10 good reasons to TEFL

1. Travel

TEFL gives you a perfect way to see the world and fund your travel. Some people start teaching in one place, fall in love with it, and stay for a long time. Others however prefer to change location every year, and by so doing literally work their way around the world. Read more

The Independent - 17 July 2010

This double-page article by Joe Bindloss takes a look at how you can take time out for travelling without damaging your career.  It includes an interview with a previous Cactus Tefl student, Tessa Barber.  She talks about her experiences of retraining as an English teacher and her varied work experience around Europe. 

Joe writes: “If the focus is on gaining new skills, there are many opportunities to study abroad. Total-immersion language schools such as Languages Abroad (languagesabroad.co.uk) and Cactus Language (cactuslanguage.com) offer the chance to learn a foreign language in the country where it is spoken, from Spanish courses in Barcelona to Mandarin Chinese courses in Beijing.

“If you don’t want to learn somebody else’s language, you could always try teaching your own. Language schools around the world need a steady supply of qualified English teachers, and, with aTefl (Teaching English as a Foreign Language) or Tesol (Teaching English to Speakers of Other Languages) qualification, you can work almost anywhere. The most widely recognised teaching qualifications are Cambridge Celta(cambridgeesol.org) and Trinity CertTesol (trinity college.co.uk). Cactus Tefl (cactustefl.com) can arrange certification courses around the world – a four-week Tefl course in Poland, Hungary or Thailand can cost as little as £779. Search for teaching jobs at eslcafe.com/jobs and tefl.com.”


UK language schools win High Court battle over visa restrictions

The new restrictions had been drawn up by the former Labour government, who thought that illegal immigrants and migrants seeking low-skilled work were abusing the system. 

The feeling amongst language schools and many other organisations however, was that it’s nonsensical to require students to know English before they come here expressly to study it.

The case was brought by English UK, a body that represents 440 language schools, whose main argument was that the Home Office should have brought the issue back to Parliament for proper debate.

Mr Justice Foskett said the fresh restrictions had been ‘achieved through altering guidelines when there should have been a formal change to the rules‘, with the matter referred back to Parliament.

Chief Executive of English UK Tony Millns said: “I am delighted and relieved.”

“We are pleased that Mr Justice Foskett saw the merits of our case and we believe that his decision is good for the UK economy, to which the English language sector contributes about £1.5 billion in foreign earnings each year.”

He said he hoped common sense would now prevail so that students could come into the UK to study English with a lower level in the language.

The current government says it is reviewing English language requirements across the visa system, and that it is committed to undertaking a review into the Student Tier of the Points Based System later in 2010 to ensure that all students coming to the UK are genuine.

Read the full story on the Guardian website

Visit the Cactus Language website for full listings of English courses in the UK

Arabic evening course: Cactus staff experience

The Level 1 Modern Standard Arabic course provides basic reading, writing and speaking skills in the Arabic language in a really entertaining atmosphere.

All the students have their own reasons and motivations for following this course. That’s why the teacher is happy to define particular objectives to reach, according to what the students actually expect from the class. Consequently the learning is really adapted to each one’s needs.

The first approach of the language is quite disturbing for a complete beginner! Indeed the first step is to go through the Arabic alphabet, and to discover the various new and unfamiliar sounds. Pronouncing and repeating the letters is a real challenge on the first lesson! But there is actually nothing to fear for the following sessions, because the language is then analysed little by little, and the students can make progress at their own pace.

Every week, a new group of similar letters from the Arabic alphabet is studied, including how to write them separately and how to join them to make up words and phrases in a proper way. This is really like a game, playing with symbols and trying to give sense to those. It is quite fun! Moreover the lessons and the exercises from the book are used in such a way that the students learn how to write Arabic from a strong basis and in a smooth manner.

In a same progressive way, students get to know the numbers from 0 to 10. Later they learn how to compose bigger numbers as well as cardinal numbers, and how to write them, both with symbols and letters. Once the functioning of Arabic numerals is understood, they learn how to tell the time.

When it comes to vocabulary, students are invited to give a list of specific words that they would like to learn for personal purposes. Otherwise basic words of daily life are looked at, such as colours, days of the week, members of the family, etc. Some grammar is also tackled such as differentiation between feminine and masculine words.

As for the speaking side, students get to know a few sentences for a basic, survival conversation, such as greetings, presentation and useful phrases in particular situations. Some role plays are organized to make the pupils really involved, and to keep them active and dynamic!

In order to make noticeable progress, it is essential to do practical exercises, to write as much as possible, to learn the vocabulary every week and to keep the lessons interactive. It’s then a huge feeling of satisfaction, happiness and pride, being able to express yourself in such a different language!

Cactus runs evening and weekend courses in Arabic in London and Brighton. Courses are also available in many other languages and cities across the UK.

German evening course in New York: Cactus staff experience

Week 1.

Just started the German Beginners course in Tribeca – not a language I have ever planned to study before, but I’m fast becoming hooked by its never-ending words and grammatical rules. As the class is small- only 4 of us- we have plenty of opportunities to practice, and it’s a nice relaxed and enjoyable environment. We spend time getting to know each other today, and learning the basics of the German alphabet and how to pronounce the new letters we see. Bonus- there’s a great coffee place very near the school for me to top up on caffeine before this new form of brain-exercise!

Week 2.

I learnt today that there isn’t a single American in my group. We’re British, Hong Kongese, Spanish and Puerto Rican- a great mix!! I’m not sure if that helps us with our studies or not, but we’re all enthusiastic, which definitely does.

We did quite a lot of review today- very necessary to remind us all of what we learnt, and subsequently forgot, from last week’s class. Saskia, our teacher, is very patient and goes through things with us in both German and English so we don’t miss a thing.

My word of the day: Entschuldigen – Excuse me.

Week 3.

Questions and answers, and our first real look at how verbs are formed. There’s a lot to learn, but fortunately German is a language with a lot of rules, so once I have those down (if ever) I should be able to get quite competent. Learning verb tables reminds me of learning Latin when I was in Secondary school- hopefully I’ll do better with German than I did with Latin though! We learnt and practiced a lot of question forms, and asked each other about families and pets. I’m getting to know the other students quite well now, and in class we have no secrets!

Week 4.

Kein and nicht – 2 ways to say no. Sounds easy? Well, it’s not- combined with word order and part of speech to determine usage I feel like I’m wading through a big linguistic swamp. When I say no I mean no, so I don’t want to get this wrong. A few exercises for homework will help, but much more important is the practice we do in class to reiterate the different uses and smooth out the errors.

Week 5.

The mid-way point of the class, and at this point I feel like I have already come quite a long way. I can introduce myself, talk about my family, talk about jobs and use different verbs in the present tense, as well as being able to ask quite a lot of questions. Now it’s just time to get used to listening to the different accents out there.

We also had a quick-fire question quiz in class, a kind of review of everything we’ve done so far. Quite a few things have clicked into place, so I don’t think I embarrassed myself too much- we all had fun and ended the class on a German high!

Week 6.

Unfortunately I had to miss this class- I hope I didn’t miss too much though. Fortunately my very kind teacher Saskia sent me a summary of the class and homework by e-mail, so I can still keep up in my own time and I won’t feel too left behind next class.

Week 7.

Phew- there was a review of last class on the board when I arrived, and as I was a little early I had a chance to talk to Saskia about the grammar of the previous class. Important stuff too- like, love and hate- I wouldn’t want to miss out on how to say that, not that my husband will understand when I coo Ich liebe dich in his ear.

Time to learn the imperative, and give orders. As a teacher myself I can be quite bossy, so I can see this coming in handy.

Week 8.

Again another very intense class – we did a lot of work with the different cases in German – Accusative, Nominative and Dative. Compared with English this language is pretty complicated, but once you get the hang of it you feel like you can conquer the world!! Needless to say, I haven’t conquered anything yet, but with a little practice I should do OK.

The whole group felt quite tired by the end, but nothing that a drink together after the next class won’t improve!

Week 9.

Essen und Einkaufen – Eating and shopping – 2 essential subjects to learn about. There are a lot of interesting cultural facts which go with food too, like the German for dinner- Abendbrot – means evening bread. And they only have a very light dinner, not like the English who tend to have their largest meal in the evening.

We also studied time – and now I know why Germans are always early: their halb zwie – ‘half ten’ actually means 9.30!! Half before ten. We don’t stand a chance against that!

Week 10.

Last class- really? Already? It seems like 10 weeks have whizzed past, and I actually feel like I have learnt quite a lot. OK, so I’m sure I make mistakes every sentence, but I can speak and understand a range of topics, talk about what (or who) I love, like and hate, go to a restaurant or hotel and not be completely embarrassed, find my way around a new city, ask quite a lot of questions… all the things you need for a trip to Germany as a matter of fact.

2 of my co-students are actually off to Germany for work next week, so we spent some time in class going over things they would need to be able to say when they get there. They both looked happy and confident- and I’m sure they’ll have a fantastic time.

I had to finish the course with a new sentence: Deutschland hat ein sehr gutes Fussballspiel gespielt – Germany played a very good game of football.

My teacher was very happy with the results so far- and next will be the Germany- England game. Go England!!

So all in all I’m a happy student following this course, and I hope I’ll be able to sign up for the next level to keep it up. In the meantime I’m going to take Saskia’s advice and get down to the Goethe Institut for some language practice. She also recommended a website www.leo.org which has resources and a dictionary- sounds good to me!

Cactus runs German evening courses in New York and San Diego.

Those wishing to practise their newfound language skills abroad can take a German course in Germany, Austria or Switzerland. Learning a language in the country where it’s spoken is the ideal way to really immerse yourself in the language and culture.

Learning German: starting from scratch on an evening course

Having not learnt a new language since taking the unknown foreign language component of my Trinity CertTESOL course in Russell Square in 2003 it was all a bit daunting going into a classroom to be confronted with the possibility of starting a new language from zero. Even on that Trinity course, we were really only learning an unknown language to put us in the position of being language learners to empathize with total beginners. For me, it was time to bite the bullet. I’ve travelled to Germany 4 times for work and each time I am embarrassed by my inability to even say “how are you” in German.

However, as with all new things, it’s never as difficult as you think and the teacher made all 5 of us feel very at home in the class and soon we were greeting each other and saying where we were from. The great thing about being a total beginner is that learning just a few phrases gives you a sense of achievement as you come out knowing relatively so much more than you did before! After we’d had just a few lessons, we’d got into a routine of a few of us getting together for a cheeky pint of beer (Becks of course) after the lesson to practice phrases and compare notes about all things German.

As the course progressed several things struck me. One was that I was the only British person in the class, highlighting how bad we are as a nation at learning languages, and the other was really how similar some German phrases are to English. For example, das ist gut.

Das certainly wasn’t gut when a few of us met up yesterday (just before our final lesson) to see the German football team annihilate England’s underachievers by a whopping vier goals to ein and send us crashing out of the World Cup. I’m sure our teacher won’t be feeling too smug for the final lesson, and I have no doubt that I speak for myself and my classmates when I say that we all have an excellent second team to support. Deutschland! Deutschland!

I mean, I couldn’t possibly support a team led by Maradona!

Alex took a beginners’ German evening course in Brighton. Cactus runs German courses in Brighton and other cities across the UK. German evening courses are also available in the US.

Those wishing to practise their newfound language skills abroad can take a German course in Germany, Austria or Switzerland. Learning a language in the country where it’s spoken is the ideal way to really immerse yourself in the language and culture.

Spanish evening course: Cactus staff experience

I’m walking towards St Giles in Brighton feeling a bit nervous. I’ve signed up for a Spanish course and am about to attend the first class in a few minutes. I wanted a challenge and so enrolled onto the Upper Intermediate level, even though I scored one level below in the Cactus online level test. However, I feel my Spanish skills have become pretty rusty lately. The weeks preceding the course I have been trying to get used to speaking English 24/7, my mother tongue being Finnish, and the sudden swap of languages makes me a bit worried – maybe I will be able to recall English words only when trying to express myself in Spanish for a change.

I find my way to the class room and soon my fears have vanished. The teacher is encouraging us to speak and is happy about every sentence we are able to produce, regardless if it’s grammatically a hundred percent correct or not. The most important thing is that you can make yourself understood. Over the years I have taken lessons in a total of seven foreign languages and some of these I studied for several years. I have been taught by 25 to 30 language teachers. I can tell from my experience that the best way to obtain skills that are useful in real-life situations is to speak, speak and speak a bit (or better still, a lot) more.

Even though I still feel my Spanish is rusty and all the vocabulary I once learned is hidden somewhere in the back of my brain, I feel comfortable on the course. The class size is small, just four of us altogether which forces you to participate actively. It is a weekly full immersion into the Spanish language for two hours. The teaching method is ‘full immersion’ which means that no English whatsoever is used from the moment we enter the class room – if we don’t understand a word, our tutor will explain it to us in Spanish. During those two hours on Wednesday nights we have time to do lots of different kinds of exercises – listening, role plays, games, general conversation about some certain topics etc.

The ten weeks pass by quickly and we are finishing with the course sooner than I realise. I am happy with the course but not too happy with my own performance – I should have spent some more time on self-study between the classes. Fortunately I can also continue with independent study after the course as I have my text book, all the materials our teacher has handed out and the podcasts that are available for downloading after every lesson. And actually the immersion experience wasn’t limited to the class time either. Once after our lesson we had a Spanish dinner together with the class and the teacher. Spanish omelette – delicious!

Cactus runs Spanish evening courses in Brighton and other cities across the UK. Courses are also available in the US and Canada.

Those wishing to practise their newfound language skills abroad can take a Spanish course in locations across Spain and Latin America. Learning a language in the country where it’s spoken is the ideal way to really immerse yourself in the language and culture.

Learning Chinese: in at the deep end in Chengdu

When I set a foot in Chengdu, China, in 2008, I was like the character played by Bill Murray in the movie Lost in Translation. I was tucked away in a whole different culture with some clichés in my mind, and memories of my first trip to Shanghai in 2004. However, it was different this time. I remember I was constantly amazed and slightly afraid by my new environment. As a natural instinct, I was on the lookout to speak to someone of my own (Western/European) culture because I felt reassured to share common values. But after a few days, I was sure of one thing though: I was eager to embrace the Chinese culture!

I wanted to make Chinese friends, do as much sightseeing as possible and, of course, learn Mandarin. I took my first Chinese class shortly after my arrival at the university. My classmates and I started to learn Chinese from scratch but immediately the fear of the language was swept away by the friendliness of the teacher.

We learnt the basics, like greetings and how to start a conversation in different places. For example, we learnt how to ask for directions in a taxi or how to barter a price and buy an item in a shop.

But when you have the chance to live in a foreign country, you cannot simply rely on your language classes. You keep learning new words and attitudes by interacting with people. Whether you ask for a train ticket, a taxi or hear a conversation, even if you don’t get everything, some words will catch your attention, and by simply hearing and repeating these words, these will be engraved in your head.

The environment where you learn is a key element to learning a foreign language. One day, the professor decided to take us to the People’s park of Chengdu… just imagine yourself, drinking a Chinese cup of tea in broad summer daylight, with couples hanging around, elderly people plying mahjong (an old Chinese game) or Go next to you. It was a typical day, but I felt myself totally immersed in this atmosphere and thus, I wanted to learn more Chinese and more Chinese culture.

Living for 10 months in Chengdu, learning the customs and the language remains one my most memorable and gratifying experience so far.

Cactus offers Chinese courses in China in the following locations: Beijing, Shanghai, Xian and Hong Kong.

To learn some of the language before you go, or to brush up on existing language skills, Cactus runs daytime and evening courses in Chinese in London and other cities across the UK. Evening courses in Mandarin are also available in the US and Canada.

German evening course: a first-hand account

At long last, after a long wait, I got to do my first German class. After years of picking up German from friends, family and students, I finally took the plunge to immerse myself in a class.

First class – typical – I arrived a little late for the first lesson, only because I happen to work for the place and could see they needed help at the entrance as there were so many students coming for their different language courses! In class we got down to doing what turned out to be the standard structure. The first part speaking only German – getting to know the other students and introducing ourselves – and then various exercises to sort out the more able from the less, like irregular verbs, listening practice, and so on, and then finishing up with structured conversation development. And it really sorted out the good from the bad – and was I relieved I got through!

First homework: learn 5 irregular verbs and prepare for a role play for next week (buying tickets for travel). It was really good to see it, because it really helped us focus in on what we were to do next week and prepare ahead for it. None of us wanted to feel left behind … The following weeks’ homework was on the same vein, though being different topics was really useful and helped immensely in the classes.

For the following classes we settled into a routine with variations on themes. Always 15 to 20 minutes with each person talking – in German – about what they had done over the week (others asking questions also), then some grammar points, irregular verbs, and so on, followed up by one person each week giving a semi-prepared presentation on a subject like your most memorable holiday. And there were some really interesting tales. The German family reunion, the tour of Aztec-Mayan Mexico, the 5 month beach holiday in Sardinia, camping with Druids at the White Horse…where else could you do this but in a German class?

Unfortunately, not everyone could come every week – I had to miss one week when I went to London on business. However, I found it very easy to catch up. The students were all of somewhat different levels, from one who found it difficult to put two words together to one who spoke almost without thinking, but we all felt included and Regina kept us all together and involved, overtly making sure that noone felt held back either because they were too low or too high.

After the last class we went off to a pub and had a drink to wind down – we all had our homework for the next course next term, we all exchanged email addresses – and are all secretly reading up as much as possible to impress each other (the teacher’s not important – it’s the other students you have to worry about!).

Rod learnt German on a 10-week evening course in Brighton. Cactus runs daytime and evening courses in German and other languages in Brighton, London and other cities across the UK.

Those wanting to practise their new language skills abroad can take a German course in Germany, Switzerland or Austria. Available from one week upwards and at all ages and levels, these courses are the perfect way to really immerse yourself in the language and culture!

Cactus nominated for an LTM Star Award

The LTM Star Awards are unique, peer-voted awards in the international education industry that take place annually.  Education organisations vote for their preferred agent partners and vice versa, with the winners revealed in a glitzy ceremony in London every September.

This year, a record number of votes were cast, indicating that all those shortlisted are well thought of by their school partners. We pride ourselves on our high levels of customer service, and the great partnerships that we maintain with our partner schools not just in Western Europe, but all over the world. For this reason, it means a lot to us to be shortlisted again, and we are very hopeful that we’ll win the award.

The winners will be announced at the Language Travel Magazine Star Awards ceremony on 4th September 2010. Please wish us luck – we’ll keep you posted!

Find out more about Cactus’ language course locations around the world