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.

Charlotte Gainsbourg : Heaven Can Wait

Last Tuesday Londoners had the chance to appreciate a concert by a remarkable British-French artist, Charlotte Gainsbourg. Charlotte has legendary parents in Serge Gainsbourg, influential and eccentric French icon of the swinging 1960s, 1970s as well as 1980s, and Jane Birkin, an outstanding English singer, actress and model. Charlotte,38, has made her career as a singer, actress, songwriter. Mother of two children, she spends her time between France and Britain, and also does regular world tours. She is faithful to her parents’ heritage regularly presenting their songs during her concerts. Her half-sister is the stylish Lou Doillon, daughter of Birkin and the film director Jacques Doillon.

Jane Birkin and Serge Gainsbourg remained in collective memory thanks to the controversial “ultimate love song” Je t’aime…moi non plus. Gainsbourg is famous also for the movie and soundtrack to Bonny and Clyde with Brigitte Bardot, a pure product of the sixties with their rebellion culture, youth revolution and the spirit of Mai 68.

Charlotte’s discography includes the albums Charlotte For Ever (1986), 5:55 (2006) in collaboration with the Parisian band Air, IRM (2009) released after her waterskiing accident in the US. At Shepherd’s Bush Empire, the singer presented her new and old songs in both French and English and her recent hit Heaven Can Wait. She thrilled the audience with a great performance in perfect harmony with her musicians, exquisite light and colour effects, masterly voice and poetic songs, including those by Bob Dylan. The spectators, who included a large contingent of French-speakers, appreciated her fidelity to her own impeccable style inspired by Anglo-Saxon rock, French pop music and her parents’ legendary heritage. The French-speaking audience got a nice surprise at the end when she concluded her performance with the popular French song by her celebrity father Couleur Café , emphasizing her belonging to the glorious tradition of la chanson française.

The films that she has made, such as Lemming and Antichrist (winner at the prestigious Cannes Film Festival) demonstrate her great acting skills and personality, and tend to explore the deepest twists and turns of human nature.

This remarkable artist, born in London and raised in Paris, belongs to both cultural traditions and continues to inspire millions of fans who have an interest in French culture.

Those who could not attend the concert are advised to check the availability of Charlotte Gainsbourg’s albums at HMV and visit her website as well as to follow online London’s French events with Ici Londres.

Cactus becomes a Quality English agent

The Quality English brand was established expressly to promote high quality English language schools and their courses to international students. As a result, all of the schools that make up Quality English are carefully selected for their high quality and excellent reputation.

The Quality English schools are located in English-speaking countries all over the world, and offer a wide range of study options that comprise both general and specialised courses. Quality control is paramount within the Quality English group, and to ensure this all schools and courses are regularly monitored through student feedback, agent references and accreditation results. These must all be of an excellent and consistent standard.

Gaining approval as an agent for Quality English is a testament to the professionalism and reputation of Cactus, and was only possible thanks to excellent references from our current partner schools.

We very much look forward to working in partnership with Quality English, and hope that having this extra string to our bow will assure prospective students of the high quality courses that they can expect when booking with Cactus.

Please visit the Quality English site for further details of their aims and requirements, and see the Cactus Language wesbite for listings of English courses worldwide.

Useful transport-related vocabulary translated for you


Ticket Fahrkarte (f)
Metro/underground U-Bahn (f)
Stop (noun) Haltestelle (f)
Direction Richtung (f)
Day travelcard Tageskarte (f)
Line Linie (f)
Zone Zone (f)
Platform Bahnsteig (m)
Bus (Auto)bus(m)
Timetable Fahrplan (m)
Bus route Busstrecke (f)
I’ve lost my ticket Ich habe meine Fahrkarte verloren
Which metro line/bus should I take? Welche (Linie) U-bahn / welchen Bus muss ich nehmen?
Do I have to validate my ticket? Muss ich meine Fahrkarte stempeln?


Ticket ticket (m)
Metro/underground métro (m)
Stop (noun) arrêt (m)
Direction direction (f)
Day travelcard carte de transport journalière (f)
Line ligne (f)
Zone zone (m)
Platform quai (m)
Bus bus (m)
Timetable horaire d’autobus (m)
Bus route ligne d’autobus (f)
I’ve lost my ticket J’ai perdu mon ticket
Which metro line/bus should I take? Quelle ligne dois-je prendre?
Do I have to validate my ticket? Est-ce que je dois composter/valider mon ticket?


Ticket billete (m)
Metro/underground metro (m)
Stop (noun) parada (f)
Direction dirección (f)
Day travelcard abono de un día (m)
Line línea (f)
Zone zona (f)
Platform andén (m)
Bus bus/autobús (m)
Timetable horario (m)
Bus route ruta de autobús (f)
I’ve lost my ticket He perdido mi billete
Which metro line/bus should I take? ¿Qué línea debería coger?
Do I have to validate my ticket? ¿Tengo que validar mi billete? 


Ticket biglietto (m)
Metro/underground metro (m)
Stop (noun) fermata (f)
Direction direzione (f)
Day travelcard biglietto giornaliero (m)
Line linea (f)
Zone zona (f)
Platform binario (m)
Bus pullman/autobus (m)
Timetable orario (m)
Bus route percorso dell’autobus (m)
I’ve lost my ticket Ho perso il mio biglietto
Which metro line/bus should I take? Che linea devo prendere?
Do I have to validate my ticket? Devo convalidare il biglietto?


Ticket passagem (m)
Metro/underground metro (m)
Stop (noun) ponto (f)
Direction direção (f)
Day travelcard passe do dia (m)
Line linha (f)
Zone zona (f)
Platform gare (m)
Bus bus/autobús (m)
Timetable horário (m)
Bus route rota do ônibus (f)
I’ve lost my ticket Perdi o meu passagem
Which metro line/bus should I take? Que linha debo pegar/tomar?
Do I have to validate my ticket? Tenho que validar o meu bilhete? 


Ticket en biljett
Metro/underground en tunnelbana
Stop (noun) en hållplats
Direction en riktning
Day travelcard en dygnsbiljett
Line en linje
Zone en zon
Platform en plattform
Bus en buss
Timetable en tidtabell
Bus route en busslinje
I’ve lost my ticket Jag har tappet min biljett
Which metro line/bus should I take? Vilken linje ska jag ta…


Ticket lippu
Metro/underground metro
Stop (noun) pysäkki
Direction suunta
Day travelcard päivälippu
Line linja
Zone vyöhyke
Platform laituri
Bus linja-auto
Timetable aikataulu
Bus route linja-autoreitti
I’ve lost my ticket Olen kadottanut lippuni…
Which metro line/bus should I take? Mikä linja minun täytyy ottaa?
Do I have to validate my ticket? Täytyykö minun vahvistaa lippuni? 

How to get past the language plateau

As I know to my chagrin, there is no end to learning a language, and even when you think you’ve made it and are ‘fluent’, there’s always more to go. Prior to my move to New York I was living in Mexico City for 5 years, and even though I say so myself I thought I had mastered the language pretty well. I was able to work in a bilingual office and speak Spanish without the locals wincing at everything I said. My writing was cohesive and accurate, and I even gave a speech in Spanish towards the end of my time there. Yippee – I’ve done it!!

But now, 2 years later, as I get comfortable in New York, speaking English all day and having less and less opportunity to speak Spanish, I can feel myself stagnate. I’m not going upwards with the language, and without a bit of effort I will definitely go backwards. It’s a natural stage to reach, where you can manage most things, and get around the rest, but the pleasure of speaking and getting better has gone, and I want it back. I’m also trying to be realistic about what I will actually do to keep my Spanish going. So here are some ideas I have had to keep myself moving towards that peak:

1. Set goals

What do you want to be able to do with the language? Find a new job in another country? Speak to your in-laws? Have a more rewarding vacation where you can actually speak to the locals, as opposed to gesturing when all else fails? Think about why you are learning the language, and set about finding ways to practise it in those areas.

2. Read in your chosen language

And read more and more – as much as possible. It doesn’t matter what you read really – currently I’m reading an Agatha Christie novel in Spanish – as everything will help you to recognize correct grammar, and will build your vocabulary. Of course reading something written by a native author will be much more rewarding – there’s a range in Spanish from Gabriel Garcia Marquez to Isabel Allende to suit all tastes. If newspapers and magazines are your thing then buy one in the language and read the news from a different perspective.

3. Ask friends to help

Whether you’re living in your home town or abroad, there will be people there who you know who speak your chosen language. Obviously if you have moved to the country where the language is spoken you will have many more opportunities of this sort for practice, as even a trip to the Boulangerie will give you a chance to speak a few words. However, in order to improve you need to have correction, which won’t often come from a stranger. Ask your friends to correct you when you speak or, better still, set up a conversation exchange, where you help your friend with English for an hour, followed by her helping you with her language for an hour.

4. Use flashcards

One of the best ways to build your vocabulary is with flashcards. I remember when I lived in Japan I used to travel to work on the train each morning, and would be surrounded by scores of schoolchildren all flipping through little stacks of flashcards all bound together on a ring, with the Japanese word written on one side and the English one on the other. It is a great idea, and easy to reproduce too. Reviewing vocabulary is essential for progress.

5. Podcasts

I have my favorites for Spanish and Italian, and living here in New York I have time on my daily commute to listen to them. There is a wide range available these days, from language-learning based ones which go through grammar and give you exercises, to radio show style commentaries, discussing the latest news and other more irreverent subjects. You just need to have a look at the ever-increasing selection on a site like i-tunes, and select the ones you like best. Many are free, so you can sample until you find something you really like.

6. Take a course

It’s never too late to learn, and you will find that however good you are at a foreign language, there’s always something more to learn. The ideal way, if you have the time, is to join a group at the right level and have a regular opportunity each week to focus on the language with a teacher to help you and point out all the little errors.

If you want to brush up your language close to home, Cactus runs daytime, evening and weekend language courses in the UK and the US & Canada. For tailor-made, private tuition in your home or workplace, Cactus Language Training will gear a course to your specific needs and interests.

Cactus also runs language courses in more than 30 languages, 60 countries and 500 destinations worldwide. Courses are available from one week upwards, at all ages and levels, and can be combined with a range of fun activities ranging from surfing and diving to cooking and wine tasting.

5 cheapest places to learn English in London

Learning English in London need not be as expensive as you think. Below are our 5 cheapest locations to take an English course in London  in 2014 – leaving you more spending money to enjoy life in the capital!

1. Oxford Street


Speak Up London is a brand new independent school located in the very heart of London in much-loved Oxford Street. Facilities here are basic, but the passionate staff offer a friendly, warm environment for students.

The school is located in the basement of a building amongst the Oxford Street shops close to Tottenham Court Road tube station, and benefits from excellent transport links to the whole of the city – ideal for students already living and working in London. Find out more >>

2. Islington


Islington Centre for English is a small school teaching students in friendly classes with experienced, qualified teachers. It is located just 1 minute walk from the Angel tube station, right in the heart of the lively Islington area.

The school has 6 bright, medium-sized classrooms and courses here have flexible timetables and you can choose to study in the morning, afternoon or evening. Find out more >>

3. Soho


Skola Soho is located in the London district of Soho, a very cosmopolitan neighbourhood, and welcoming to all people. You can get to the school in just a few minutes from Oxford Street, Piccadilly Circus and Leicester Square tube stations. This school is part of the Skola group, which has been running successful language schools since the late 1960s, and which also runs teacher training courses from the same location. Find out more >>

4. Kings Cross


Malvern House offers high quality English teaching to adult students in state of the art facilities. The school opened in July 2009 and is a brand new, purpose-built centre.

Experienced and qualified teachers provide a dynamic, innovative programme, enhanced by the latest digital learning technology. All classrooms are fully equipped with interactive whiteboards, giving instant access to up-to-the-minute internet materials to enrich your lessons. Find out more >>

5. Russell Square


St Giles is housed in a very substantial, 100 year old building. Completely refurbished and modernised, the college is equipped with some of the best and most up-to-date language learning resources available. The classrooms are modern and spacious, and students have access to a language laboratory, a self-access study centre, a computer laboratory and a bookshop with all lesson materials.

This well-established school has been offering English courses for over 50 years and also runs its own teacher training programme, so high-quality tuition is guaranteed. Find out more >>

Cactus offers a range of general, intensive, individual, combined and exam preparation courses all around the world. For full course listings, including prices, and to book please visit the Cactus Language website.

Launch of the Suzanne Furstner Foundation Scholarship 2010

Every year the Suzanne Furstner Foundation, set up in memory of the former head of Cactus TEFL, Suzanne, invites applications for a TEFL course scholarship.

Suzanne was tragically lost in 2006, and each year since a scholarship has been offered – first in Spain, then in Latin America and most recently in Italy.

This year, the Scholarship Prize is a four-week CELTA course in San Francisco (with host family accommodation) plus a 20 hour part-time language course in one of our UK or US locations. Return travel New York – San Francisco (or equivalent) is also included.

The 2010 scholarship assignment is to write a maximum of 1,000 words on the topic ‘San Francisco’, interpreted any way you choose. In addition to this, candidates should complete a short language awareness task. Entries will be accepted from mid-June until October 1st 2010 and should be submitted by filling out our entry form.

The winner will be chosen by a 3-person committee: Jenny Johnson, Cactus Academic Director, Sarah Wilson, International Officer at Sussex Downs College, and one other person to be confirmed.

The 2010 Scholarship winner will be announced in October 2010.

More information on the scholarship

What’s the difference between 5 and 10-week evening courses?

Here are some of the most frequently asked questions about the two, including their differences and their benefits.

1. Do the 5 and 10-week courses have the same total amount of hours?

Yes, both courses comprise a total of 20 hours, just delivered in different formats. 10-week courses have one 2-hour session per week, and 5-week courses have two 2-hour sessions each week.

2. Is there any difference in syllabus between the two courses?

No – the syllabus is exactly the same. Because of this, the course levels are interchangeable – you could do a 5-week course and then choose the 10-week course when you take the next level up, or vice versa.

3. What are the benefits of doing a 5-week course?

Ultimately, whether you choose a 5-week or 10-week course will depend on your location, your weekly availability, how long you have to learn the skills that you require and what style of learning suits you best. 5-week courses are beneficial in that:

• You can learn a lot in a short amount of time, which means anyone planning a last-minute trip abroad can still learn what they need to before they go

• You learn more intensively, and have less time between lessons, which means it’s sometimes easier to retain what you have learnt

• It can be easier to ‘clear’ your diary of commitments for 5 weeks so that you are available for every lesson.

4. What are the advantages of doing a 10-week course?

10-week courses remain the standard format for evening lessons in a foreign language. They involve one 2-hour session per week, and are therefore less time-intensive in weekly terms. They also have the following benefits:

• They are offered in more locations and more languages than 5-week courses

• They offer a manageable study option for people who have little free time

• They give students lots of time to practise what they have learnt each week in their own time before moving on to the next lesson.

5. Which course type is the most popular format?

Our experience has shown us that more of our students want to attend class just one evening a week, which is why there are more 10-week than 5-week courses. Currently, 5-week courses are available in London (various locations), Brighton, Liverpool and Sheffield.

6. Do the 5 and 10-week courses cost the same?

Yes, the courses are priced the same. London–based courses start at £179, and regional courses at £159.

7. Are 5-week courses available in the same languages as the 10 week ones?

Currently, 5-week courses are offered in Arabic, Mandarin, French, German, Italian, Polish, Portuguese (Brazilian and European), Spanish and Turkish. We offer 10-week courses in all of these languages, and more – including Russian, Japanese, Swedish, Thai, Greek and Hindi, to name a few. For full language listings please visit the Language Courses UK website.

8. Do the 5-week courses have the same start dates as the 10-week ones?

No.10-week courses start at four different times of the year – in January, April, July and October. 5-week courses are usually offered in September, November, February and June*.

*Please note that start dates for 5-week courses can sometimes vary from year to year, please check our site to confirm specific dates.

Cactus offers a wide range of other language training options in addition to evening courses, including individual tuition, weekend ‘crash’ courses and immersion courses abroad. We encourage people to learn in whatever way suits them best, whether that’s with one course, or a mixture of formats and lengths. Please feel free to contact us for advice on what to choose, or visit our site to test your level.

5 cheapest places in the UK to learn English outside of London

One-week general course (20 lessons per week)

Prices based on 1 week from 2nd August

1. Glasgow – £109

2. Belfast – £179

3. Canterbury – £239

4. Manchester – £249

5. Cambridge – £269

One-week general course (20 lessons) + host family + breakfast + dinner

Prices based on 1 week from 2nd August

1. Glasgow – £349

2. Canterbury – £379

3. Belfast – £389

4. Manchester – £439

5. Exeter – £449

One-week general course (20 lessons) + single room in a shared apartment or residence (no meals)

Prices based on 1 week from 2nd August

1. Glasgow – £269 (shared apartment)

2. Belfast – £359 (shared apartment)

3. Exeter – £419 (shared apartment)

4. Manchester– from £529 (student residence)

5. Edinburgh – £549 (student residence)

Please note: prices were correct at the time of writing but are subject to fluctuation according to changing exchange rates.

Cactus offers a range of general, intensive, individual, combined and exam preparation courses all around the world. For full course listings, including prices, and to book please visit the Cactus Language website.

Academic Resources: Making the most of your language course

Learning a language is great, and the fact that you have started a course is for many people a breakthrough. To make it easier on yourself think about incorporating the following 10 steps into your routine, and you’ll be surprised how easy it all becomes.

1. Buy a notebook specifically for your class notes, and try to organize it so that you can see information easily, and can review the content of each class.

2. Try to attend every class. If you can’t attend a class, ask your teacher to send you some information about the class you missed by e-mail, including the homework, and do your best to complete it!

3. Speak to your teacher if you don’t understand something that’s going on. Once you get lost you mentally ‘give up’. Teachers are nice people, and will be happy to recap, either during the class or for 5 minutes before or after.

4. Reinforce your language learning as much as possible. Try to find a website which will give you extra practice. The BBC site is good for many of the mainstream languages. Newspapers often have listening parts, and even though you won’t understand everything it’ll really help you get you ‘ear’ for the language. Find a club or group which meets regularly, and join them so that you speak and listen to the target language in different situations.

5. Don’t get disheartened if you find your new language hard. Learning anything new is always hard when you start, but time and practice will work wonders.

6. Speak as much as possible in the target language while in class (and ask your fellow students and teacher to do the same). Repetition of words and expressions really helps them to become entrenched in the mind, and you’ll progress more quickly.

7. Review the grammar of your Mother Tongue. Knowing how your own language works will help you to find similarities in the target language, and this will speed up your progress.

8. Participate as much as possible during class. Even if you make mistakes it’s the perfect opportunity to practice what you have learnt, and the teacher will be able to correct you so that when you get out into the real world you will be able to use the language confidently and effectively.

9. Do your homework!! 2 hours of class time each week isn’t really enough to progress at a good pace, and each time you look at material in the target language you will absorb more. Homework is set to help you progress and practice areas that are important for you to progress. Usually teachers won’t set too much, and will go through it in class so that you can be sure that you are getting it all right. If you aren’t given enough homework by your teacher then ask for more, or try to find additional practice on the web, in magazines etc.

10. And finally – have fun! Language learning is an enjoyable experience, and in class you’ll do a variety of activities to ensure that not only are you learning new grammar and vocabulary, but you’re also having fun with language. Ask your teacher to teach expressions that you use in your own language, and use them when possible outside the class.

Cactus Language Training is one of the world’s leading providers of tailor-made language training, providing high quality training to companies, organisations and private individuals. We believe that the best way to learn a language is the way that best fits around you, and so we offer all forms of language training including 1:1, in-company, public group courses, full-immersion courses abroad, online courses, and language teacher training programmes; all of this is available in over 50 languages and 30 languages.