Where can I learn Italian in Tuscany?

Currently, Cactus offers four locations in Tuscany where you can take an Italian course – Florence, Siena, Viareggio and the Island of Elba.


Undoubtedly one of Italy’s most visited cities, Florence, or Firenze as it’s known in Italian, has great historical significance. Its artistic, historic and cultural heritage and impact on the rest of world is massive. Florence is also regarded as one of the most beautiful cities in the world, with buildings and architecture that will take your breath away. You’ll certainly never be short of things to do in Florence with endless sightseeing options and so many possibilities for eating and drinking that your head will spin.

Italian courses in Florence


Just down the coast from Pisa on Tuscany’s Versilian Riviera lies the vibrant and up-market seaside resort of Viareggio. It may not be visually as stunning as Florence, but the city has plenty of attractions of its own, including fantastic nightlife, masses of boutiques and galleries and a laid-back Mediterranean atmosphere. It offers a perfect place to combine relaxation and culture, and is perfect for people of all ages.

Italian courses in Viareggio

Siena image

Like Florence, Siena is a city with a rich history and attractive buildings and piazzas. Within its medieval walls lies a maze of inviting narrow streets full of things to explore.  Siena is also home to one of the oldest universities in Europe, which ensures a lively student atmosphere and plenty of cultural events. Siena itself is easily explored on foot, although its location close to the Chianti area means that you have easy access via buses and trains to the stunning Tuscan countryside too.

Italian courses in Siena

Elba Island image

Located 20km off the Tuscan coast, Elba is often assumed to be its own entity, but it is in fact part of Tuscany. Elba is the third largest island in Italy after Sicily and Sardinia and is famous for its clear waters and stunning natural landscapes. Elba is a great location for any outdoor enthusiasts, with options for water-sports and hiking/biking aplenty. It’s also a food-lover’s haven – as you might expect, seafood dishes are a particular specialty of the region. The course takes place in the exclusive town of Marciana, with a charming seafront promenade, a historic Saracen Tower, colourful streets and a beautiful sandy beach.

NB. Italian courses in Elba running during the summer months only.

Italian courses in Elba

Learn Spanish in Santiago de Chile – top of the New York Times’ list of places to go in 2011

Santiago is a city which has certainly experienced a difficult year – in February 2010 it was one of the cities that suffered damage and loss of life due to a huge earthquake in and around the Maule Region. A year on though, Santiago, has largely recovered and is benefiting from a surge in tourism and a healthy economy.

In recent years, historic Santiago has become increasingly cosmopolitan and vibrant, and is now home a range of modern, up-market hotels and restaurants as well as more traditional establishments. There has also been lots of investment in the cultural and arts scene in Santiago, which now boasts places such as the new Centro Gabriela Mistral, a 200,000-square-foot centre that hosts a varied calendar of concerts, dance performances, plays and art exhibits.

It doesn’t stop there though…not only is Santiago a cultural hub, its location close to mountains and the coast makes it a great place for anyone who likes outdoor pursuits too. Whether you enjoy climbing, trekking, riding, skiing or watersports there’ll be something to keep you entertained. Any wine enthusiasts will also be pleased to know that there are plenty of Chile’s famous vineyards around Santiago to enjoy, whether you want to do some tasting, or simply to soak up the beautiful scenery.

Cactus offers General, Individual and Combined Spanish courses in Santiago at a range of levels. Also on offer are Spanish and Work Experience, Spanish and Ski and Spanish and Volunteering. For full course details and to book please visit www.cactuslanguage.com .

Read the New York Times’ article on 41 places to go in 2011

Speaking a second language said to slow the brain’s decline with age

Mentioned in the article is a recent study that was presented to the American Association for the Advancement of Science in Washington. It found that bilingual patients with probable Alzheimer’s were more likely have delayed symptoms compared to monolingual patients. In fact, the effect of speaking a second language produced a stronger effect on delaying the onset of Alzheimer’s than any drug currently used to control the disease.

It is largely believed that the same applies to anyone who speaks a second language, even if it that language is learnt later in life and not spoken to quite the same proficiency.

There are lots of great reasons to learn a new language, but this has to be one of the most compelling reasons to work on your foreign language skills.

Read the full Independent article

Read more about Cactus’ range of evening courses in the UK and North America, language courses abroad and tailor-made language training.

Visit Venice this June to experience the Vogalonga

The race has been in existence since 1975, and is now one of Venice’s biggest events. It takes place around Ascension Day – on 12th June in 2011 – coinciding with the old ceremony of the Doge’s symbolic marriage to the sea.

More than just a race, the Vogalonga has come to represent an exciting celebration of the city and its maritime culture. On this day, oarsmen in all kinds of traditional boats – including dragonboats, kayaks, gondolas and fishermen’s sandoli – have the canals to themselves. Eye-catching fancy dress, rowing club colours and traditional sailors’ outfits all gain applause from the spectators who line the canals and wave the boats on.

Entry to the race is open to anyone, with boats of all shapes and sizes from single rower to boats with twenty or more participants.

The race takes place over a 30km course, and is started by a cannon blast beside the famous St Mark’s Square. Boats then head around the lagoon to Burano before coming back to finish beneath the Rialto Bridge.

Serious competitors in the event can complete the course in around two hours, but those who are there for a bit of fun can take five. Most of Venice’s motor boats stay tethered for the day, and the city is filled with drums, music and spectators’ cheers. It’s a great time to visit the city, even if you’re a more avid spectator than rower!

Read more about Italian courses in Venice

Cactus attends Dulwich College careers and courses convention

The morning-long event was attended by both students at the College and their parents, and attracted a long list of exhibitors including Raleigh International, Deloitte, Goldman Sachs, Projects Abroad and a range of top universities and colleges.

Cactus has arranged five school group trips abroad for students at the college – two to Cologne, one to Malaga, one to Pamplona and another to Valencia, which they will be going on this April.

We were delighted to be asked to attend the event, and Language Course Consultant Jennifer Maynard and Marketing Coordinator Lauren Carey were able to go along and represent the company.

They spent much of the morning talking to students who were interested in gap year programmes abroad and exam preparation/revision language courses to supplement their studies. Some of the parents who attended were also interested in our evening language courses in and around London, which we offer in a range of languages at lots of levels.

Everyone who attended the event had the option to be entered into a draw to win a week-long Spanish language course (and accommodation) in Valencia, and the lucky winner on this occasion was Justin Chenk. Huge Congratulations to Justin on his course, which will no doubt help with his Spanish studies!

We hope to attend the event again next year and would like to thank anyone who came along to see us this year.

Find out more on Cactus’ language courses abroad and options for school groups.

See St Petersburg at its vibrant best during the White Nights

St. Petersburg is one of the world’s most northern cities, and its location means that during these three months it never really gets dark. You can walk around the city between 10pm and 5am and there’s no need for street lighting – the illumination by twilight is more than enough, and provides the ideal setting for any romantic outing!

For many this is a real time of celebration and with so many months of darkness and freezing weather during the winter, it’s easy to see why! The city puts on firework displays, all-night parties and cultural events which last long into the night.

The “Stars of the White Nights Festival” at the Mariinsky Theatre is one of the most notable features of the White Nights, and has become an internationally renowned celebration of the arts. Classical ballet, opera and orchestral performances form the basis of the festival, which was created by the first mayor of St. Petersburg, Anatoly Sobchak. Some of the stars who have performed here include Placido Domingo, Olga Borodina and Alfred Brendel.

Possibly the biggest, and most famous public event during the festival, though, is the ‘Scarlet Sails’ celebration. A really spectacular fireworks display and end-of-season show, it has become the largest public event in Russia, with an estimated attendance of over a million people. The tradition began after the end of WWII, when several Leningrad schools united to celebrate the ending of a school year in connection with symbolism of the popular 1922 children’s book Scarlet Sails by Alexander Grin. The “Scarlet Sails” tradition has evolved into a massive demonstration of freedom from “schools and rules” and takes place at the end of school year annually. The show includes a series of large-scale events on the waters of Neva River, such as boat races, and a massive mock battle with pirates, which culminates in the appearance of a tall ship sporting spectacular scarlet sails.

Along with the cultural events, the firework displays and the carnivals, there are also star performances in Palace Square from the likes of Paul McCartney and the Rolling Stones. Impressive venues at any time of year, but especially in the evening light!

There’s certainly no better time to go to St Petersburg, and this year will be no exception. The festival will run from 23 May to 24 July 2011, which gives you ample time to spend a long weekend experiencing the phenomenon for yourself.

Visit Russia this year and learn to speak Russian! Russian language courses are available in St Petersburg and Moscow. Alternatively, learn to speak Russian at home in one of Cactus’ many Russian classes in the UK and the US. If you’re already quite confident, test your Russian with our Russian language test.

Why sign up for a foreign language evening course?

1. To prepare for a summer holiday on foreign shores

If you’re heading to a non-English speaking destination for your summer holiday this year, trying to learn the basics of the local language will stand you in really good stead when you arrive. Of course, you could probably get by without, but learning a bit of the lingo will help you get more from your holiday, and in certain scenarios could really prove to be priceless – especially if you have a family in tow.

If, on the other hand, you’re young, free and single, learning some of the language will prove very handy when it comes to chatting up the local lads or ladies! With a few choice phrases and some basic grammar up your sleeve, you never know…this could turn out to be the ‘summer of love’…

2. To give yourself an excuse for a holiday abroad (if you need one!)

Granted, for lots of people no ‘excuse’ is needed when it comes to booking holidays abroad…for many people, a foreign holiday is the one luxury that they afford themselves each year.

Other people however, need more of a justification for spending the money. If you’re one of these people, and guilt is getting the better of you, give yourself a justifiable reason to head abroad! Take up a language and, of course, you’ll need to practise those newly acquired skills…

3. To make the most of those long, summer evenings

Let’s be honest. Sometimes in the winter you just don’t feel like going out after a long day at work. The sofa and a dvd seem much more appealing than venturing out into the cold…BUT it’s nearly summer now and it’s all change! Gone are the wet, dark evenings and the seasonal hibernation – it’s time to get out, make the most of the long days and do some socialising.

Language courses are a great way to meet like-minded people, as well as learning a new skill. They provide a relaxed and informal learning environment, and students usually hit it off really well.

4. To ensure you can compete in the current employment market

The recession might officially be over, but the job market is still suffering. In times like this, it’s essential to keep yourself as skilled as possible, and foreign languages are still seen as a huge asset to your cv.

Whether you’re looking to progress within your current company or organisation, or to seek new employment, learning or revising language skills is a great idea for anyone working within an international environment, or whose role has an international element.

Cactus offers foreign language evening courses in a variety of locations across the UK and North America. For further information on prices, start dates, course content, how to book, or to test your level, please visit our our UK or US site.

What is teaching English abroad really like?

TEFL is often cited as a great way to travel the world and experience new cultures – does it really allow you to do so, though?

One of the great things about TEFL, it is often assumed, is that it will give you access to one of those very glamorous-sounding carefree existences, where you can hop from country to country, visiting exotic places, experiencing new cultures and embarking on new adventures.

Of course, there are people who stay in the UK and teach, but many would-be TEFLers are attracted by this idea of providing a ‘ticket to ride’.

And sometimes it does.

In honesty though, most schools will want you to sign a contract for the whole school year, meaning that doing a few months here, and a couple of months there is not always as easy as it sounds.  In addition, it is not always a ‘given’ that you will find good jobs in decent schools where you will be well-looked after, adequately remunerated…and given enough free time to make the most of being in these far-flung, exotic places.

The working conditions and salaries for TEFL teachers vary enormously from country to country, and even from school to school. This is principally a result of the unregulated nature of the industry, and the lack of uniformity that ensues.

When it comes to teaching EFL abroad, the majority of jobs are to be found in private language schools. In short, there are good language schools and there are bad language schools. If you’re lucky, you will find a job in a well- run school, where teachers and their professional development are valued. There, you would hopefully be offered a decent wage and in-house development sessions. If you’re unlucky, you’ll find yourself working for an unscrupulous employer who charges over the odds to their students of English, and pays their teachers a pittance!

TEFL is not a well-paid profession, and no wage will ever be hugely substantial in Western terms, but some salaries are much better than others.

The issue of EFL teachers’ salaries has long been contentious, and it does seem unfair that in Western Europe certainly, they are not generally comparable to those of teachers in mainstream education. Anyone looking to forge a long-term career in TEFL would probably struggle to earn enough to get by without ascending to the position of Director of Studies, Teacher Trainer, Academic Manager or School Principal after their initial stint as a classroom teacher.

For those who use TEFL as a way to go abroad for a couple of years and “see the world” the argument tends to be that the experience is more intended to enrich in terms of cultural and international awareness, rather then financial gain. Granted, this is a concept that is often exploited as a convenient excuse for low-wage brackets and antisocial working hours, but to a certain extent it is true.

My stint as a teacher abroad certainly didn’t make me megabucks, but it did give me a bona fide experience of living and working in a foreign country. Yes, I worked some antisocial hours (and wasn’t always gushing in my accounts when talking to friends and family at the time!) but I met nice people, learned some of the local language, and learnt some new skills that genuinely have helped me professionally.

More about TEFL courses worldwide

What will I achieve with a 1-week intensive language course in New York?

Attending 3 hours of classes every day for a week is great for anyone who needs to learn the basics of a foreign language very intensively. Available at beginner level, they are ideal for anyone who needs a refresher course in a foreign language they have learnt a long time ago, or for those starting from scratch.

Currently, Chinese (Mandarin), French, German, Italian and Spanish are all available in this format.

These courses are not intended to provide in-depth coverage of complicated grammar and vocabulary; they are designed to simply cover all the basics that you need in order to get by. They aim to fulfill the same kind of purpose as CD–based or online vacation preparation type-courses but, being face-to-face, are much more beneficial and enjoyable.

One of the main attractions of the week-long courses is that students benefit from a face-to-face tutor who they can go to with any specific questions or queries, rather than being left to their own devices. Students also get to meet new, like-minded people. Class sizes are small, which ensures that your tutor always has enough time to dedicate to you and your learning. In addition, tutors are all qualified and either native speakers or native-speaker level.

Classes are intended to be fun, interactive and stimulating to ensure the maximum possible gain in terms of language acquisition.

For full listings of our week-long courses, information on how to book and to test your level, please visit the Language Courses North America website.