The Independent - 30 September 2010

This full-page article by Virginia Matthews takes a look at ways in which people can improve their language skills without having to sign-up for formal lessons.  It forms part of a larger supplement all about how language skills put employees and businesses at a competitive advantage in the global marketplace.  “Chris Moore, Head of Cactus Language Training, says there is no substitute for good teaching in getting to grips with an unaccustomed foreign language. Self-study and online training courses can only grow, given the internet, but whether you are footing the bill for a language course or your employer is bearing the cost we find regular, targeted feedback from a fully qualified teacher remains the key for the majority of people.”

How to practise French and Spanish in Boston

If you are interested in speaking other languages while in Boston besides English, you will have an easy time. There are many clubs and events dedicated to second languages in Boston – French and Spanish are just two examples.

There are several internet communities that specifically target the Boston area for French speakers. These communities have meet ups, some weekly and others monthly. Be sure to check out if you speak French and you live in Boston, or check it out if you are planning on visiting Boston and you want to use your French while there. Or you can look at Boston’s Regional French Embassy’s website and check out the events listed. French films, music and art showings are always listed on the site, taking place in and around the city. Lastly, visit the Boston French Library as they hold events revolving around the French language and culture:

Boston also has Spanish societies, events and clubs.  And by “clubs”, I do not mean a classroom where you can go and practice your Spanish – there is actually a group dedicated to everything Latin American in Boston, including nightlife – Here you will find the funkiest activities for Spanish speakers in the metro area. The website also lists the local radio stations that broadcast in Spanish as well as the local Spanish speaking television stations. If you’re looking for a more intellectual outlet, check out the Spanish Literature Club. This group meets locally for a highly interactive Spanish workshop.

More about French and Spanish language courses in Boston

Weekend ‘crash’ courses in a foreign language: who are these suitable for?

1. People with impending travel plans who can’t do an evening course

Many people going abroad on vacation or business opt to do some language training before they go, even if it’s just to learn the basics. For some people, however, evening courses that involve a two-hour session every week simply aren’t a viable option, whether it’s for work, family or social reasons. Equally, if travel plans are last-minute, it may be that you simply don’t have time to complete a 10 or 5 week course prior to your departure. In each of these cases, a weekend ‘crash’ course is ideal.

2. Anyone going overseas on a one–off trip to a foreign country

There are many instances when people find themselves heading to a country that they are unlikely to visit again, and in which they are perhaps even not too interested. Rather than committing to a 10-week course learning some of the local language, a weekend course offers a great way to pick up the basics without having to devote too much time to it.

3. People who have learnt some of the language before, but are looking for a short revision course

Weekend courses are currently held at beginners Level 1, and as such make a good refresher course for someone who has previously learned the basics of the language but since forgotten.

4. People on a tight budget who need a basic course with face-to-face tutoring

Everyone has a different style of learning, and whilst some people are more than happy to invest in a phrasebook or CD course to get to grips with the basics of a language, this isn’t an effective method for all. Some people need to learn in a classroom environment for it to sink in, but one obvious drawback with this is that it can be more expensive. Weekend courses, however, start from just $149 and can offer a much more affordable option than a longer course aimed at beginners.

5. People who are looking to learn useful language for real-life situations

The great thing about weekend crash courses is that they focus on language that you can use in real-life situations, not language that is reserved for academic forums. The concise nature of weekend courses means that they are expressly designed to cover the most important language aspects for those traveling and on vacation, and not to dwell on anything that won’t be of particular use.

Weekend crash courses are currently available in French, Spanish and German at our New York Tribeca center. Courses take place from 10am – 2.30pm, with a 30 minute break in the middle. Please visit the Cactus Language Courses North America website for further information on prices and start dates, and to test your level.

Cactus launches specialist DELE exam preparation evening course

Cactus Language Training, the world’s leading language training company, today announced that it has developed a new, 20-hour Spanish course helping students to achieve their Diploma de Español como Lengua Extranjera. The course offers expert tuition for students and professionals looking to take language learning to the next level and attain this internationally recognised certificate.

Cactus has designed the course to be taught by qualified and experienced exam preparation teachers over three terms with one, two-hour class per week. Classes focus on the DELE exam tasks and cover the key skill areas of reading, writing, listening, speaking, grammar and vocabulary, with students advised to undertake four hours of additional home-study a week.

The next course is scheduled to start on April and will take place at one of Cactus’ top partner schools in Holborn in London. Students will then be prepared to sit their DELE examination in August.

Richard Bradford, MD of Cactus Language Training, commented: “We’ve designed this course to cater for any students of Spanish who are looking to achieve the diploma but can’t study during office hours.  The evening programme will prepare them for the DELE exam by providing small, friendly classes and a thorough grounding in all the key skill areas. We’re pleased to be adding this new course to our existing training portfolio which offers the best possible choice and teaching methods for anyone wanting to learn Spanish.”

For more information about this, and other exam preparation courses, simply visit:

Top 3 winter destinations in Italy

The best ski resorts are found in northern Italy in the alpine region. Not far from Turin, for example, are the resorts of Sauze d’Oulx, Bardonecchia and Sestriere – a popular, modern resort with plenty of ski-lifts, a skating rink and cross-country trails. If you’re looking for a bit of glamour, the resort of Courmayeur on Mont-Blanc with its chic clientele and excellent facilities won’t disappoint. There are also plenty of ski resorts in the Dolomites in the north-east of Italy, as well as in the mountains of central Italy.

Rome is a fascinating and exciting place to visit whenever you go, and there’s plenty to do and see there during the winter. The temperature rarely falls below zero, the sun shines most days, it’s possible to eat outside most of the year, and many cafés provide outdoor heaters during the winter.

The festival of the Immaculate Conception marks the beginning of the Christmas period in Rome, the Papal Midnight Mass on Christmas Eve marks the highlight of that period, while the Epiphany parade on 6th January brings the Christmas festivities to and end.

Most of the churches in Rome put up elaborate nativity scenes (presepi), including a life-size one in St. Peter’s Square, and there’s an exhibition of such scenes in the Sala del Bramante by the Piazza del Popolo. In the Piazza Novona there’s a large Christmas market where you can buy wooden toys, sweets, Christmas decorations and much more, and there are plenty of other places to do your Christmas shopping.  Winter is also a good time to visit Rome’s cultural attractions and events as they tend to be quieter than at other times of the year. Other attractions of this time of year in Rome are the Christmas lights and the numerous street musicians who play seasonal tunes and often dress as Santa Claus.

With a wealth of history, natural beauty, fine beaches, attractive towns and cities, and average temperatures of 15°C Sicily is a good winter destination. For history buffs there, Greek temples and theatres, Roman villas, and Arabic, Byzantine, Norman and Baroque architecture; for outdoor types there are mountains, volcanos, ski-resorts, gardens, and plenty of other places to explore, and there’s plenty more to do and see.

More about language courses in Italy

Retirement havens: the top 25 countries to retire to in 2010

A recent report by International Living magazine has listed the top 25 places to retire in the world in 2010. Its Global Retirement Index takes into consideration factors such as the cost of living, climate, healthcare, recreational offerings, culture, real estate prices and infrastructure, to work out the most desirable places to settle once you are out of the workplace and looking to improve your quality of life.

The countries that came out top in the survey are not too dissimilar to those of 2009, but there may still be a few surprises for those who have never seriously considered retiring overseas. The usual suspects of France, Italy and New Zealand have their place in the top 25, as you may expect, but countries such as Panama, Colombia and Malaysia also feature highly.

As for the number one spot, who would have thought that Ecuador would rank highest for the second year running? 

Here is a brief overview of the top 10 countries to retire to, and where you can learn the language once there, as there can be no doubt that being able to communicate with the locals will greatly ease your immersion into a new environment: not only will you make friends quicker and get around easier, but you’ll feel the indescribable thrill of new words rolling off the tongue and understanding what is being said back to you.

For a complete list of the top 25 places to retire to, and for further information, please see International Living.

1. Ecuador

Ecuador is blessed with superb natural landscape ranging from Pacific beaches and dense jungle to the snow-capped Andes and rural highlands, with magnificent colonial cities dotted in between. With the cost of living very low – real estate equally so – and added factors such as a warm climate, duty-free import of belongings and discounts for retirees, it is easy to see why this South American country is the no. 1 place to settle in 2010.

Tempted to retire in Ecuador? Learning the language is key to immersing yourself quickly into your new surroundings and to making friends. Ease the transition with a Spanish course in Quito or Cuenca.

2. Panama

Hot on the heels of its southern counterpart, Panama wins lots of points for its retiree residency (pensionado) program: if you choose to retire here you will receive huge discounts off everything from public transport to airfares, eating out and entertainment. Not that things are expensive – in Panama you benefit from developing world prices whilst enjoying an infrastructure, efficiency and economy akin to the Western world. With vibrant cities, beach retreats and cool mountain hideaways your potential retirement havens, this is a worthy no. 2 on the Retirement Index.

Learn Spanish and you’ll soon be chatting to the locals in thriving Panama City or in tropical Boquete.

3. Mexico

Three Latin locations in the top 3! I am packing my bag already. Already a popular vacation choice, it is easy to see the allure of Mexico: beautiful colonial cities, spectacular ancient ruins, stunning climate, long golden beaches, rugged highlands, delicious food, easy access, low property prices and plenty of English speakers.

Be more than a tourist and immerse yourself into the local community by taking a language course. Cactus offers Spanish courses in many wonderful locations across Mexico, each tempting in its own way: Cuernavaca, Guanajuato, Merida, Mexico City, Morelia, Oaxaca, Playa del Carmen and Puerto Vallarta.

4. France

As mentioned before, it’s not difficult to see why France makes the top 5. The epitome of the good life, this is a country where long lazy lunches laden with cheese, wine and baguettes are the norm. And, compared to other western countries, you don’t have to pay much for a dream home amongst the fragrant mauve lavender fields of Provence or the orchards of Normandy. Perhaps this easy path to happiness mixed with the best health care in the world – according to the World Health Organisation – is the reason why more and more French people are living past 100 years. And you could be joining them.

Learn French with Cactus in one of 19 locations across France, from sophisticated Paris to charming Aix-en-Provence and sun-kissed Nice.

5. Italy

La dolce vità is an apt description of life in Italy. If you choose to retire in Italy you will be sure of sumptuous food, delectable wines, beautiful landscapes and a pleasant climate for years to come. Whether you opt for a rural village, a bustling town, a thriving historical city or a seductive island, you won’t have to look far for your weekly market or traditional festivals which are great places to meet the locals. 

Most people learn Italian for the sheer love of the language and the culture that embraces it, so why not be one of them and choose from one of over 20 locations to learn Italian in Italy.

6. Uruguay

7. Malta

8. Chile

9. Spain

10. Costa Rica

Denver: a perfect winter study destination

Set against the stunning backdrop of the Rocky Mountains, Denver is an attractive, cosmopolitan and exciting city. It has plenty going on all year round, but especially in the winter when it becomes a mecca for ski and snowboard enthusiasts, who flock to the pristine slopes nearby.

Taking an English course in Denver will give you study and ‘play’ time in equal measure, and if you ever fancy a change from the ski slopes, the city will have lots of other activities to offer too.

Eating and drinking

Denver is a university city, and has such has plenty of student entertainment offerings, and a very cosmopolitan vibe.  It has great nightlife, especially in the Lower Downtown area of the city, or ‘LoDo’ as it’s commonly known.

This happening historic district is filled with turn-of-the-century warehouses that now house around 90 brewpubs, sports bars, restaurants and rooftop cafes.

Larimer Square is also a popular area for hip bars and restaurants.


Denver is full of interesting things for visitors to see and do, including the Coors Brewery Tour, the Buffalo Bill Museum and Grave, the Botanic Gardens, the Denver Zoo, the US Mint, the Museum of Nature and Science, the Downtown Aquarium, Elitch Gardens Theme Park and the Denver Art Museum.

Anyone who enjoys a spot of shopping will also have plenty to keep them occupied – especially downtown and in the Cheery Creek shopping mall.

Festivals and events

Denver’s calendar is packed year-round with festivals, including the Denver Arts Week, held every November. Also of note are the Denver Beer festival and the Longs Peak Scottish Irish Festival in the autumn.

Events-wise, Denver’s Performing Arts Complex provides a great venue for concerts and shows. It’s the second-largest such complex in the world, with 10 venues, and such attracts artists and groups from all over the world.

Sports and outdoor activities

Denver is a sport-loving city that has plenty of activities in addition to skiing and snowboarding.  If you prefer to watch sport, rather than do it, the good news is that Denver has no less than eight pro sports teams, including the Denver Broncos (football), the Colorado Avalanche (ice hockey) and the Colorado Rockies (baseball), all of which have regular home games to enjoy.

If you have plenty of energy and like lots of sport in your free time, there are all the usual sporting options in Denver, and endless possibilities for biking and hiking in the surrounding Rocky Mountain National Park – most likely at the very start or end of the ski season, though!

Cactus offers General, Combined and Exam Preparation English courses in Denver, at a variety of levels.

Why not take a GCSE or A Level revision course in the sun this October?

As the popularity of Spanish as a foreign language within UK schools grows, there are more students taking the subject at GCSE and A Level. Although tuition in British schools is often very good, there are endless benefits to be gained by spending some time in Spanish environments with native Spanish teachers – particularly in the final year of GCSE or A Level courses.

The promise of foreign shores, new classmates and a bit of sun can do wonders for even the most disenchanted student’s enthusiasm. And the more dedicated and diligent linguists will no doubt also recognise the huge benefits of learning with native speaker teachers whilst being immersed in the foreign language and culture that they’re studying.

The revision courses are available in Alicante, Barcelona, Madrid, Marbella and Salamanca, and are specifically designed for UK students to attend in their school holidays.

The programme

Comprising 20 group lessons and 5 individual lessons, the week-long courses are designed to help students improve their:

• Core grammar, vocabulary, and level of communication.

• Oral communication, reading, and writing

• Communicative flexibility in different situations.

• Level of inter-cultural awareness; understanding the relation between the Hispanic community and the rest of the world.

The programme is open to all students in Years 10-13, and individual students will be assigned to a group of no more than 10 people for the morning classes which will focus on the four skills – reading, writing, speaking and listening – as well as relevant vocabulary and grammar. In addition, students are given 1 hour of one to one tuition a day to focus on skills specific to their exam.

Group bookings to this programme can form their own closed groups, or participate in open groups. If teachers wish to bring a group from their school, it is usually possible to organise discounts and free places for accompanying teachers.

Transport and accommodation

The schools that offer the courses are very aware of the extra responsibilities and requirements that come with offering juniors programmes, and as such are very careful to ensure their students safety, well-being, and happiness at all times. Host families are thoroughly checked, as are staff that meet and return students to the airport, and every effort is made to ensure that students feel as safe and comfortable as possible.

Accommodation is always with a host family, and meals are all included in the price. For GCSE revision courses, students will usually be staying with the same family as another student on the same course.

Please note that GCSE revision courses are also available in Valencia – they consist of 20 lessons per week and also include airport transfers and host family accommodation with another student.

IELTS preparation courses in London – a new evening course option for Cactus students

Comprising two 2-hour classes each week, the 20-hour course is designed to help students achieve a good score in the IELTS exam. The classes are tailored to students’ specific needs, and offer a dynamic and enjoyable learning environment.

The course covers key topic areas, develops students’ exam techniques, and improves their overall command of English for study and work.  It is offered at two levels – level 5 caters for students who want to achieve up to 5.5 in the exam, and level 6 for those who need 6.0 or above.

Courses are continuous, so when you have finished your first course, you can carry on studying until you are fully ready for the test.

Please note that the course is practise only, and does not include the test itself.

Visit the Language Courses UK website to test your level, find course outlines and to book your place.

York - a new addition to Cactus’ evening course locations

York has long been a popular tourist destination in the UK, with such attractions as the Shambles, Cliffords Tower, the Jorvik Centre and the National Railway Museum all within the city walls. It is also home to several universities and colleges, which assures it a large, varied student population.

The classes will be held in a well-established language school that caters for foreign students of English. Located in the Holgate area of York, it benefits from a range of comfortable classrooms and contains all the equipment necessary to provide a great learning environment.

Initially, courses will be offered in French, German, Italian and Spanish, at a range of levels. Classes will take place on a Monday evening over 10 weeks, from 6.30-8.30pm, and cost £159.

Please visit the Language Courses UK website for full course listings, to test your language level, and to book. Alternatively, call 0845 130 4775 to speak to one of our language course advisers.