St Patrick’s Day in Ireland

St Patrick’s Day (Lá Fhéile Pádraig) is a national holiday in Ireland and celebrations are held throughout the country, although wherever there are Irish people, or people of Irish origin, there is also likely to be a party!

St Patrick’s feast day was originally a religious festival which fell during Lent, a period of fasting when eating meat was prohibited, and was celebrated with masses, dancing, drinking and feasting of a traditional meal of bacon and cabbage – the meat prohibition was temporarily lifted.

Holding St Patrick’s Day parades is a custom which began in 1737 in Boston, America when people of Irish origin held a modest celebration. Since then the custom has spread to many other places all over the world.

Dublin always holds a St Patrick’s festival around the 17th March (17th-20th March in 2011), which includes a funfair, a circus, concerts, a treasure hunt, street performances, dances, art exhibitions, firework displays, a big parade and a variety of other activities and shows. Each year over a million spectators and some four thousand performers take part in these events.

There is a three-day St Patrick’s festival in Cork involving a big parade, marching bands, dancing, street theatre, concerts and much more, and there are similar events in Limerick. There are also parades on St Patrick’s Day in Wexford, Waterford, Athlone, Tullamore and many other places.

In Northern Ireland the biggest celebrations for St Patrick’s Day happen in Armagh and Downpatrick and run for most of March. There are theatrical performances, music concerts, exhibitions, a big parade and many other events during this time.

The shamrock is a traditional symbol of St Patrick and there’s a tale that the man himself used the three-leafed shamrock to explain the Trinity in his sermons. He explained that like the shamrock, the Trinity consists of three separate elements of the same entity, i.e. the Father, Son and Holy Spirit. As a result, his followers started wearing shamrocks on 17th March, which is thought to be the day he died.

Many Irish people wear shamrocks in their lapels or hats on St Parick’s Day, and children wear green, white and orange badges to signify the colours of the Irish flag. St Patrick’s Day celebrations have become known as some of the most fun and the most lively in the world, so if you can make your way to Ireland for the festivities this year, make sure you do!

More about English language courses in Ireland

Head to Viareggio this February and experience one of Europe’s best carnivals

Ask most people about carnivals in Italy and they’ll probably talk about Venice and the famous masks that are associated with it. In actual fact though, one of the oldest and largest carnivals takes place in the city of Viareggio.

The first Viareggio Carnival took place in 1873 and, although it attracts more people these days, the same traditions are still incorporated. It takes place during February and March (from 5th February – 3rd March in 2012) and involves music, dancing, and of course, the usual carnival parades – there are five over the course of the carnival, which take place over the five weekends before Lent.

The parades consist of huge floats and papier maché puppets, accompanied by a range of performers. The biggest floats carry about 200 people in costume who dance and throw confetti and sweets to the crowds, and can be anything up to 20 metres in height. Often the puppets satirise public and political figures and depict social issues, although they can also be traditional fairy-tale characters.

Aside from the parades, carnival time also offers an exciting programme of related events including shows, masked balls, musical and plenty of eating and drinking extravaganzas. The main event takes place on Martedi Grasso (Shrove Tuesday), when there’s a fantastic firework display and a huge procession to take part in.

Taking an Italian course in Viareggio during the carnival will give you a great insight into this age old tradition, and will assure you a fantastic time to boot. Courses currently offered in Viareggio are General, Individual, Combined and Academic Year Italian, which can be booked from beginner level up and for however long you wish. Please visit the Cactus Language website for full details and to book.

Berlin – a fantastic place for any film buff

The festival has put Berlin firmly on the movie map, attracting actors, directors and film fans from all corners of the globe, and in 2012 it takes place from 9th-19th February

Established in 1951, while much of the city was still under post-war reconstruction, the festival represented an attempt by the Americans to bring back some of the artistic glory that had been associated with the city during the ‘Golden Twenties’.

Today, the Berlinale has grown to become Berlin’s largest cultural event, and has also become one of the most influential forums for the film industry, along with Venice and Cannes.

Although the Berlinale is most famous for showcasing world cinema and new talent, a number of big-name Hollywood films have won the ‘Golden Bear’ award in the past, including Rain Man (1989), In the Name of the Father (1994), Sense and Sensibility (1996) and The Thin Red Line (1999).

Although Berlin plays an important part on the international stage when it comes to the presenting and critiquing of films, it has another important association with the film industry too. As a place so rich in history, culture and with such international renown it has also formed the backdrop to many a fantastic film over the years.

There are literally hundreds of films produced by directors in both Germany and in Hollywood that have been set, or filmed in, Berlin, including ‘A Foreign Affair’, ‘The Bourne Supremacy’, ‘Goodbye Lenin’, ‘Run Lola, Run’, ‘The International’, ‘The Reader’ and ‘Valkyrie’. In recognition of this, it is now possible to do ‘film tours’ of Berlin to see for yourself where the filming of these took place. A great option for any film aficionado…

More about German courses in Berlin

TEFL course feedback: CELTA in London

Cactus client Richard Fielden-Watkinson gives us the lowdown on the 4-week Cambridge CELTA course that he took at our Queensway centre in London

As I walked down the long road from Queensway Underground to the Stanton School of English, which is tucked away on the corner at the far end of the street, I nervously wondered what my class-mates would be like: would they be super-clever? Would they be nerdy? Much younger than me? Much older than me? And so these concerns went round in my head as I pushed on the door to enter the school.

It was twelve years since I had left school, with mediocre A-levels in Art, English and Business Studies, and even then I was not an ‘academic’ student. So my fear of looking stupid in front of the other trainee teachers was hanging over my head as I entered the school. Two weeks ago at the interview, the compassionate interviewer had appeared to give me a break when I messed up the entrance exam but displayed a keenness to learn and a dedication to the four-week course. She had accepted me onto the course with the condition that I promised to read a specific English Grammar book, cover-to-cover, by the start of the course.

So now, two weeks later, the first half of the book read and understood and the second half gist-read and vague in my head, I pushed on the door and considered the repercussions of turning round. I could just forget about the course and go back to waiting on tables – it wasn’t so bad. I could tell my parents and friends that I realised it just wasn’t for me. Or, I could not answer the phone to them for a few months, until it was all forgotten about.

I felt light on my feet as I walked up the stairs; perhaps I was ill and could come back on the second day?

As I fell over my words in front of the receptionist she beamed a smile and pointed to a close-by room. Three other CELTA trainees were spread out around the room. I found some confidence and said hello to everyone, which was promptly reciprocated. I chatted to a woman who had been teaching in South America, in all the countries I dreamed about visiting; she was on the course because she wanted a good qualification to be able to take with her around the world. Perhaps Saudi Arabia next, she suggested. The room filled up, nods and greetings were exchanged and I realised very quickly that I was not alone on this course; I could see nerves, anticipation and excitement etched onto all their faces.

The teacher trainers entered the room and we all fell silent. We listened to what they had to say and it began – the most rewarding four weeks of my life.

We were briefed and divided into three smaller groups within which we would create lesson-plans, teach and have feedback sessions. After the first day I was shattered, from all the information we were given and from the excitement of meeting 17 new people. As I got to know everybody (and what a diverse mix there was), I heard a similar story over again “…I want to travel and teach and this is the best qualification to enable me to do that…”. Another similarity amongst the group was some insecurity about their stamina and grammar knowledge going into the course. We all had reason to be worried about these two things, but together we overcame both. In fact, despite all being of different ages and from different backgrounds, we all had a lot in common; mainly that of not knowing what a modal verb was.

We were placed in front a class to teach on the second day and although this might seems like a step too far too quick, it is the best way to dispel nerves. We worked together in the original group of 18 and within our smaller groups; we photocopied relevant handouts for each other, we helped each other with the assignments (which is encouraged), we panicked together, we ate Marks and Spencer sandwiches together…often text messages regarding lesson-plans fired back and forth past midnight, we consoled each other when we were not successful and we said “Don’t worry, nobody noticed” to each other when lessons fell to pieces.

So four weeks passed, and we left the course with knowledge that we could carry with us and nurture our whole lives; a bursting ring-binder, more sheets of A4 than there are trees in the southern hemisphere, a handful of new friends and vivid memories.

Aside from the positive camaraderie I encountered on the course I was also happy to learn so many skills to enable me to teach. We learnt the importance of eliciting answers from the learners, of not talking too much to the class and stopping or changing an exercise when it was no longer efficient. Essentially, the balance between leading the students down a road of learning and yet being constantly receptive to their needs struck me as being the most important thing to consider. It is amazing how much you rely on the learners to ‘give back’ and encourage you; you have to learn to work with them.

They are right; it is intense, and difficult, and fun. The only advice I could give anybody who was taking the step to apply for a CELTA is: be prepared to learn a lot, sleep a little and for four weeks to constantly oscillate between anxiety and elation. Good Luck!

Cactus TEFL offers a free and impartial TEFL course advice and admissions service. Please visit the Cactus TEFL website for full course listings, to submit an online application or for information and advice on courses, qualifications and TEFL opportunities worldwide.

Celebrating St Patrick’s Day in Boston and New York

In fact, the first St Patrick’s Day parades were actually held in Boston in the eighteenth century. At that time, many of the city’s inhabitants would have been fresh off the boat from Ireland, but the tradition has remained ever since…

The continued popularity of St Patrick’s Day celebrations have certainly got a lot to do with the fact that there is still great pride amongst people and communities of Irish heritage, especially in the US and Canada. Many of the forbears of those who celebrate today will have had to overcome great hardship both before coming to America, and during their efforts to start a new life in a new country, which is still very much recognized today.

Of course, the popularity may also have something to do with the liveliness of the festivities! The Irish have always been well-known for their great party spirit, and their sense of fun, and this is massively evident in the celebrations. St Patrick’s Day in the likes of Boston and New York is not for the faint-hearted, and you’ll definitely need to have your (preferably green) drinking socks on!

The usual St Patrick’s Day parades will be taking place in Boston and New York this year, which are arguably the largest and loudest in the whole of North America.

The New York parade normally attracts 150,000 marchers, including bands, firefighters, military and police groups, county associations, emigrant societies, and social and cultural clubs, and 2 million spectators line the streets. The parade marches up 5th Avenue in Manhattan, and it is always led by the U.S. 69th Infantry Regiment.

For 2011, the Boston St. Patrick’s Day Parade is scheduled for Sunday, March 20th. The parade takes place in South Boston (or “Southie” as it is more commonly known), the city’s most Irish neighborhood, and runs for three hours. An estimated 600,000 people attend the St. Patrick’s Day Parade each year, so any spectators need to arrive in good time!

If you can’t make it to either of these cities, fear not – there are plenty of other celebrations to witness, or get involved in across the US and Canada. A particular phenomenon in recent years, has been for cities to dye rivers and fountains green in recognition of the Emerald isle’s beloved patron saint…Chicago, Washington and Savannah have all made this watery tribute in the past.

English courses in Boston and New York

Evening foreign language classes in Boston and New York

Who teaches Cactus’ foreign language evening courses in the UK?

Cactus works with a huge number of teachers, many of whom have been teaching for us for years. Here at Cactus we have a dedicated Academic Department in place specifically to interview prospective teachers, to assist them with their continued development and to offer guidance on course content and resources.

We are fortunate to have a hugely talented pool of teachers, and consider the standard of the teaching on offer to be fantastic. All of our teachers are experienced, enthusiastic and either native speakers of the language they teach, or of native speaker level.

We talked to a selection of our foreign language teachers, to give you an idea of who they are, and the kinds of skills that they offer.

Claudia Colia (Italian teacher)

Claudia (pictured above) is one of our London-based Italian teachers. She has been living in London since 2003, although originally comes from Rome, where she qualified as a teacher of Italian as a foreign language. Prior to gaining her teaching qualification, she also completed a degree in History of Art and a Masters degree in Contemporary Art Theory.

Claudia teaches a range of Italian evening classes for us in London, although also teaches on a one-to-one basis and in companies.

We asked Claudia what she enjoys most about teaching and she said:

“For me teaching and interaction with my students are really rewarding. I like my classes to be a full-immersion experience not only with the language, but also with the culture of my country. To enhance this experience, I always source new materials for my lessons and I keep updated with the more recent communicative approaches. I teach in all the fundamental aspects of the language, including syntax and grammar rules, but my method is more based on communication, so that my students can express themselves in Italian from the very beginning of the course. “

We also asked her to tell us about memorable aspects of her teaching career, to which she replied:

“I helped an opera singer to improve her career and enlarge her repertoire; I quickly prepared a beginner student to speak Italian in few weeks for business reasons, enabling her to successfully take part in a fair in Italy. I also had many students who were engaged to an Italian, and wanted to learn the language to communicate better with their partners and families. Most of them got married in the end!”

Katrin Fischer (German teacher)

Katrin is based between Liverpool and Manchester, and teaches German both on evening courses and within companies.

Katrin is originally from Jena, Germany but has lived in the UK since August 2008. Prior to that she spent time in Lucerne, Switzerland, where she gained the European Certificate in Language Teaching to Adults.

She loves the contact with people that teaching allows, and really enjoys meeting new people. We asked her what the key to a good lesson was, and she mentioned three specific things:

– Enthusiasm! It’s really important to show that you love your job so that your students engage with you and enjoy the lessons.

– Good preparation. It’s imperative to prepare properly for your lessons to ensure that they have a good structure. Structured lessons mean optimum learning.

– Good (and relevant) materials. A teacher must always use good materials and resources in lessons as they too are integral to successful learning.

On the flip side, we also asked her what the key to successful learning is, to which she replied:

“Do as much extra study as you can – it really shows…there’s a huge difference between those who do and those who don’t. Also, go to the country where it’s spoken if you can – it gives you a great chance to practise, and to immerse yourself in the culture’.

Veronica de Felice (Italian teacher)

Originally from Naples, Italy, Veronica lives in London, where she teaches evening courses and private lessons. She has been teaching for Cactus for 4 years, and has been in the UK for the last eight.

In terms of teaching qualifications, Veronica holds a CLTA Honours Degree in Foreign Languages, and the DTLLS.

According to Veronica, teaching is the best job in the world – she finds it really rewarding to see her students’ progress, and loves being able to pass on her knowledge so successfully.

She, like Katrin, believes that teachers must be enthusiastic in their lessons – especially when it comes to evening courses, when students can be tired after a long day at work. She focuses a lot on speaking activities to keep her students interested and involved, and tends to leave writing tasks mainly for homework.

Her top tip for successful language learning would be to take every opportunity to read books and watch films in the language outside of classes. You will learn a lot in your lessons, but a bit of independent learning on top will boost your progress significantly.

Fabienne Coupe (French teacher) image

Fabienne was born in Valence, 70 miles south of Lyon, but has lived in the UK for nearly 18 years now. She has been teaching for four years and has got a City & Guilds Teaching Certificate qualification.

Fabienne is currently teaching some of Cactus’ French evening courses in Manchester, and says that she loves the contact she has with her students, and watching them gain confidence and progress.

When asked about the ‘key’ to teaching a good lesson, she said that she thinks it’s very important to get to know your group well, from the beginning, and to get regular feedback, throughout the course. And of course, having a clear lesson plan for each lesson, which is tailored to the group’s needs, is essential. She also recognises the importance of giving everyone a chance to participate and of giving everyone plenty of encouragement, especially the less confident students.

Her tips for successful language learning include regular work, preferably little and often, and plenty of practice, ideally in the country where the language is spoken.

Amongst the memorable things that have happened during her teaching career, she recalls covering narration using the past tense, and the many funny stories the students came up with. One of her students told the class about a young boy bringing a ferret in a bag on a bus she was travelling on, years ago, and the animal escaping from the bag and running wild amongst astounded and horrified passengers! She’s never forgotten that!

Cedric Pytel (French teacher)

Cedric teaches French for Cactus in London – at the moment once or twice a week. He’s originally from Geneva, but has lived in London for the last 13 years.

Cedric has been teaching since 1999 and has a Masters degree in French literature, an RSA (Royal Society of Art) certificate in teaching foreign languages and a City and Guilds 7307/1.

He loves sharing his language and culture with students and thinks that, as a teacher, it’s imperative for each lesson to have a clear goal that builds on previous knowledge, and to incorporate a variety of interactive activities to reach that goal.

Cedric’s advice for language students would be not to be afraid of making mistakes – it’s a really important part of the learning process and is necessary to ensure that you progress!

Cactus offers evening courses in a range of languages around the UK, the US and Canada. Courses are offered in 5 or 10-week format, although intensive 1-week and weekend courses are aslo available. Please visit the dedicated evening course website for full course listings, to test your language level, or to book. - 4 January 2011

Whether it’s learning a language, making jewellery, writing your novel or, um – beekeeping, the easiest way to keep you New Year’s resolution this year is to sign up for a trip away with an expert. Learn Italian in Sicily: There’s no better place to learn a language than in the country itself, so sign up for a learning holiday with Cactus Language Training, which offers courses in 500 destinations.

The - 4 January 2011

To celebrate the release of the iconic film ‘Gainsbourg’, the Independent is offering a very special holiday to one lucky reader.  We’ve teamed-up with Cactus Language Training and Optimum Releasing to give one Francophile the chance to jet-off and spend a week learning French in the very heart of Paris at one of their top partner schools, Ecole France Langue.

Evening courses in the UK: what’s new for 2011

As of January 2011, Cactus students can now benefit from the following additions to our range of language course options:

New locations

This year, for the first time, we are offering courses at a new centre in Sheffield. Languages available at the centre include Arabic, Mandarin, French, German, Hindi, Italian and Spanish, which will be offered at a variety of levels. Sheffield is one of two centres outside of London that will now offer both 5 and 10 week course formats in 2011 – the other being Brighton.

In 2011, we are also offering 10-week courses at new premises in Canary Wharf. Classes will now be held in modern facilities within the up-market Britannia Hotel – just a 5 minute walk from Canary Wharf tube station. Languages offered at this centre are Arabic, English, French, German, Italian, Japanese and Spanish.

New languages

In an exciting addition to the range of languages that we teach, Farsi lessons are now also being offered. These will initially be available at beginner level, and will take place in our Tottenham Court Road school. Farsi is the main language spoken in Iran, although it also widely spoken in Afghanistan and Tajikistan too, and amongst minority communities in other Middle Eastern countries such as Oman, Bahrain and the UAE.

New course formats

Our ‘general’ 5 and 10 week evening courses have long proved popular with students, but this year we will also be offering the more specialist options of:

• Exam preparation courses (English – IELTS, Spanish – DELE)

• Business language courses

Our IELTS preparation courses will be held at the London Notting Hill centre at Level 5 and 6 and the DELE preparation courses at London Holborn-Russell Square.

Our Business courses are back by popular demand, and will be available in both 5 and 10 week format. Initially, the courses will be offered in Business English (London Bridge and Notting Hill centres), Business German (London Cannon Street centre) and Business French (London Cannon Street centre) at level 6.

10 ways to get the most out of your language holiday abroad

1. Take a dictionary, pens and some paper…it might sound obvious but some people do forget!

2. If it’s a while since you’ve tried to learn a language, or this is you first attempt, maybe try to familarise yourself with some basic grammatical terminology beforehand. Some grammar will be covered in the lessons, and whilst it will all be explained to you properly, it might be helpful for you to know the basics that span all languages (i.e what is a ‘noun’, ‘adjective’, ’verb’ etc), just so you don’t feel confused by the terminology.

3. If you’re a complete beginner, you might want to have a look at a phrasebook just so you know the basics – hello, thank you, please etc – this will be especially beneficial if you’re staying with a host family.

4. Make sure you know what time you’re supposed to be there on the first day. Often there is a language level test when you first arrive, and missing that might delay you being able to start your lessons straight away.

5. If you’re going to a country that is quite culturally different to yours, it might be worth reading up on a little cultural etiquette, again especially if you will be staying with a host family. The majority will be used to having foreigners stay with them, and will be aware of different cultural practices, but to save your own embarrassment it might be wise!

6. Make the most of excursions and outings on offer – having a local guide to these places can be priceless, and any extra chance you can get to speak or hear the language will be beneficial.

7. Do as the locals do. Try to fit in and experience life in a different country and adapt as much as possible – this means resisting the urge to spend every evening at the local Irish pub!

8. If you feel you’re in the wrong level class for whatever reason, don’t be afraid to say…and the sooner the better. The same goes for your accommodation – if you have any problem, however minor, with your host family/residence/hotel let the accommodation officer know as soon as possible as they’ll be able to help you straight away.

9. Make as many contacts as you can. Even if you’re only there for a week, chances are you’ll meet some nice people who have the same interests as you. Keeping in touch with them will be great for both you and them to practise the language.

10. Keep your notes in good order. Doing homework on the beach and carrying your notes around on excursions is not always conducive to them being legible at the end of the course! You’ll learn so much during your time there that it’s important not to forget – having legible and concise notes will mean you can revise what you learnt whenever you want to.

More about language courses abroad