Academic year courses: real immersion in a language & culture

Surrounded by the sights and sounds of your new environment, you can’t help but soak up the language; as you naturally speak it in daily life, you will pick up vast amounts of vocabulary, and your comprehension and pronunciation will improve dramatically as your ear tunes into the sound of the language constantly around you.

On top of all this, taking a longer-term course such as an academic year programme will introduce you to people from across the globe – your common language being the one that you are all learning – and give you the unique opportunity to live in a lively, multicultural environment.

If you are serious about spending time abroad and want something to show for it, an academic year course in your language of choice is an excellent choice. Improved language skills marry with an increase of confidence and enhanced study and career prospects on your return.

With this in mind, we have listed our recommendations of locations which offer good long-term courses and which are fantastic places to stop and spend a while:


Please visit the Cactus Language website for details of all academic year courses worldwide.

Top 5 German course destinations this Fall

Here are our pick of the top 5 places to visit this September and October.

1. Berlin

Berlin is a city that is renowned internationally for its lively and varied cultural scene, and the array of festivals and shows taking place throughout September and October are testament to that. Some of the scheduled events include the Berlin International Literary Festival, Musikfest Berlin (September 2nd-21st), the Berlin Festival (September 10th-11th) and the Pyronale (September 3rd-4th), where international pyrotechnics companies compete to put on the best fireworks display at the Olympic Stadium. On a sporting note, there is also the Berlin Marathon (September 26th), one of the biggest marathons in the world, and in fact the event where Haile Gebrselassie set the new world record in 2008.

2. Vienna

If you choose Vienna as your study destination this Fall you’ll be totally spoilt for choice when it comes to free-time activities. Along with the usual sights and museums, you’ll be able to experience Vienna Fashion Week, the Vienna International Film Festival, the Long Night of the Museums, the Wien Modern contemporary music festival and perhaps best of all, Choco Vienna, where chocolatiers show off their finest creations for your consumption! Definitely not one to miss…

3. Munich image

Munich’s mass of leafy streets and array of parks make it a really pretty place to be as the seasons change and the green and yellow turns to orange and brown. That aside, there’s one thing in particular that attracts the tourists at this time of year – Oktoberfest. One of the biggest beer festivals in the world, it’s hugely popular with locals and tourists alike and will certainly give you an insight into one side of German culture! For anyone with more refined cultural tastes, September also sees the Open Art festival (September 10th-12th) and the AnderArt festival, Munich’s annual free festival of world cultures with music and performing arts from around the globe.

4. Zurich image

Zurich is a city that isn’t always an immediate choice for a German course, but it should be! It has loads to offer whether you’re a culture vulture, a sports fan, or a food and drink enthusiast. This Fall there are events that all of these types of people will enjoy – on a cultural level, you can enjoy the Long Night of the Museums, the Circus Monti, the Zurich Film Festival, and Jazznojazz Festival, sports-wise you can take part in SlowUp Lake Zurich, when people cycle, stroll or skate around the lake to raise awareness of pollution. There’s also the exciting ‘Freestyle’ (September 25th-26th), with top BMX riders, in-line skaters, skiers and skateboarders. Finally, any wine conoisseurs can head to Expovina, Switzerland’s largest wine exhibition held on 12 boats anchored in Zurich’s beautiful Bürkliplatz dock.

5. Hamburg image

With plenty of festivals and events happening during the Fall, Hamburg is a great place to spend time. During September and October you can enjoy the Hamburg Festival of Cultures, the Reeperbahn Festival and the Hamburg Film Festival, as well as the usual attractions. Anyone going to Hamburg has the added benefit of affordable courses, and more flexibility in terms of the intensity of courses too.

Please visit the Cactus Language website for full listings of German courses in Germany, Austria and Switzerland

Top 5 French course destinations this Fall

1. Montreal

Montreal is a fascinating city with a cosmopolitan feel and a wide range of cultural offerings. Summer in the city can be very hot, and winter extremely cold. For this reason, September-November is an ideal time to go and experience what the city has to offer. As well as the usual sights and attractions, there is also an array of festivals and events to enjoy during the Fall, including: the World Film Festival (August 26th-September 6th), the Escales Improbables Festival (September 8th-12th), POP Montreal (September 29th – October 3rd), the OFF Jazz Festival (October 15th-23rd) and the Festival of New Cinema (October 13th – 24th).

2. Paris

To be honest, Paris is a city that is buzzing with activity all year round. If you visit in Fall though, you will probably find fewer tourists, shorter queues, and less expensive accommodation. It’s also one of the prettiest times to visit, as the trees change color and the fallen leaves dance at your feet – it’ll really indulge your image of Paris at its romantic best. Festival and event wise, Paris is jam-packed with options throughout September, October and November, but some of the highlights include the Journées du Patrimoine (Heritage Days), held from September 18-19th and introduced to allow visitors a peek behind the doors of the 14,000 buildings that are usually closed to the public, the self-explanatory ‘Fête des Jardins’ (September 25th-26th), and the iconic Paris Fashion Week, held from September 28th – October 6th . Visit the Whatsonwhen website for full Paris events listings.

3. Guadeloupeimage

If you’re not quite ready to get the winter coat out and contemplate turning the heating back on, why not extend your summer by heading to Guadeloupe this autumn. Guadeloupe is a beautiful country located in the French West Indies, with stunning scenery and average temperatures of more than 24 degrees centigrade all year round. The hurricane season in this part of the world can sometimes extend to mid October, so late October and November are good times to go.

4. Bordeaux image

Anyone heading to Bordeaux this Fall will have a huge range of activities to choose from. This vibrant university city is at the heart of one of France’s most prestigious wine-growing regions, and September and October events include the Fête Du Vin Nouveau, when inhabitants celebrate the new vintage, and the Marathon du Medoc, a sporting event with a twist! Also to be recommended are the Journées du Patrimoine, when Bordeaux opens its wealth of historical sites to the public, the Foire aux Plaisirs Funfair (October-November), a long-standing fair in the city’s Place des Quinconces, and also the Bordeaux Opera Season, with scores of performances by the acclaimed National Opera of Bordeaux.

5. Lyon image

Lyon is often known as the gastronomic capital of France, but the huge range of events being held in the city this Fall shows that its talents don’t stop here. Throughout September and October visitors can attend, amongst other things, the Tupiniers Pottery Fair, the Dance Biennial, Les Musicades music festival, les Salons des Plaisirs Créatifs Art Expo, the Red Carpet Antiques Festival, the International New Generation Film Festival and the Equita Horse Fair, one of Europe’s premier riding events.

Please visit the Cactus Language website for full listings of French courses in France, Guadeloupe and Canada.

Easyjet Magazine - August 2010

This article in EasyJet’s in-flight magazine offers advice for anyone wanting to take a gap year before getting a job.  It explores courses and volunteer programmes that will appeal to a range of different interests.  “Learning a foreign language is an ideal way to experience a different culture and knowing a second language will set you apaprt from other job applicants.  Cactus Language ( offers courses for up to 12 weeks (one week starts at £199), with 20 hours of lessons from Monday to Friday. For an extra cost, you can really immerse yourself in the local lifestyle by staying with a host family.”

GCSE students spurn languages

It’s GCSE exam results time again and for thousands of students up and down the country, there’s been much to celebrate with overall results improving for the 23rd year running.  Unfortunately, the study of languages has taken a further hit, with French dropping out of the top 10 most popular subjects for the first time.  Figures published by the exam boards show that less than a quarter of pupils now take French in the last two years of secondary school, with German also falling to a new low.

And it’s not just the fact that languages are being dropped in favour of easier subjects that is worrying.  There also appears to be an increasing class divide around languages, with public and grammar school pupils much more likely to study languages than those students in state schools, reinforcing notions of elitism.

For anyone involved in the languages industry, or in fact anyone interested in languages, the statistics are sobering.  A CILT spokesperson commented: “Languages are seen as difficult and, with an array of other subjects on offer, there is little incentive for either schools or learners to make languages a priority for option choices.  There is a widespread consensus, shared by employers, educationalists and politicians of all persuasions, that we are letting our young people down by allowing so many of them to opt out of language learning as early as 13 or 14.”

So what can be done to stop the rot?  Surely the first step is for the Government to reinstate compulsory language study for 14-year-olds.  There clearly needs to be a major government drive, similar to that for single sciences, to boost the flagging numbers of student taking languages.  But the study of languages is also in need of a major face lift to engage with young audiences, making it more exciting and more accessible.  And that needs to happen well before 13, by inspiring primary school pupils to learn about other cultures, other people and how they communicate. 

Perhaps the Government’s strategy of boosting languages in primary schools will ultimately pay off, by engaging children early on.  But surely it’s only worth while if students can’t then just drop their studies later on.  For private companies like ours, the numbers of language learners continues to grow dramatically every year.  So we see a real desire in the UK to learn but we need to catch people at the earliest ages to make languages a lifelong passion. - 20 August 2010

This article on The Daily Telegraph website is the annual directory of 100 gap year travel companies, essential reading for anyone considering a gap year.  Cactus is featured at number three of 100 companies.

BBC UK China - August 2010

This broadcast for the BBC Learn English team includes an interview with Cactus’ teacher Jim Hitch.  He discusses what makes a native speaker’s English and non-native speaker’s English different, including some typical problems for people speaking English.

French-Russian entente cordiale: Coco Chanel and Igor Stravinsky

You are likely to appreciate the refinement and dramatic twist of Coco Chanel and Igor Stravinsky (presented at the 2009 Cannes Film Festival) if films like ‘A Handful of Dust’ and ‘Brideshead Revisited’ are your cup of tea. There seems to be the same scenario of spacious manors, their powerful and charming owners and invités falling under the fatal spell of the place doomed to secret love triangles…

This time it is about a French-Russian cooperation when, after the turmoil of the Bolshevik Revolution, the Stravinsky family sojourn in Paris where Coco Chanel is about to create her signature perfume. The visionary Igor Stravinsky, whose performance in front of the conservative bourgeois audience a few years before had been unsuccessful, is invited to Chanel’s villa to fully focus on his revolutionary music.

The épater le bourgeois logic seems to be closely followed by the next move of both outstanding personalities. Moral questions cannot be avoided, though, while the affair spins forward Stravinsky’s wife is suffering from tuberculosis and their four children remain in the villa. In this respect, the story is truly thought-provoking, as is the contrast of two very different women representing their respective cultures. Independent, self-confident, some will say selfish, talented and brilliant Coco has a dominant voice with her visual, almost graphic, splendour in black and white, the pianist’s colours, created with a little help from Karl Lagerfeld. Catherine, played by the Russian actress Elena Morozova, the composer’s legitimate spouse and mother of his children, remains voiceless most of the time taking the upper hand through humbleness, piousness and, probably, moral superiority.

Anyone who has seen the previous chapter of Coco’s life in ‘Coco Before Chanel’, will be familiar with her tragic love story with Arthur Boy Capel, a rich Englishman who had to marry another woman and, finally, died in a car accident. The path less travelled does not seem to bring much happiness to the self-made woman who never married but was recompensed through fame and fortune, and by becoming a new icon for the women of the 20th century.

Go and see this remarkable intercultural piece to make your own conclusions and discuss it with family and friends as well as practise your French and Russian at the same time and, I’m sure, admire the masterful performance of the French actress Anna Mouglalis. Châpeau !

Company Magazine - July 2010

Cactus teamed-up with Company Magazine and Optimum Releasing to offer won lucky reader the chance to win a trip to Paris to celebrate the release of Gainsbourg, a biopic about France’s legendary songwriter and maverick.

Gainsbourg is one of 2010’s most anticipated films, giving an enchanting look at the musician’s early life growing up in 1940s Nazi-occupied Paris, and through his successful song-writing years in the 1960s, until his death in 1991. The film has received excellent reviews and this competition will offer the winner a chance to absorb the real Parisian experience by learning French on location in the heart of the city.

Face Up Magazine - May 2010

This full page article from Angela West looks at how to learn language quickly if you’re heading off on your holidays.  Angela writes: “Do you know your pommes frites from your pescado?  Whether you’re camping with your family in France, skydiving in Spain or clubbing in Croatia, even a few basic words in the language will go down well with the locals – and you might make a few new friends. Learning abroad?  Cactus is one of the world’s leading language training companies with courses in over 25 languages, in 45 countries worldwide.  Visit”