Cactus Weekend Crash Courses comprise 10 hours of class time, spread over one weekend. The idea sounds nice – taking your knowledge further or picking up the basics of a language in a relatively short space of time. But how much can you actually learn during those 600 minutes if you are completely new to the language?
That was something I wanted to find out and so I decided to sign up for a crash course and try my hand at Italian. I had visited the country a few times and hoped I would have been able to chat to people in their mother tongue. I recall trying to communicate with the locals who didn’t speak English and think that even the sketchiest knowledge of Italian would have helped. But it is not just about speaking – it is also helpful to be able to read the menu in a restaurant or to catch the meaning of newspaper headlines, for instance.
A weekend crash course is clearly not going to make me fluent, but it certainly offers a flying start, getting to grips with the basics and initial feel of the language. After all, that’s what most people are after when learning a language for a trip abroad: the basics, being able to get by and getting an insight into the country, people and culture.
Cactus’ weekend crash courses offer just that, so I signed up. My class was small, only 4 people, which made the course feel quite intensive and is obviously good for progress. The classes are very interactive with a lot of active participation. It’s a relaxed atmosphere and the teacher is easy to approach, which makes it easy to get stuck in, have a go and ask questions, without feeling “silly”.
As the course is Level 1, designed for beginners, we start from scratch: alphabet, tricky parts of pronunciation and how to greet and introduce ourselves. We learn how to offer some basic personal information such as age, profession and nationality. Numbers and the most basic verbs are also covered. In terms of grammar we get to know about articles, gender of words and the declination of verbs. However, the syllabus of the course is not set in stone. On the contrary, our teacher asks us what we would like to cover in the latter part of the course.
At the end of day one I feel excited but a bit overwhelmed with all the new information. It takes some time to take it all in, so revision between classes is a great way to consolidate all the things covered. Homework given by our teacher helps us to revise the contents of the first day before we enter the classroom again.
On the second day of the course we focus on food and drink vocabulary. Going through these topics also gives us an introduction to the Italian culture – it is an undeniable fact that Italy is known for its cuisine especially. Ordering at a bar, café and restaurant is covered exhaustively, which is logical, as these situations are the ones a traveller to Italy is most likely to confront.
We practise all the topics covered on the course through different means – role plays, exercises, listening etc. For instance, we get to write and perform a dialogue about having a dinner in a restaurant, including all the interaction between the waiter and the customers from the moment they enter the restaurant to the point they ask for the bill.
We also learn how to tell the time, seasons, months and days of the week, and practice all the topics covered on the course through different means – role plays, exercises, listening etc. We leave the last class armed with a stack of material for independent study and revision, and as I leave the classroom, I find myself walking through central London, day-dreaming of sipping espresso at a café in a cobbled square, eating delicious gelato flavours e naturalmente parlando italiano fluidamente…
I don’t know if my original purpose was just to pick up some basics or to try an experiment – now I just know I want to learn more of this beautiful language!
Cactus runs Weekend Crash Courses in Italian and other languages in London. We also run 10-week, 5-week and 1-week courses in many languages and in locations across the UK.