Skiing vocabulary in Italian: on-piste and off-piste essentials

Lift pass Ski pass / un pass per lo ski lift
Ski lift Ski lift
Skis Gli sci
To ski Sciare
To hire (skis) Noleggiare
Off-piste Fuori-pista
Piste map Carta della pista
Ski equipment Articoli da sci
Ski jacket Giacca da sci
Goggles Occhiali da sci
Ski pole Racchette da sci
Ski boots Scarponi da sci

Gloves Guanti
Hat Cappello
Ski school Scuola di sci
Ski instructor Maestro di sci
Chalet Chalet / bungalow
Help! Aiuto!
Watch out! Attenzione!
I need a doctor Ho bisogno di un dottore
Snow Neve
Snow forecast Previsioni meteo
Avalanche risk Rischio valanghe
Closed Chiuso
Bad weather warning Avviso di valanga
Cross-country skiing Sci di fondo
Downhill skiing Sci alpino
Mulled wine Vin brulé
A beer please Una birra per favore

Where’s the best place to learn Spanish in Latin America?

Every day the Cactus Language Team receives many phone calls from our clients and potential clients. Most already know where they would like to take a language course because of a particular affection for a city, the desire to visit a specific place and combine it with language learning, because it’s cheaper to fly to or because of a romantic interest! However, the phone calls we enjoy most are from clients who know they want to take a language course but don’t necessarily know where. They seek our advice as to what’s best for them, and this is where we really get to show off our excellent product knowledge and recount stories of our own language courses and travels.

As the Latin America specialist I’ve been asked several times, “Where is the best place for me to take a Spanish language course?”. Read more

Spanish course in Brighton: Cactus staff review

Cactus intern Anne Blank tells us about her Spanish evening course in Brighton

I had just started my internship at Cactus and was really happy to hear that we offer Spanish part-time courses in Brighton. As I really love languages, I decided to take a 10 week part-time course in Brighton.

I had already learned Spanish for more than two years at school, but I didn’t feel very confident in using the language. I booked to start at Spanish level two, but I realised after my first lesson that the level was too low. Thankfully it is possible to change your level, and after talking to my colleagues I decided to go in at level four.

It was a really good decision to change level, because I changed to a course where I could practise the pronunciation rather than just grammar. After just a few lessons I already felt more confident using the language. It was a class in which I could learn to express myself and talk to native speakers. We also practised the grammar which was more of a revision for all us students, but it was really helpful.

Amaia, my teacher, was an amazing person who is passionate about teaching Spanish and giving her students an insight of the Spanish culture. She was very kind and helpful. We had a lot of fun, but we also worked really hard to improve our Spanish. In each lesson we played a game in order to learn new vocabulary or we just talked about our daily lives. We discussed different topics from our book but Amaia also prepared her own texts. To learn more about the Spanish culture we sometimes met in a Spanish bar, to have some Sangria or Spanish red wine. YUM!

As we were just a small group of students, our teacher had more time to look after each individual student, which was very helpful. It was sometimes a bit hard because Amaia tried to avoid speaking in English; on the other hand was it really good, because it can be exactly like this if you go to Spain.

All in all I can say, it was muy bien and I enjoyed learning more about the Spanish culture and language.

Cactus runs evening and part-time language courses in schools across London and in cities nationwide. Courses are available in over 20 languages and on regular start dates throughout the year.

Chinese course in Brighton: Cactus staff review

Cactus intern Anne Blank tells us how she got on with her beginner’s Mandarin evening course in Brighton…

After taking a Spanish course in summer, I wasn’t really sure which course should be next. As I really love different languages and cultures, I thought I should learn something completely new. So I had a look on the Cactus website and the decision was easy: Mandarin!

I’d already heard different stories about the Chinese language and I was a bit scared, but mostly excited. It is such an unknown language for me (and I guess also for most European people).

As I didn’t want to go to my first lesson unprepared, I decided to do a little bit of research. After doing some research I was even more excited.

When I arrived at St.Giles College in Brighton, my teacher welcomed me with a friendly “Ni hao” (hello). At first we talked about the reasons why we decided to take this course and it was really interesting to hear other students’ answers. There were reasons like moving to China, travelling to China, having Chinese relatives or just being curious, as I was.

We were given an overview of the four different tones in Chinese, which constitute the most important part of the language. In the first two lessons, we learned to introduce ourselves. Finally I was able to say: “Níhăo. Wõ jiào Anne. Wõ laizi Dé gué. Hên gāo xing rénshi nin.” (Hello, my name is Anne. I’m from Germany. Nice to meet you!). I could also ask people what their name is and where they come from.

My teacher Jieshang is in one word: AMAZING! She really likes teaching and giving us an insight into her culture. She was always well prepared and made sure that we felt comfortable.

As I’ve already mentioned, pronunciation is a very important part of the Mandarin language, so we were given lots of speaking exercises to help us feel more confident with the different tones. We also watched different clips online and tried to understand as much as possible.

We also talked about the different customs in China. I learned about the meaning of the different colours, numbers and animals:

– Number 2 is a good number in Chinese culture. There is a Chinese saying “good things come in pairs”. It is common to use double symbols in product brand names, such as double happiness, double coin and double elephants.

– Red, corresponding with fire, symbolises good fortune and joy. Red is found everywhere during Chinese New Year and other holidays and family gatherings. Red is strictly forbidden at funerals as it is a traditionally symbolic coluor of happiness.

We went on step by step with our book (which is a very good book) and learned more and more. I was really surprised that there is also a chapter where you start learning how to write the Chinese letters. It is more like painting, because you have to make sure that each line is “painted” correctly.

All in all I can say that the course was “hên hăo” (very good) and I really enjoyed it. I have the feeling that I learned a lot and I’m looking forward to learning more Mandarin.

Cactus runs evening and part-time language courses in schools across London and in cities nationwide. Courses are available in over 20 languages and on regular start dates throughout the year.

French evening course in Brighton: Cactus staff review

Language Course Advisor Jennifer Maynard tells us how she immersed herself in culture and cuisine during her 10-week French course…

I’ve been taking language courses for years now, many of which concentrate around the basic GCSE criteria, i.e. what pets do you have? How many brothers and sisters do you have? Do you live in a house or an apartment? Of course, all of this is helpful to know, however it is much more exciting and useful to have real life conversations with the teacher and with other people in the class. A class in which you can learn to express yourself, just as you’d need to when abroad and using the language in question, is just what I was looking for.

I was extremely lucky to find that this is exactly what Cactus was offering. To begin with, Helène is French, which helped with perfecting the authentic French accent. She’s a lovely lady with a wonderful personality and very excited about teaching us French and sharing her culture with us.

The tasks and conversations revolved around our true interests and daily activities. Helene is really passionate about food and her opinions really shine through. By witnessing Helene in action it has been possible for me to express myself with new phrases and learn about many of the culinary delights France has to offer. I especially enjoyed the homemade Choux bread with fromage! I even learnt how to make a Swedish desert thanks to the multicultural array of students in the class.

Above all, I am relieved I now know how to warn people that we don’t have enough vin rouge for our camping trip!

All in all a thoroughly enjoyable course with some very lovely people that are hungry for la langue française.

Cactus runs evening and part-time language courses in schools across London and in cities nationwide. Courses are available in over 20 languages and on regular start dates throughout the year.

Cactus gains recognition as an ICEF-screened education agency

ICEF (International Consultants for Education and Fairs) is a well-established organisation that offers a range of solutions designed to help clients with their marketing and student recruitment initiatives. They are particularly well-known for their workshops, which are held all over the world and are widely regarded as the industry’s premier educator/agent networking events. Through the ICEF workshops, we can keep up to date with new schools and products in the industry, and spend time nurturing relationships with our existing partners – something that we attach a lot of importance to at Cactus.

ICEF’s industry-leading quality assurance processes are becoming increasingly recognised as an important qualification for active student recruitment agencies, which is great news for us.

Our recognition as an ICEF Agency is extended for a two-year period and can be renewed through ongoing participation in ICEF Workshops, and related quality assurance screening in subsequent years.

Please visit the Cactus Language website for full details of language courses and holidays that we offer around the world.

Italian courses in Italy – learn in the sun on one of Italy’s island escapes

One of the main reasons for choosing one of these three islands as a study destination would, of course, be their undeniably beautiful golden sands and glistening turquoise waters. All have plenty more to offer than just this, though.

Although the islands are all part of Italy, they each have a very unique identity that gives them a character all of their own. So, if you’re looking for an Italian experience with a ‘twist’ look no further…



Sicily is the largest of Italy’s islands, whose most notable features include some breathtaking natural scenery and an incredibly rich sense of history and tradition. The food isn’t bad either!

An obvious and unfortunate association with the island is, of course, the Mafia, but these days the situation is far improved. In any case, you would be extremely unlikely as a tourist to experience any mafia- related activity first-hand.

Sicily became an autonomous region in 1948, and unlike other such regions in Italy, has its own parliament and legislative powers.

Culture and identity

The people of Sicily are very proud of their island, identity, and culture and are more likely to refer to themselves as Sicilian than Italian.  In the past, Sicily was considered a crucial strategic location due primarily to its importance for Mediterranean trade routes. As a result, Sicily has been invaded and ruled by a variety of civilizations over the centuries, including the Greeks, Romans, Normans and Arabs, and Sicilian culture is a unique mix of all of these influences.

Catholicism remains paramount in every day Sicilian life, and the importance placed on religion is no more evident than during Easter, with the processions and parades that take place around the island.

Much of Sicily is still fairly rural and as a result many people live in small villages that remain off the main tourist trail.

Geography and landscape

Sicily has been known since ancient times for its roughly triangular shape, which earned it the name Trinacria. It is separated to the east from the Italian region of Calabria through the Strait of Messina. The island is known for having a densely mountainous landscape, and is also famous for its volcanoes – Etna being the largest.

One of the island’s most picturesque coastal environments is Contrada Zingaro, where sheer cliffs alternate with beautiful tiny coves, but Sicily has many beautiful beaches. The crystal-clear waters of the Egadi islands, just off the coast of Trapani, are possibly the finest areas for swimming and snorkeling.


Sicily’s complex history is evident just as much in its food as its culture. The staple ingredients of many Sicilian dishes have their origins in Greek, Roman and Arab culture, and include olives, grapes, beans, lentils, aniseed, apricots, cinnamon, pistachio, rice and spinach.

Although the Sicilians are famous for their seafood cooking, they are also well-known for their sweet tooth. In fact, some of their most famous gastronomic exports include ice cream, granite, marzipan and candied fruits.

Anyone who visits Sicily is guaranteed good, locally -sourced food. Very rarely will you eat anything that has not been grown, reared or caught within a few miles of where you are sitting. As a result, the food has a richness of flavour that you just don’t find with shop-bought produce.

Highlights for tourists

Visitors to Sicily will never be short of things to do, whether it’s a stroll around the old town of Palermo, a trip to Mount Etna, or a boat ride out to the Egadi islands, but if you’re a history buff these World Heritage sites are a must:

• Archeological park Valle dei Templi of Agrigento

• Villa Romana del Casale of Piazza Armerina

• The Aeolian Islands

• Late Baroque Towns of the Val di Noto (South-Eastern Sicily)

• Syracuse and the Rocky Necropolis of Pantalica

Cactus offers Italian courses in Palermo and Taormina



The sea around Sardinia is often likened to the crystal-clear waters of the Caribbean, which obviously makes Italy’s second largest island a huge favourite with holidaymakers. In stark contrast, much of the inland region remains rough and rugged, and fairly untapped by tourists.

Like Sicily, Sardinia has been influenced by a range of cultures stemming from different periods of rule.  Whilst Sicilian culture can generally be applied to the island as a whole though, there seems to be more cultural variation amongst regions within Sardinia. For example, around Alghero (in the north of the island) there remains a strong Catalan influence, which is evident quite overtly even from the signage around the town.

Sardinia benefits in general from a laid-back atmosphere and friendly people and, as with most Italian regions, there is some fantastic food and drink on offer too.

Culture and identity

The island of Sardinia was also invaded and colonised by several cultures over the centuries, including the Greeks, the Romans, the Spanish and the Austrians. These influences have certainly affected the identity of the island today, but it was often said of the Sardinian people that they were never really conquered – they just simply retreated to the hills to live.

A large part of Sardinia’s history relates to sheep-rearing, and up until fairly recently a large number of the island’s shepherds still spent long periods of time in-land in traditional dwellings and in relative isolation.

Geography and landscape

Located directly underneath Corsica to the west of Italy, Sardinia has some beautiful gorges and highlands, and hundreds of miles of rocky, unspoilt coastline. It has some of the most beautiful beaches in Europe, but if you’re more of an adventurer than a sunbather, there’s plenty of wild terrain to explore inland.


As is to be expected from a place that is home to so many sheep, lamb is a very popular ingredient in Sardinian cooking, and Pecorino cheese (made from sheep’s milk) is one of the islands biggest exports!

Lobster, scampi, botargo, squid, tuna, sardines and other seafood also figure prominently in Sardinian cuisine, as do pork and wild boar.

Highlights for tourists

Whether you prefer active holidays or lazy breaks on the beach, Sardinia will suit your requirements.

Sun-seekers can head to the stunning and exclusive Costa Smeralda, with its beautiful beaches and coves.  History buffs can walk the old towns of Alghero and Cagliari, or visit Guiseppe Garibaldi’s house on the pretty island of Caprera, just off the north coast of Sardinia. 

Anyone in search of the great outdoors can visit one of Sardinia’s three national parks for some great walking and wildlife-watching:

• Asinara National Park

• Archipelago of La Maddalena’s National Park

• Gennargentu National Park

Cactus offers Italian courses in Alghero and Cagliari



Located 10 km from the continent, Elba is the biggest island of the Tuscan Archipelago and actually the third-biggest of Italy’s islands. The island has a population of 35,000 divided into eight different towns, 12,000 alone residing at Portoferraio.

Elba Island is probably most well-known for its association with Napoleon Bonaparte – it was here that he was exiled to in 1814. The general consensus remains that there are certainly worse places to be banished to, though!

Beach-lovers have a choice of 70 on the coastlines of the island, some very peaceful, others more crowded. The island is also an ideal location for sports enthusiasts and those seeking an active holiday – the mountainous terrain inland offers excellent hiking and mountain-biking opportunities, and the many beaches are great for watersports.

Culture and identity

Once again, Elba is an island that has seen centuries of invasions and a string of different rules, and as such has a culture comprised of many different influences.

Geography and landscape

Despite the fact the Elba has a perimeter of only 147 km, Elba offers a multitude of diverse landscapes and scenery: romantic fishing villages, small hill-top towns, ancient castles, green valleys and shimmering bays with sandy beaches.

The island of Elba offers a very rich and varied ecosystem, which is home to a number of rare species of animals and plants.  In fact, Elba has Europe’s largest Marine Park, which was created to protect the existing ecosystems and to safeguard the migratory fluxes of various species of birds between Europe and Africa.


As with Sicily and Sardinia, Elba’s food reflects the large amount of influences that the island has seen over the years.

It is a mixture of different tastes and is characterised by many fish and vegetable dishes. Squid, cuttlefish, stockfish and rock fish are very used and are prepared in various ways.

Elba has also become known as a producer of some very fine wine. Despite a huge reduction in the number of vineyards over these last 50 years, Elban grapes manage to produce an array of wines that are classified as D.O.C. (Italian quality guarantee).

Among the most renowned are Elba Bianco (white), Elba Rosso (red), Rosato (rosè), Moscato and Aleatico, both of which are sweet dessert wines.

Highlights for tourists

Whether you’re heading to Elba for a relaxing break or an activity-filled stay there will be plenty to keep you occupied.

Anyone who likes being out in the fresh air and keeping fit can opt for mountain biking, trekking, skindiving, fishing windsurfing, sailing, hang-gliding, free-climbing, bush walking and golf, either alone or as part of a guided excursion.

People who prefer less physically-demanding activities can visit a plethora of sites and museums around the island, including:

• The Elba Aquarium

• The Napoleon Museum in Portoferraio

• The Museo Archeologico Della Linguella

Cactus offers courses in Marciana Marina

Skiing vocabulary in Spanish: on-piste and off-piste essentials

Lift pass Abono / forfait
Ski lift Teleférico
Skis Esquís
To ski Esquiar
To hire (skis) Alquilar (esquís)
Off-piste Fuera de pista
Piste map Mapa de pista
Ski equipment Artículos de esquí
Ski jacket Chaqueta de esquí
Goggles Gafas de esquí
Ski pole Bastón de esquí
Ski boots Botas de esquí

Gloves Guantes de esquí
Hat Gorro de esquí
Helmet Casco
Ski school Escuela de esquí
Ski instructor Instructor/a de esquí
Chalet Chalet
Help! ¡Socorro!
Watch out! ¡Cuidado!
I need a doctor Necesito un médico
It’s an emergency Es una urgencia / emergencia
Snow Nieve
Snow forecast Previsión de nieve
Avalanche risk Riesgo de avalancha
Closed Cerrado
Bad weather warning Advertencia de mal tiempo
Cross-country skiing Esquí de fondo
Downhill skiing Esquí alpino
Mulled wine Vino caliente
A beer please Una cerveza por favor

Skiing vocabulary in French: on-piste and off-piste essentials

Lift pass Un forfait
Ski lift Le téléski
Skis Les skis
To ski Skier
To hire (skis) Louer (skis)
Off-piste Hors-piste
Piste map Plan des pistes
Ski equipment Equipement de ski
Ski jacket Une veste
Goggles Lunettes (de ski)
Poles Batons de ski
Ski boots Chaussures de ski

Gloves Gants
Hat Bonnet
Helmet Le casque
Ski school Une école de ski
Ski instructor Moniteur
Chalet Chalet
Sledge Un traîneau
Help! Au secours!
Watch out! Attention!
I need a doctor J’ai besoin d’un secouriste
It’s an emergency C’est une urgence
Snow La neige
Snow forecast La prévision de neige
Avalanche risk Risque d’avalanche
Closed Fermé
Bad weather warning Attention au mauvais temps
Cross-country skiing Le ski de fond
Downhill skiing Le ski alpin
Mulled wine Vin chaud
A beer please Une bière s’il vous plait

Venice carnival - an event not to miss

Think of ‘carnival’ and most people think of Rio, which hosts the king of all parties each February. But you don’t have to go to Brazil or dance samba to get in the party spirit; ‘Carnevale’ is also a huge winter festival in Italy, and nowhere more so than in its iconic northern city of Venice. Here, 40 days before Easter each year, one of Europe’s most unique and elaborate festivals is celebrated, and this year the dates to note in your diary are February 11th – 21st 2012.

Carnevale in Venice dates back to the 15th century and is characterised by its ubiquitous, extravagant masks, or maschere. These masks were traditionally worn so that no distinction could be made between nobility and the common people; today, they adorn shop windows throughout the year and are sold at varying price tags to locals and tourists alike.

Once kitted out with your mask, Venice’s grand masquerade balls (public as well as private) become the perfect opportunity to show this off and dress up in elaborate costume. People really go to town with their outfits: this is true indulgence in the art of fancy dress, in a backdrop of some of the world’s most beautiful palaces, frescoed halls and opulent ballrooms. For a few hours, hidden behind your mask, you could lose yourself in 18th century Venice, mingling with aristocracy whilst being entertained by artists and acrobats, a Venetian feast in front of you and an exquisite cocktail to hand…there are few places in the world that could pull this off, but Venice is most definitely one of them.

Other events not to miss include the mask parades in St Mark’s Square, gondola and boat parades along Venice’s famous Grand Canal, a Carnival for children in the Canareggio district, a magnificent fireworks display on the last day, and many more concerts, operettas, gala dinners, parties and street entertainment throughout the day and night.

Accommodation will be at a premium during these 10 days of celebration so why not combine your visit to Venice with an Italian course – not only will your learn some of the language to enhance your experience, but you can stay with a local family or in independent accommodation and become much more than a tourist.