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.

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? 

Ushuaia: top 10 things to do at the edge of the world

‘El fin del mundo’ is what they call it, and stepping foot in the world’s most southerly town certainly makes you feel like you’re at the edge of the world. On Argentina’s southern-most tip, Ushuaia’s setting is simply spectacular: if you look back at it from the green waters of the Beagle Channel, as Darwin would have done in 1832, you’ll see rows of brightly coloured houses set against a dramatic backdrop of jagged mountains – and you’ll know that if you keep going south, there is nothing but the vast waters, ice sheets and resilient penguins of the Antarctic.

For many people Ushuaia is the gateway to the Tierra del Fuego National Park, a geographical paradise of forests, lakes, mountains and marine life, with infinite possibilities for adventure tourism. With this in mind, we’ve compiled our list of the top 10 things to do in Ushuaia. Send us a postcard!

1. Visit the Museo Marítimo y del Presidio

The Maritime Museum not only gives you the chance to learn about Tierra del Fuego’s past, way back to when the first explorers arrived from Europe, but it has also been built on the site of Ushuaia’s former jail. Visitors to the museum can access the eerie cell areas (built by the prisoners themselves) and imagine life behind walls in the early 20th century.

2. Take the train to the end of the world!

Originally built as a freight line to serve Ushuaia’s mythical prison, the Ferrocarril Austral Fueguino (or Tren del Fin del Mundo) now takes you on a spectacular 8km round-trip up to the Tierra del Fuego National Park Station. This iconic steam train takes you along the Pico river valley and gives you a unique insight into the Yamaná people and local history.

3. Visit Antarctica!

If ever there was an opportunity to visit the iced lands of Antarctica, it’s here. You’ll need to book in advance, and it’s not cheap, but it’s a real once-in-a-lifetime experience. You can also sail to Cape Horn, Puerto Natales, South Georgia and the Falkland Islands from Ushuaia.

4. Look back…

If you can’t afford to visit Antarctica, don’t miss the opportunity to go seabound. A boat trip is the best way to view the Beagle Channel and look back at Ushuaia; at the same time you’ll usually also visit the sealion colony at Isla de los Lobos and Isla de Pájaros.

5. Explore the Tierra del Fuego National Park

Winter or summer, the choice is endless. Hiking, glacier trekking, skiing, mountain biking, horse riding, fishing, bird watching and more are are at your fingertips in this spectacular environment.

6. Visit a typical Patagonian estancia

Perfect for lovers of the great outdoors (and let’s face it, you’re unlikely to be in Ushuaia if you’re not), these are rural establishments that provide tourist services in the form of accommodation, excursions, horse-riding, hunting and fishing. Perfect for letting out the inner gaucho in you! Harberton Estancia on the Beagle Channel is one such place.

7. Go shopping!

Ok, so it might be the last thing you feel like doing in one of the world’s greatest outdoor playgrounds, but Ushuaia is a tax-free zone, so if you want to pick up some mementos to take home – either local or imported goods – then this is your place.

8. Visit Lakes Escondido and Fagnano

These beautiful glacial lakes near Ushuaia are the perfect escape to enjoy lake, mountain and forest scenery, as well as to encounter native wildlife and bird species.

9. Hike 7km from downtown Ushuaia to Glacier Martial

Whether or not you want to explore the glacier, the views from the top are breathtaking. You will be treated to a spectacular panorama of the Beagle Channel and Ushuaia – one day NOT to forget your camera!

10. And lastly, carry sunscreen!

Not just to protect from the combined effect of the sun, wind and snow: despite the wintery climate and need to dress warm, the depleted ozone levels over Ushuaia mean that sunburn is a real danger, whatever the weather.

Cactus offers Spanish courses in Ushuaia and in other locations across Argentina.

Verona – an ideal destination for opera lovers this summer

Staged in Verona’s awesome Roman Arena, along with rock concerts and a jazz festival, the opera season includes performances from some of the world’s greatest singers and musicians. This year, the season is dedicated to great Italian Director Franco Zeffirelli.

If you’re an opera fan, it doesn’t get any better than this. The acoustics, the surroundings and the performers are all top-notch, and the good news is that tickets won’t cost the earth. The opera season in Verona is geared towards a wide audience made up of seasoned opera-goers and newcomers to the genre too.

If you want to take your opera experience one step further, there is even the option at our Verona school to take a specialist Italian and opera course. The course offers a great way to learn more about opera and the people who sing it, and encompasses morning classes to work on language grammar, syntax and conversation and afternoon classes that focus on pronunciation and intonation of operatic lyrics.

If by the end of the week you’re all ‘opera’d out’, Verona and the wider region have plenty of other entertainment options to keep you busy too. If you fancy a mooch around the city, you could pay a visit to Juliet’s house, spend the afternoon browsing the main shopping area, or dine al fresco in one of Verona’s piazzas . If you’d like a break from the city, heading out to Lake Garda for a spot of sunbathing is easy and relatively inexpensive on the train. The train journey from Verona to Desenzano del Garda is around 20-25 minutes, and costs under 10 euro.

Italian and opera courses are priced at £529 for 1 week (without accommodation) and cater for a variety of linguistic levels. Find our more on Italian courses in Italy.

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

Savoie – a great French study destination this summer

Summer is always a good time to visit Savoie, but this year there will be even more than usual going on. Whether you choose the stunning lakeside town of Annecy, or the historical capital of the region, Chambery as your study destination, you’ll have plenty to do outside of lessons.

This year marks the 150th anniversary of the Savoie region becoming part of France, an event which will be celebrated by concerts, festivals and street parties all throughout the summer.

In addition this year, Chambery has the honour of hosting the 10th stage of the Tour de France. The tour is one of France’s premier sporting events, and is watched by a huge number of people, who follow the event year after year. The path of the tour varies every year, and towns are always very proud to be included in the route. There is a real festival atmosphere as the riders pass through, which will be particularly prevalent in Chambery this year (on 14th July) as the townspeople celebrate both the 150th anniversary, and Bastille Day too!

A further event this summer, which takes place annually, is Annecy’s Lake Festival. The festival will be held on 7th August, and includes some spectacular fireworks, illuminated cruises and, in true French fashion, lots of eating and drinking!

If you want to complement all the parties and festivals with a bit of downtime though, the good news is that you’ll be in the right place. Whether you want to relax by a lake, or do some walking in the tranquil mountain landscapes, you’ll be spoilt for choice in Savoie.

And if all of this still isn’t enough to convince you, it’s worth also bearing in mind that the schools in Annecy and Chambery are offering a special offer of 4 weeks for the price of 3 in June, July and August…a fantastic deal considering the popularity of the region, and the array of events that you can enjoy this summer.

Book now!

Read our full list of French courses in France