10 great contemporary German films to watch

All are well worth a watch and will really help your pronunciation, your vocabulary and your listening skills. They’ll also give you an all-important insight into the history and culture of German-speaking countries.

1. The White Ribbon

Das weiße Band, as it is known in German, won the coveted Palme D’Or at the Cannes Film Festival in 2009. Directed by Michael Haneke, the film is set a rural village in northern Germany and spans several months, ending on the eve of World War One. The plot centres around a speight of unusual and violent occurrences in the village, although it explores much deeper themes than that. Das weiße Band is certainly not light-hearted entertainment, but it’s an interesting film to watch and has received plenty of critical acclaim since its release.

2. Goodbye Lenin

Released in 2003, Goodbye Lenin is a comedy drama that follows the touching, and at times very funny, efforts of main character Alex to keep the fall of the Berlin Wall from his ill, DDR-supporting mother. Shortly before the wall comes down, Alex’s mother, Christine, has a heart attack and falls into a coma. Eight months later, she miraculously awakes but is told that any shocks or stresses could prove fatal – as a result, Alex transforms the family apartment into pre-November 1989, where his mother remains blissfully unaware of the political changes that have occurred. He soon faces obstacles though, for example the huge Coca Cola banner that is hung on the building opposite the apartment!

3. Run Lola Run

A film which launched the international film careers of two of Germany’s most successful actors, Franka Potente and Moritz Bleibtreu, Run Lola Run is a fast-paced thriller that achieved international acclaim. The film follows a girl’s frantic efforts to try and save her small-time crook of a boyfriend after a job he does for a ruthless gangster goes awry. The plot may not be unique in the world of cinema, but the film’s originality comes from the fact that within it are several different versions of the story – each with a different ending.

4. The Lives of Others

Das Leben der Anderen as its known in German is a film made in 2006 that won a range of cinematic awards in Europe and won the Oscar for Best Foreign Language Film in 2006 Set in 1984, the film explores the monitoring of the East Berlin cultural scene by agents of the Stasi, the GDR’s notorious secret police. The main character in the film is Gerd Wiesler (played by Ulrich Muhe), a captain within the organisation who is tasked by his friend, the head of the Stasi’s Cultural Department, to watch a playwright who they suspect of dissidence. The captain soon discovers that there are other reasons for this particular surveillance operation though, and it’s this which leads him to question what he is doing…

5. Das Experiment

Released in 2001, this film by Oliver Hirschbiegel is about a social experiment, very similar to that held at Stanford University in 1971. In the film, a makeshift prison is constructed in a research laboratory, and twenty male participants are hired to play prisoners and guards for two weeks. The ‘prisoners’ are locked up and have to follow fairly undemanding rules, and the ‘guards’ are told simply to retain order without using physical violence. At the start, the mood between both groups is fairly amicable but it’s not long before arguments begin and the ‘wardens’ start to use increasingly severe measures to assert their authority…

6. Downfall

Another film directed by Oliver Hirschbiegel, Downfall (Der Untergang) is a depiction of Hitler’s last days in his Berlin Bunker as told by Traudl Junge, his final secretary. During these days, self-preservation compels former allies such as Himmler and Goring to begin defecting from their beloved Fuhrer, while others like Joseph Goebbels vow to die alongside him. Hitler, himself, enters a great period of paranoia, optimistic one moment and deeply depressed the next. The film was nominated for Best Foreign Language Film in 2004.

7. The Baader Meinhof Complex

This film was also nominated for the Best Foreign Language Film at the Oscars, this time in 2008.  It’s based on the story of infamous West German far left extremist group the Rote Armee Fraktion, who were responsible for scores of bombings, robberies, kidnappings and assassinations in the late 60s and early 70s. Lead by Andreas Baader, Ulrike Meinhof and Gudrun Ensslin they become embroiled in a violent war against what they perceive as the new face of fascism: American imperialism supported by the German establishment.

8. Nirgendwo in Afrika

Released in 2001, Nirgendwo in Afrika follows the highs and lows of a German Jewish refugee family that moves to 1930’s Kenya. It’s based on the autobiographical novel of the same name by well-known German author Stefanie Zweig and won an Oscar for Best Foreign Language Film in 2002. Shortly after the family arrive in Kenya things take a turn for the worse in Germany, which makes turning back impossible. The whole family must try to adapt to their new surroundings and get used to a very different way of life…

9. The Counterfeiters

‘Die Fälscher’ to give it its German title was also awarded an Oscar for Best Foreign Language Film – this time in 2007. It was written and directed by Austrian director Stefan Ruzowitzky and tells a fictionalized version of Operation Bernhard, a secret plan by the Nazis during WWII to destablise Britain by flooding its economy with forged Bank of England notes. The film is based on the memoirs of Adolf Burger, a Jewish Slovak typographer who was imprisoned in 1942 for forging baptismal certificates to save Jews from deportation, and later interned at Sachsenhausen to work on Operation Bernhard.

10. Sophie Scholl – the Final Days

Yet another Oscar-nominated film, Sophie Scholl – the Final Days was made in 2005 by German director Marc Rothemund.  It is about the last days in the life of Sophie Scholl, a 21-year-old member of the anti-Nazi non-violent student resistance group the White Rose, an organisation that was secretly calling for the end of the war and strongly denouncing the inhuman acts of the Nazis.

Cactus appoints US PR agency - and builds media buzz

As part of its stateside marketing drive, Cactus recently appointed PR consultancy, MDP Publicity, to design and develop a US media campaign: https://www.mdppublicity.com/

MDP Publicity is a highly successful communications agency with a special focus on the travel market. The Agency brings vast experience, in–depth knowledge and perceptive insights to each campaign it undertakes and its principal, Meryl Pearlstein, is a specialist in media relations.

The appointment has already started to generate initial media interest in the states, with an article on Travel News Gazette: https://ftnnews.com/tour-operators/12127-cactus-language-training-vacations-around-the-world-mix-classes-with-culture-and-activities.html

Cactus also received a mention in The Chicago Tribune: https://www.chicagotribune.com/travel/ct-trav-0417-news-to-use-20110416,0,7835476.story

Tinka Bose, Head of Marketing at Cactus, comments: “Cactus has always been aware of the power of PR in engaging with customers, generating interest in our services and building the Cactus brand.  So we’re really pleased to have a US team dedicated to PR and are looking forward to seeing how the campaign grows and develops in the months ahead.”

Learning Spanish: Spanish language learning resources online

Taking a language course is a great step towards becoming fluent in a language. The interaction with your teacher and fellow students is something you cannot achieve through self-study alone. However, there is a lot to be said for self-study as a way to develop your written, spoken, listening and reading skills between lessons, and we are lucky to have a huge variety of fun and interactive products at our fingertips to enable us to do this. Whether it’s watching a film, reading foreign papers online or listening to a podcast, any supplementary activity will help you to consolidate, and vastly improve, your chosen language.

With this in mind, we have pulled together a list of resources which over the years our teachers and students have found useful. In this article we’re going to look at Spanish language learning resources online; this includes material such as Spanish flashcards, interactive quizzes and games as well as more in-depth grammar, vocabulary and verbs. We have graded each website according to the level it is aimed at.

Spanish flashcards https://spanishflashcards.tripod.com/ Beginners
Spanish flashcards & study games https://quizlet.com/subject/spanish/ Beginners
Interactive Spanish drama https://www.bbc.co.uk/languages/spanish/mividaloca/userguide.shtml Beginners
Online resources & games https://www.onlinefreespanish.com/ Beginners
Spanish online course https://www.nocomprendo.es/learn_spanish_online/spanish_for_beginners/eng/ Beginners
Spanish songs https://www.songsforteaching.com/spanishgrammarsongs.htm Beginners
Spanish basics, games & verbs https://www.digitaldialects.com/Spanish.htm Beginners & intermediate
Teacher & student resources https://www.spanishprograms.com/learning_module/tutorial_index.htm All levels
Teacher info & resources https://www.todoele.net/materiales0.html/ All levels
Grammar, verbs & exercises https://www.esfacil.eu/en/ All levels
Interactive quizzes & sound clips https://www.quiz-tree.com/Spanish_Language_main.html All levels
Lessons, study tips, tools & fun https://www.elearnspanishlanguage.com/ All levels
Online Spanish course https://www.holaquetal.com/web/hqt/home All levels
Step-by-step reading https://cvc.cervantes.es/aula/lecturas/inicial/lectura_05/texto/ Intermediate – advanced

If you have any further suggestions for study resources please share these with us by leaving a comment!

What are university foundation courses and who are they designed for?

What do the foundation programmes involve?

The exact format of these courses can vary from centre to centre, but they tend to be a year in length, and usually include English language tuition, classes in core study skills and specialist modules depending on what you want to go on to study at university.

Who is eligible to apply?

Foundation year programmes are usually open to students over the age of 16, and an entrance requirement is that they have satisfactorily completed secondary or high school in their home country. Students are also normally required to have an IELTS level of English of around 4.5 (TOEFL – 477).

What are the benefits to students?

Aside from expert tuition and great preparation in study skills, university foundation courses also offer students an all-important opportunity to familiarise themselves with the British way of life prior to starting independent study at university. Being integrated into the culture can prove priceless when it comes to settling into university life and starting your degree.

Without a doubt one of the most beneficial aspects of university foundation courses though, is the fact that usually they offer students a guaranteed place at a UK university. Securing a place at a UK university can be both competitive and lengthy if you’re applying independently from another country, but the long-standing relationships that many foundation course providers have with UK universities, and the support that they can offer you in terms of submitting an application, makes the process much more straight-forward.

Can students who take a foundation course apply to do a degree at any university?

Usually, foundation course providers will have specific university partners where their foundation students can go on to do a degree course. Some providers may only work with one or two, whereas other providers, such as Cactus’ partner schools in Brighton, Cambridge and London, have established relationships with dozens of universities, including several of those listed amongst the top 20 in the UK.

For more information on university foundation courses with Cactus, please visit the Cactus Language website.

Cactus attends ATB8 Modern Languages Teachers’ Conference in York

The conference is open to modern languages teachers from independent schools across the North of England, and includes both a range of seminars and an exhibition. Alex was there to talk about Cactus’ school group trips abroad and juniors language programmes, both of which are becoming increasingly popular amongst independent and grammar school pupils especially.

Alex commented:

“It was great to be able to attend the ATB8 conference at St Peters school. It was a successful event, with lots of interest in our school groups and juniors programmes, and it was fantastic to be around so many people with a passion for foreign languages. The school itself made a great venue, it’s one of the top schools in the North of England and actually one of the oldest too – there was a list of headmasters on the wall that dates back to the 8th century!’

Conference attendees this year included representatives from Manchester Grammar School, Bradford Grammar School and Pocklington Grammar School – in fact, it was a lucky teacher from this school, Nikki Whatford, who won our prize of a week-long Spanish language course and accommodation in Malaga. We hope that she enjoys her course!

Find out more on the ATB8 Conferences

The Cannes film festival 2011

The festival was born as a result of circumstances of that era. The decision to host a new ‘international cinematographic festival in France’ by French minister of national education, Jean Zay, was in response to the interference of the fascist governments of Italy and Germany in the selection of films for the Mostra del cinema di Venezia – the most important international film festival of that time. Several towns were considered when deciding where the festival should be held, including Vichy, Biarritz and Algiers, although obviously the honour was finally bestowed upon the upmarket coastal resort of Cannes.

The private festival takes place annually (usually during the month of May) at the Palais des Festivals et des Congrès, and attracts huge media attention. It is an opportunity for the filmmakers of all nationalities and generations to showcase their work, and of course, a chance for the rich and famous to be ‘seen’!

The 64th festival will take place from 11—22 May 2011, and will see acclaimed American Actor/Director/Producer Robert de Niro take the helm as President of the Jury.

Although there are many components to the festival, the highlight of the festival each year is the announcement of which picture has won the coveted ‘Palme d’Or’, the highest prize awarded to competing films at the festival. Previous winners have included such well-known and universally acclaimed films as The Piano (1993), Pulp Fiction (1994), The Pianist (2002) and Farenheit 9/11 (2004). Unlike the Oscars, it is very common for foreign language films to win the award – counted amongst the winners over the last decade are: Rosetta (1999), Dancer in the Dark (2000), La Stanza del Figlio (2001), L’Enfant (2005), 4 luni, 3 saptamâni si 2 zile (2007) , Entre les Murs(2008) and Das weiße Band (2009).

Visit Cannes this year and learn to speak French! French language courses are available in nearby Nice and Antibes. Or learn to speak French at home with one of Cactus’ many French classes in the UK or French classes in the US & Canada.

Definitely check out our French Phrases – 20 holiday essentials or if you are already quite confident, test your French with our French language test or try to read our French articles:

La Ville Rose de France – ce qui fait de Toulouse une formidable destination d’études

Les meilleures choses à faire à Montpellier d’après moi

How should I prepare for my language course abroad?

Generally speaking, the advice can be split into two categories: practical, travel-related advice, and advice on how to prepare for your learning experience.

General travel-related advice

As is the case with any foreign travel, it’s advisable before you go abroad for your course to:

1. Organise suitable travel insurance, and keep a copy of the policy.

2. Get any vaccinations that you need – this applies in particular to anyone going to South America, Africa, the Caribbean and Asia. Information on what vaccinations you require can be found via your doctor, or on a website such as the NHS Fit for Travel site (UK) and the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention website (US).

3. Make sure that you have any visas required for your time abroad, or that you have registered your details online with the US government if you’re going to America. You won’t be allowed into the country if you haven’t done this.

4. Tell a relative or friend where you’re going and give them contact details for you if possible.

5. Tell your bank that you’re going abroad if you intend to use your debit or credit card whilst you’re away. Failing to do this might result in the bank assuming your card is being used fraudulently, and putting a stop on all transactions.

6. Get some currency to use in the country you’re going to – at least enough to last you for the first few days of your trip.

7. Make sure that your passport is valid and that there are at least another 6 months before it expires.

8. Learn some basic vocabulary in the language you’ll be learning – especially if you’re a beginner. Particularly useful are basic greetings, so that you know what to say to your host family, and transport-related words and phrases so that you can get where you need to be.



Course and accommodation-related advice

No language school will make any specific demands on you in terms of preparation for a language course, but you are likely to get more out of the experience if you heed the following advice:

1. Do some basic revision of what you already know if you are starting at any level other than beginner.

2. Buy or borrow a lightweight dictionary (and/or) grammar book that will come in useful when it comes to doing any homework.

3. Familiarise yourself with basic grammatical terminology that might be used in the classroom – even if it’s just revising the definition of a noun/verb/adjective etc.

4. Make sure you have details of where the school is, and what time you need to be there on the first day of your course.

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 before you go, especially if you are 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 or confusion it might be a good idea!

6. If you’re staying in a private apartment, or renting a room from someone (even if this has been arranged on your behalf by the school), it might be wise to have money to hand when you arrive in case you need to pay a damage deposit for your accommodation to the landlord. This is probably something that you could check with the school before you leave.

Have you still got questions relating to your language course? If so please leave us a comment below and we’ll get back to you…

Cactus offers language courses of varying lengths and formats in countries all over the world. For full listings of locations and details of course types, please visit the Cactus Language website.

What are Cactus’ most popular French course destinations?

1. Paris

Up there, perhaps unsurprisingly, at the top is the chic and historic French capital. Paris has long been a popular tourist destination, and in terms of French courses it offers a huge range of programmes and accommodation. It also guarantees students a cosmopolitan, interesting and lively place in which to study, and plenty of opportunities to practise their French outside of lessons – especially, if the stereotype is to be believed, because Parisiens are notoriously reluctant to speak anything but their own language!

Our schools in Paris are located in four distinct areas of the city, each offering a different atmosphere and a unique range of courses. There is one in Montmartre, another near Pere Lachaise cemetery, a further close to the Louvre and a final one near to the Eiffel Tower and Place Victor Hugo.

2. Nice

Coming in at number two is the jewel in the crown of the French Riviera, Nice. A warm, vibrant and up-market city, Nice’s temperate climate, chic boutiques and lovely blue waters go some way to explaining its popularity! Nice has a marvellously laid-back atmosphere, which makes it a great place to study French. You get the best of all worlds, with high quality French tuition during the day, but the option to relax on the beach, enjoy the bustling old town or take in the tourist sights outside of lessons. 

French courses on offer in Nice range from General, Combined, Intensive and Individual French to more specialist options such as Business French, Exam Preparation French, Teacher Refresher French, Young at Heart French and Juniors French. Also available is a French and gastronomy course.

3. Montpellier image

The third most popular French course destination during the last year was Montpellier. A thriving university city, Montpellier has plenty to cater for its student population, but the attractive cobbled streets, historic buildings and endless days of sunshine make it a favourite with all kinds of other visitors. It’s big enough to have plenty going on, but small enough that it’s easy to get back and forth to school, and of course to explore the city.

French courses offered in Montpellier include General, Intensive, Individual, Combined, plus Exam Preparation French, Juniors French and French and Gastronomy.

4. Biarritz image

A fashionable and laid-back resort on France’s south west coast, Biarritz has long been one of our most poplar French course destinations. Despite its up-market boutiques and eateries, Biarritz is also one of Europe’s premier surf spots, which ensures that it attracts a really wide range of visitors. Its location in the heart of the Basque country means that it has a unique culture and identity too, which makes it a really interesting place to learn French. The golden beaches and party atmosphere in the summer also make it an appealing option for many!

French courses in Biarritz include General French, Individual French, Juniors French and French & Surfing.

5. Aix en Provence image

Possibly the most quintessentially French of all our destinations, Aix en Provence really indulges the image of provencale living. A city that is home to thousands of students, it has plenty in terms of entertainment options but is also warm, historic and surrounded by some really beautiful countryside. Outside of lessons, students who learn French in Aix en Provence can enjoy its fantastic café culture and find out about the city’s long history and famous former inhabitants.

There are a range of French courses offered in Aix en Provence, from specialist options like French & Provencal Cooking, French & Oenology, French & Painting and Teacher Refresher French to more generic courses in both group and individual formats.

Please visit the Cactus Language website for full course listings and to book

Learning Arabic: language learning resources online

Taking a language course is a great step towards becoming fluent in a language. It’s not all about sitting in a classroom though; there are plenty of ways to develop your written, spoken, listening and reading skills through self-study between lessons, and we are lucky to have a huge variety of fun and interactive products at our fingertips to enable us to do this. Of course it’s good to mix up your learning methods to work the different language skills, but each person will have a method that suits them best, and once you’ve found yours – whether it’s watching a film, reading foreign papers online or listening to a podcast – you can use this to your advantage to consolidate, and vastly improve, your chosen language between lessons.

At Cactus we have collaborated with our vast network of experienced teachers to bring you recommendations of ways to improve your language in your own time outside class. In this article we’re going to look at Arabic language learning resources online; this includes useful material such as basic greetings and Arabic word-of-the day as well as more in-depth grammar, vocabulary and verbs. We have graded each website according to the level it is aimed at.

Learn Arabic online https://www.learnarabiconline.com/ Beginners
Learn Arabic online https://www.livemocha.com/ All levels
E-learning website https://www.ajeeb.com/ All levels
Greetings in Arabic https://www.bbc.co.uk/learningzone/clips/hello-and-welcome-in-arabic/758.html Beginners
Arabic word-of-the-day https://www.transparent.com/wotd/today/arabic.html All levels
Arabic translation https://mylanguages.org/arabic_translation.php All levels

10 FREE things to do in and around Malaga

1. Visit the historic Alcazaba & Castillo de Gibralfaro

These are two of Malaga’s best known sights and are well worth the steep walk up to see them. Dating back to the 11th century, the Alcazaba is a military fortress built by the Moors and partially inspired by La Alhambra in Granada. It contains three magnificent palaces and beautiful gardens with several ornate fountains. The Alcazaba also houses the Archaeological Museum, home of numerous Phoenician and Muslim finds.

The Gibralfaro Castle is situated just next to the Alcazaba, on land that is thought to have previously hosted a lighthouse built by the Phoenicians. On the remains of this lighthouse a fortress was build by Abderramán III and was later reconstructed as a castle by Yasuf I in the 14th century.

On Sundays admission is free to both attractions after 2pm.

2. Take a stroll around Malaga’s attractive old town

Wander along the narrow, cobbled streets behind the main pedestrian street and you’ll find yourself in the heart of Malaga’s pretty old town. A far cry from the image that many people have of towns and cities on the Costa del Sol, the old town in Malaga is full of Baroque facades, leafy plazas and traditional shops and restaurants.  It’ll give you a fantastic insight into traditional Andalucia.

3. Soak up some rays on the beach

Andalucia enjoys at least a few hours of sunlight most days of the year and even January is usually temperate enough for a stroll on the beach. Malaga’s sandy beaches are really well-maintained, making them ideal for some swimming and sunbathing in the spring and summer.

4. Tour Malaga’s ancient Roman ruins

Malaga’s Roman Theatre, unearthed relatively recently in 1951, spans 31 meters of the Andalusian landscape. It is situated at the foot of the Alcazaba and was used until the 3rd century; after that it was used as a quarry by the Moors to restore the Alcazaba.

5. Visit the Museu Picasso

On the last Sunday of every month admissions to the Museu Picasso is free. Housed in the Buenavista Palace, an elegant 16th century building, it exhibits over 200 works of art by one of Malaga’s most famous sons.

6. Take a walk through the Parque de Malaga

Malaga’s century-old city park, which runs alongside the Paseo del Parque promenade, is the perfect place for an afternoon walk. It is one of only a few exterior botanical gardens in Europe, and is full of luscious palms and tropical plants. Many of the exotic species were brought from overseas when Malaga was an important world trading centre.

7. Feast your eyes on the Atarazana Central Market

At Malaga’s central market, you’ll find a mind-boggling array of stalls selling fresh fish, meat, cheese, fruit and vegetables – and all at an astonishingly affordable price.  If you don’t trust yourself to be let loose on the delectable offerings though just stay outside – the building’s unique mix of 14th and 19th century architecture is, in itself, worth a look.

8. Visit Malaga’s ‘one-armed Lady’ image

After conquering Malaga from the Moors, the Catholic Kings ordered the construction of a cathedral over the original mosque. The cathedral’s local nickname is “La Manquita” meaning “one-armed lady”, which dervives from the fact that the east tower of the cathedral remains unfinished. The cathedral is particularly impressive at night when the facade is illuminated.

9. Explore the Montes de Malaga Park

Only a few kilometres north of Malaga city lies the Montes de Malaga Natural Park, a region of dense pine forest, small valleys and waterfalls. Due to its proximity to Malaga, it is a really popular weekend destination for malagueños who want to escape the city and enjoy the stunning natural scenery.

10. Stroll through Malaga’s shopping district

Malaga’s main shopping avenue, Calle Marques de Larios, has a really nice mix of shops, ranging from designer boutiques to more affordable options. Whether you want to splash out on something new, or just indulge in some window shopping, this bustling and historic street is well worth a visit.

Cactus offers a huge variety of Spanish courses in Malaga, ranging from General, Individual, Intensive and Combined Spanish to the more specialist options of Exam Preparation Spanish, Teacher Refresher Spanish, Juniors Spanish, Spanish and Music/Dance, Spanish and Gastronomy and Young at Heart Spanish.Visit the Cactus Language website for full course listings and to book.