday with the intention of being fresh for the course the next day. So, Monday morning I got into the city an hour early before lessons, just to soak everything up before heading into the school. I bought breakfast and essentially took one deep breath – it proved to be the only opportunity I would have to do so until after the course, as the preceding four weeks would pretty much be a blur.

Although I knew the course would be demanding, I didn’t realise just how consuming it would be. If you’re going to do the CELTA I suggest you do it at a time when you can put most, if not all, aspects of your life on hold – you will eat, sleep and breathe TEFL for a month. Every hour of every day was accounted for from the moment I woke up to the moment my head touched the pillow. The course wasn’t easy, and I can’t say I enjoyed every minute of it, but in a lot of ways it was a process not unlike learning a language – both frustrating and rewarding, and like a language, you know the only way your really going to get anything out of it is if you throw yourself into it completely.

The trainers at St. Giles, Gabi and Maureen, were great and were basically good cop/bad cop in their approaches. Gabi pushed us hard for the first two weeks, and I had a few ‘Simon, we need to have a chat’ moments with her, while Maureen, who taught us for the second two weeks, made you feel relaxed and confident about teaching, both effective and both necessary, and I learned a great deal from both of them.

As a course it was academically rewarding, yet I’d be lying if I knew how I did so exactly, or to say I remember everything I learnt over the four weeks. What was really rewarding was teaching a class of students from around the world and seeing them learn something new from me and then using what they learned in the following classes. Working with the other trainee teachers was also a great experience, as we all progressed together and became close doing so.

Now, the accent. Rather, my accent. First of all, it’s important to understand that the Northern Californian accent is so clean cut (in that overtly American way) that people from the region constantly sound as if they are selling life insurance or alternative lifestyle products to you regardless of what they’re talking about. I on the other hand, possess a so-called Estuary English accent, and I’m sure that to them, I probably sounded as though I were a Dickensian chimney sweep or I had just walked off the set of Get Carter. The accent wasn’t a problem when talking to my trainers or fellow trainees (well, most of the time) but when teaching a mixed group of international students, who were by then accustomed to the slow prolonged vowels and pronounced ‘r’s of my Californian peers, I may as well have been speaking Chinese. However, I worked on my speech, slowed my voice down and by the end the students understood me – I can say that confidently because they would use words and expressions I taught them in later lessons, in my accent no less.

Away from the school, I stayed with a wonderful homestay couple, who to my delight were hippies during the sixties, well, the man of the house preferred to be called an ex-radical – and listening to his stories that’s a tame word for it. So I had the real spirit of San Francisco at home, every evening, cooking me dinner, telling me stories – the protests, the free love, the music and spitting in Ronald Reagan’s face. They also drove me around on Sunday afternoons (my only free time) and showed me the area.

First let me get this straight, San Francisco, on the face of it, is a gorgeous city. It lives up to the postcards and the movies etc, and indeed most of Northern California is stunning. The city of San Francisco itself ticks all the boxes, but today, it’s a very clean-cut city, maybe too clean cut. Similar to the way American customer service is great, fast, friendly and reliable – but in a completely detached, glazed over and completely impersonal way. So when looking for a teaching job, I knew I wanted to go somewhere a little more rough around the edges. The first job I’ve taken is in a private school in Bari, a southeast Italian city on the coast, and an area I already know relatively well. I decided it would be a good starting point where I could get some experience (not to mention some money) and that first reference under my belt before venturing somewhere completely new – which I plan on doing later this year. It’s a beautiful region of the country that is as charming, backward, relaxed and at the same time chaotic as one might expect – and so far it’s been a joy. The students are really warm, as are the locals, as is the fantastic weather. The other teachers have also been really accommodating. I wish I had more stories to tell at this point, but I’m still all eyes and ears really, trying to take in as much as I can at this early stage.

I genuinely feel my training as teacher started when I started this job just under two months ago. Yet I know I wouldn’t have had the grapes to walk into a classroom full of Italian adult learners had I not had the experience and knowledge I gained during my time on the CELTA course.

Please note that the scholarship for 2011 has now been launched. The prize is a 4-week CELTA course and 2-week Spanish course in Barcelona, including accommodation and return travel to the UK. For more information, including details of how to enter, please visit the Cactus TEFL website.

Learning French: my motivation and experience

In the 1990’s I watched a multi layered and intriguing film called “L’Appartement”. Since then I can remember being fascinated with France. As time went by, Audrey Hepburn contributed to the allure with her song “Bonjour Paris!” in the film ”Funny Face” along with Bernardo Bertolucci’s ”The Dreamers”.

The cinematic representations of France and its people portray the French as sensual and sophisticated people who understand the true fragility of life and love. They appear to possess a certain “je ne sais quoi”, which to date I haven’t found in other cultures. The eloquence with which they speak, the sophistication with which they carry themselves and the sense of nobility and aristocracy they possess have always played a part in my secret love of France.

I’ve always wanted to visit and learn the language, but to date haven’t made it happen.

In April I decided to take the first step and give learning French a go. Especially to try and get my head around the language, identifying the differences in pronunciation compared to Spanish and English, which I already speak, and also to learn a few phrases which might prove useful when I eventually decide to cross the English Channel.

French has definitely not been easy and by no means have I become fluent in the process; however, in the lessons I’ve had, my teacher has been very patient and encouraging along the way. Finding time outside of class to do self study has been a challenge in itself, yet I found that it’s definitely possible to learn when your mind is in the right place.

Our teacher spoke 99% French, which forced us to really focus on what she was teaching and instructing us to do. Not only did she educate us on the language but she also taught us about her cultural norms, most of which were communicated through her firm yet friendly method of teaching. In class we had quite a few opportunities to speak and, even though we couldn’t say much yet, for me it wasn’t about becoming fluent on the first level, but rather celebrating the romanticized idea of the French language and culture. Something I picked up from watching countless French films without understanding a word.

There is something about speaking French (even if it was just saying: “Je m’appelle Nadine.”) that transforms a person’s whole demeanor and makes us feel sophisticated and chic. Without having to wear Yves Saint Laurent couture or smell like I’ve spent a day in the L’Occitane en Provence factory, I instantly became the leading lady in my own French film and, as I tried to emulate what my perception of being French was, I imagined Cyril Mourali and I on the Pont des Arts in Paris. As I arched my back, and lifted my right heel off the ground, he planted a kiss on my lips, whilst a tearful Bop the clown (Marcel Marceau) performed in the background with the Eiffel Towering over us.

Next term I plan to pick up the language where I left it, and who knows how the plot of my story will unfold. I might even take a language holiday to Paris and study French there.

“Pourquoi pas?”

Nadine studied French Level 1 on a 10-week evening course in Brighton.