How is teaching English as a foreign language different in the UK to abroad?

The main differences centre around the kind of learners you will be teaching. Whereas in the UK you will probably teach multilingual classes, when it comes to teaching abroad you will most likley teach monolingual groups. It’s not necessarily that one type of class is easier to teach than the other, just that there are different things for you to consider when preparing and teaching lessons in each case.

Timetable-wise, most of the students that you teach abroad will study part-time, perhaps once or twice per week. This may well be in evening classes. In the UK you are more likely to be teaching students who are learning intensively, and most probably full-time, during the day.

When it comes to students’ motivations for wanting to take English lessons, these also tend to differ according to where you teach. Students who are learning English in private language schools in the UK are often learning with a set goal in mind, whether this is in a professional or academic context. Anyone studying English for commercial reasons will be aiming to become proficient enough to be able to conduct business successfully in English. Anyone studying for academic reasons, often in order to get their English up to scratch so that they can embark on a degree course in an English-speaking country, will most likely be looking to sit either the Cambridge Proficiency or IELTS level 7 exam at the end of their course.

There is possibly a wider variety of reasons why people are learning when it comes to students who are learning English in their local language school abroad. Whilst there will also be students learning for business or academic purposes, albeit on a lightly less intensive basis, there will also be students who are learning simply for leisure, or for pleasure…in the more developed countries anyway.

Long term study goals: getting to know what makes people tick

Most of us seem to be really eager for quick fixes, for whatever it may be. And language learning is just the same. 

In my case, I need German for my work as well as for whenever I visit Switzerland or Germany.  You really need to get into learning and absorbing the language from day one in this type of situation – paying good attention in class, and committing everything to memory so it comes out when it should!

The textbook is great – geared exactly for the lessons, and while the teachers are an important part of the lesson, we, the students are the most important. If the teacher speaks in English I have noticed that we learn a lot slower – particularly for that first important couple of levels where we were learning everyday communication skills.

But then – in the higher levels I’ve been attending term after term after term – the benefits really do come through by focusing on the long term goal of really getting to know the language, reading newspapers, watching movies, chatting to people and so on. Not only can we “get by”, we (myself and my fellow students who have been striving through the last 3 or 4 terms) are now really speaking in German and getting to the point of being able to understand what’s happening behind the scenes.

In other words, it is only once you reach the higher levels that you realise although it’s great to be able to say what you want, or to have an informal chat at a mountain ski resort, you miss out on the whole world of what makes German speaking people tick if you stick to the most basic elements of the language.

I am glad I have stuck to it – and will continue to stick to it.  It’s been well worth it.

Find out more about part-time German courses in the UK

Italian study destinations: Alghero

Some people might think that a town where the local dialect spoken is native to another country wouldn’t be the best place to learn a language. But for those who don’t know, each region of Italy has its own dialect significantly different to the next. Some are so different that even other Italians do not understand. However as Italian is spoken throughout the country and taught in all schools, wherever you choose to study you can be sure that you will be understood.

Alghero is one of the main tourist destinations in the north west of the island of Sardinia and for good reason. It has an attractive historic centre with fantastic views from the old town walls out across the Mediterranean. It is also within reach of some of the most incredible beaches this side of the Caribbean. But if you do as I did and choose to go at the end of September, after one of the hottest and driest summers in recent years, you will find out that going to Sardinia doesn’t always mean sun and sand. It can also mean drizzle and showers. Something which the English understand very well.

I spent my mornings in class studying hard, and my afternoons on the beach looking at the grey clouds loom overhead wondering how much longer I had to work on my tan. I think it was the first time I’ve ever been on a beach with an umbrella in my bag.

Fortunately I was there to learn the language as well and the school was fantastic. There were only 3 rooms and a patio where lessons also took place when the sun was shining. Being in such a small school meant that the classes were small too which was perfect for conversation and having the opportunity to ask questions to the teachers. However my favourite lesson had to be when we were taken to the local market and discussed recipes with the old ladies working there. They loved chatting and explaining everything to us (plus they gave us a great discount).

One of the best parts of the holiday was staying in a shared apartment. It was the first time I had shared a house with anyone since playing drinking games until dawn and waking up next to half eaten burgers at university. This time I behaved a little better and enjoyed sharing a coffee in the morning with my fellow housemates without the added complication of a throbbing headache. Good job too as from the moment I woke up I had to speak Italian, something my dehydrated brain cells would have found much too difficult a task to do a decent standard.

Overall I must say that my first language holiday abroad was a complete success. I discovered the beautiful town of Alghero, I met other students from all over Europe and my Italian improved. It’s just a shame that my tan didn’t.

More about Italian courses in Italy

What makes the Island of Elba a great study destination?

Elba is located off the coast of Tuscany between the Tyrrhenian Sea and Ligurian Sea, and about 50 kilometres east of Corsica.  It is well connected to mainland Italy, with a regular ferry service from Piombino (Tuscany) and a small airport with regular domestic and international flights – mainly to locations in Germany, Switzerland and Austria.

There are lots of factors which make the island a great option for an Italian language course, including the following five.

1. A great climate and beautiful natural scenery

Despite the fact the Elba has a perimeter of only 147 km, it has a really diverse range of landscapes and scenery, including mountainous peaks, pretty hilltop villages, lush green valleys, and of course, the shimmering blue waters and sandy beaches that characterise the island. Elba is still beautifully unspoilt and is home to an array of flora and fauna, including a number of rare species. The island also enjoys a really mild climate, with a long summer season that can start around Easter and last up until late October.

2. An interesting history and culture

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. Settlers first flocked to the island of Elba to make a living from the natural resources – by mining. The Greeks came first in the 10th century BC, followed by the Etruscans and then the Romans. This prosperous island was invaded by pirates several times and was under alternate Spanish and Italian rule in the 18th century. The most famous inhabitant of the island was Napoléon Bonaparte, who was exiled to the island in 1814 and became its governor until he left to wage the Hundred Days war.

3. A unique destination that is off the beaten track

When it comes to Italian courses in Italy, perhaps the most obvious choices initially are destinations like Rome, Venice, Florence or Naples. Elba is a place that offers a very different kind of learning environment though, and one which is unlikely to have been experienced by many before. Although Elba is a popular holiday destination amongst Italians, it remains relatively undiscovered by foreign tourists, which means that you’ll definitely get ample chance to practise your language skills outside of lessons.

4. A laid-back atmosphere

One of the great things about learning Italian on Elba rather than in Rome, Naples or another such city, is that the atmosphere is much more relaxed.  Bustling city centres are replaced by tranquil fishing villages and beaches, and with a definite holiday vibe all around you’ll come home feeling relaxed, refreshed and full of La Dolce Vita!

5. A fantastic range of free-time activities

Although some students choose to take a more intensive course, the majority of people who take a course in Italy opt for a General course, which leaves either a free morning or afternoon every day. The good thing about studying on Elba is that you’ll be spoilt for choice when it comes to how to fill your free time – of course, there’s an array of beaches to choose from if you fancy a spot of sunbathing, and plenty of cultural activities to enjoy, but when it comes to sports there are literally scores of activities to try. Included amongst the options are mountain biking, trekking, fishing, windsurfing, sailing, diving, snorkelling, hang-gliding, free-climbing, bush walking and golf…you can take your pick!

Find out more on Italian courses in Elba

Visit Valencia this July and experience the fantastic Feria de Julio

The festival includes a huge range of activities including dance, arts, food, parades and plenty of music – it attracts some world-famous acts, which this year include Anastasia and James Taylor. Many of the concerts are held in the open air, in venues such as the Jardín de Real, the city parks and the impressive bullring.

One of the most anticipated spectacles is the ‘Batalla de las Flores’ (Battle of the Flowers), which takes place every year on the last Sunday of the feria. During the proceedings, beautiful women parade through the streets throwing flowers into the crowd, and in turn have flowers thrown back at them.

Taking a Spanish course during the festival will not only give you plenty of performaces to enjoy, it will also give you a really unique insight into Spanish culture and tradition. Accommodation can be really hard to come by during this time, but taking a course in Valencia will assure you lodgings – proivided you book far enough in advance.

Currently, Cactus offers a range of Spanish courses in Valenica at various different levels.  Included in the course options are: General Spanish, Intensive Spanish, Spanish and Culture, Business Spanish, Teacher Refresher Spanish, Spanish and Gastronomy and Spanish and Work Experience. For full course listings or to book, please visit

German evening course in Brighton: Cactus staff review

I decided to take a 10-week German course to refresh what I had learnt at school ahead of a holiday to Berlin I had planned.  At first I felt a little out of my depth, having hoped that it would all come flooding back to me, but discovering during the first lesson that what I had learnt at GCSE was not quite as well etched in my memory as I had thought.  However, after a couple of lessons and some self-study at home I began to feel more confident, at least with reading and listening exercises.  The teacher, Valentina, was very kind and supportive, and flexible to suit our needs.  If there were areas that we were struggling with, she was very patient with reviewing them and thinking of exercises for us to complete to help us to understand.

I was pleased to find that quite a lot of what was covered during the course proved useful to me on my holiday, particularly the topics on transport, travel and directions.  In fact I was able to put what I had learnt into practice not long after stepping off the plane, when I was (embarrassingly) somewhat confused when trying to buy a train ticket. Although it was daunting attempting to communicate in the little German that I knew, especially when I believe I was probably making quite a lot of mistakes, I think it was appreciated that I was putting in the effort.

I found that spending even just a short amount of time in Germany was the perfect way to practice and consolidate what I had learnt, and it has inspired me to continue.  I am now enrolled on the next level course, which has continued with the same teacher and most of my fellow students from the previous level.  On completing this course I am considering taking one of the German courses abroad that Cactus offer, perhaps in Vienna.  I think that taking an intensive course in a German speaking country will really help me to revise and practice what I have learnt so far.

Find out more on Cactus’ language courses in Brighton and other cities around the UK.

Top 6 beach locations for a Spanish course

Whether summery weather is making us dream of beaches or wintery weather is making us lust after warmer climes, studying Spanish by the beach is an attractive option year-round. It’s almost too good to be true that you can take a language course just minutes from the soft white sand and lapping waters of a beach whose very image on a postcard will have all your friends thinking that there’s no way you can possibly be ‘studying’. But yes, it’s true: you can take language classes in the morning and then have the rest of the day to swim, surf, sunbathe, or do whatever it is you like to do on holiday.

Having visited all our beach locations (well, somebody’s got to do it), we’ve compiled our very own pick of beach locations for you to take a Spanish course. All you need to do is take our word for it and make your friends pea-green with envy that it’s all in the name of education…

1. Cartagena, Colombia

At nearly 500 years old, Cartagena is a real jewel of the Caribbean. Steeped in colonial history, its old walled city, a UNESCO heritage site, is a charming trove of narrow streets, shaded courtyards and balconies spilling out bright flowers. The infectious beat of salsa and the sweet smell of fruit vendors’ carts fill the streets, just enough to tempt you before the warm waters lapping at its shores lure you away from the city and towards the beautiful beaches of the northern Caribbean coast. Culture, history, food and beaches – it doesn’t get much better than this.

Spanish courses in Cartagena

2. San Sebastián, Spain

Lesser known that its coastal Spanish counterparts, San Sebastián is perhaps better left this way. Those of you who do choose to go here to learn Spanish will not need to be told why. The golden crescent of Playa de la Concha beach stretches around the bay and is worlds away from the crowded, touristy beaches of the southern Costas, lending itself to outdoor activities such as surfing, beach volleyball and swimming. The town itself is a delightful mix of Basque and Spanish tradition, surrounded by the lush green hills of Gipúzcoa. San Sebastián is also one of the top spots to go for a good time, with plenty of restaurants dishing up excellent cuisine, and thriving tapas bars filling its popular Parte Vieja.

Spanish courses in San Sebastián

3. Jaco Beach, Costa Rica

Jaco Beach is an old favourite with Cactus and for good reason. This laid-back town on Costa Rica’s Pacific coast is the place to go for the perfect combo of long golden beaches with a backdrop of lush, natural jungle. Unsurprisingly Jaco attracts surfers from afar, and even away from the beach you’re surrounded by rows of surf shops and surfers discussing the perfect wave over a cerveza as the sun goes down. It’s not just about the water though; nature lovers can surround themselves with wildlife in the nearby forest and brush up on their photography, while those who simply want to chill out have ample opportunity – there is even a Spanish & Yoga course for those who want to stretch their limbs as well as their mind.

Spanish courses in Jaco Beach

4. Tenerife, Spain

Year-round sunshine and long, sandy beaches have for years been attracting tourists to Tenerife – and for good reason. Relax under your parasol or why not try your hand at surfing or diving. Perhaps lesser known is its appeal as a destination to learn Spanish. But on second thoughts, why not…what could be better than finishing class and having nothing more to do than check out the superb natural environment all around you? From the snow-covered Teide mountains inland to the wonderfully shaped lava figures of the fertile Orotava valley, from the near-desert areas of the south to the subtropical valleys laden with banana and palm trees, there’s much more to Tenerife that the holiday brochures let on.

Spanish courses in Tenerife

5. Playa del Carmen, Mexico

Sun, sea, sand and more sand…don’t look further than Playa if this is your idea of paradise. It’s no surprise that over recent years tourists have begun to flock here, but beach life is still nothing but relaxed and the old Latin philosophy of mañana lives on. Indulge in some superb diving or snorkelling in the clear Caribbean waters, chill out with some open-air yoga, cook up some Mexican specialities, browse the local shops selling Mexican crafts or take a trip to the wonderful Mayan ruins at Tulum or Chichen Itza. If this all sounds too much, simply grab a beer in one of the many seafront bars, hang out and soak it all up.

Spanish courses in Playa del Carmen

6. Málaga, Spain

Málaga is much more than an entry and departure point for those holidaying on Spain’s Costa del Sol. It is a lively cosmopolitan port and a city worth visiting in its own right – yet fortunately not everybody knows this, so it remains an attractive, Spanish-speaking location with history and traditions to rival those of any other Spanish city. Visitors can wander through Málaga’s attractive cobbled streets, enjoy world-class art with the likes of the Picasso Museum, enjoy typical Malagueñan flamenco and grab some fresh seafood at a seafront marisquería. And if it’s beaches you’re after you don’t need to head far: Málaga boasts 40km of coastline that provides all kinds sandy and rocky beaches to wild, deserted stretches of land.

Spanish courses in Málaga

How can you train people constantly on the move?

Blended learning, which combines face-to-face tuition with remote learning, delivers a convenient and flexible solution for those who are constantly on the move.

In today’s business world, where communications, technology and travel are at their most advanced, it is both normal and expected for staff to be on the move meeting clients, partners and suppliers during a typical working week. Ease of availability, granted mostly by mobile devices, combined with increased global awareness and expansion into foreign markets, has meant that many workers, especially those at a higher level, are away from their desks for days – or weeks – on end.

This is all very well when it comes to boosting a company’s global presence and to providing information instantly and efficiently. When it comes to corporate training, however, it can become a logistical nightmare to organise a time and place that suits all staff involved. Traditional classroom-based training becomes a dream of the past as diaries clash, schedules change and emergency meetings take their toll. Staff become disillusioned as they fail to complete their chosen course and, in the case of group tuition, fall back in comparison to colleagues. Company investment in staff reaps little reward and funds are wasted. It is easy to see why some just give up altogether, or put it off for ‘next year’.

This does not have to be case, however. The very technology that puts extra demands on us can save the day when it comes to in-company training.

Blended learning, which combines face-to-face tuition with remote learning, delivers a convenient and flexible solution for those who are constantly on the move. Whilst recognising the utility of an agreed number of classroom sessions, where students can chat to their tutor and engage with fellow participants, it takes advantage of technology such as the internet, television and telephone to provide the remaining tuition at a time and place that suits the individual. In this way the remote component acts as an extension to traditional face-to-face learning, and in many cases provides a more rounded educational experience for the learner than just one of these methods used in isolation. The very variety of technologies on offer embraces different learning styles and as such provides ongoing stimulation and motivation.

Whether used as part of a blended learning package or on their own, the scope is large when it comes to alternative learning methods. Advances in communication have opened the door to approaches that even twenty or thirty years ago would not have been thought possible. Telephone lessons, for instance, are an intensive and effective form of tuition that suit courses such as language training where speaking and listening are paramount; lessons can take place anywhere in the world as long as the trainer has access to a telephone and e-mail, if need be, for follow-up material.

Another relatively new concept is that of the virtual classroom. Without even having to leave the home, office, or even hotel room, a trainee can receive all the benefits of face-to-face training with just a computer, headset and webcam. This equipment enables them to communicate with their own personal trainer, who can supply instant feedback and encouragement, and follow a course that is geared specifically to their needs and learning pace – wherever and whenever it suits them.

Whichever form of tuition is adopted, whether face-to-face, computer-based, telephone or virtual (or a combination of these, through blended learning), a trainee’s progress can be enhanced by between-lesson support in the form of self-study. Self-study can be undertaken in a variety of ways to suit the individual – CDs, textbooks, online courses, television, radio or podcasts – and again it is perfect for those on the move as it does not require commitment to a regular time or place.

Corporate training, whether on an individual or group basis, can therefore enjoy greater flexibility than ever before and be adapted to suit even the most restrictive work schedules. Any company wishing to embark on a training programme need not dread the marrying of timetables that may have once been prohibitive to its success; instead, it has at its fingertips a cost-effective and flexible solution for training staff anywhere in the world.

German course in Brighton: Cactus staff review

I recently completed my third German 10 week evening course in Brighton, and am on my fourth course at the moment. The weeks always seems to pass by so quickly, and having a great group with easy-going classmates and an encouraging, fun teacher always makes me want to continue for another 10 weeks.

I am currently doing Cactus Level 7. I studied German at school for several years, and therefore had covered the grammar before but was looking to brush up on my German. The evening courses are great as refresher classes and for getting some speaking practice in order to not forget what you already know. Our lessons have a strong focus on practising conversational skills, and we often spend the first 30-45 minutes chatting about a range of topics. Even though the conversation often flows freely our teacher keeps an eye on the quality of our German and corrects our pronunciation and grammar, which is just what I want. I am aiming at both being able to speak fluently and to get the grammar right. It doesn’t always feel so easy considering that German grammar, in my opinion, is not the simplest! But ‘Übung macht den Meister’, ‘practice makes perfect’ as my German friend once encouraged me when I was struggling with my homework.

Besides the valuable conversation practice, we also read and translate articles about various topics, give presentations about our home countries, international group that we are, and have little verb tests and grammar tasks every now and then just to see if there is anything we need to brush up on. Every once in a while we also have role plays which teach us some useful vocabulary as we always play situations we might actually get into when travelling into German-speaking countries. The role plays are valuable practice as afterwards we always go over our mistakes and try to learn from them.

Having a nice group and a variety of activities motivates me to go to the class every week, and I’m always looking forward to it. Simply put, we have fun while practising our skills, and learning is so much easier when you enjoy what you are doing. In my class learning is made fun!

Find out more on Cactus’ range of part-time language courses around the UK

Taking the CELTA in San Francisco – feedback from our 2010 scholarship winner

Ascending the escalator from the Muni metro, I remember the feeling of seeing Market Street reveal itself to me for the first time. I had arrived in San Francisco a day before and hadn’t yet seen the city as I was knackered from the travelling and wanted to shake off the jet leg. I chose to be a hermit on the Sunday with the intention of being fresh for the course the next day. So, Monday morning I got into the city an hour early before lessons, just to soak everything up before heading into the school. I bought breakfast and essentially took one deep breath – it proved to be the only opportunity I would have to do so until after the course, as the preceding four weeks would pretty much be a blur.

Although I knew the course would be demanding, I didn’t realise just how consuming it would be. If you’re going to do the CELTA I suggest you do it at a time when you can put most, if not all, aspects of your life on hold – you will eat, sleep and breathe TEFL for a month. Every hour of every day was accounted for from the moment I woke up to the moment my head touched the pillow. The course wasn’t easy, and I can’t say I enjoyed every minute of it, but in a lot of ways it was a process not unlike learning a language – both frustrating and rewarding, and like a language, you know the only way your really going to get anything out of it is if you throw yourself into it completely.

The trainers at St. Giles, Gabi and Maureen, were great and were basically good cop/bad cop in their approaches. Gabi pushed us hard for the first two weeks, and I had a few ‘Simon, we need to have a chat’ moments with her, while Maureen, who taught us for the second two weeks, made you feel relaxed and confident about teaching, both effective and both necessary, and I learned a great deal from both of them.

As a course it was academically rewarding, yet I’d be lying if I knew how I did so exactly, or to say I remember everything I learnt over the four weeks. What was really rewarding was teaching a class of students from around the world and seeing them learn something new from me and then using what they learned in the following classes. Working with the other trainee teachers was also a great experience, as we all progressed together and became close doing so.

Now, the accent. Rather, my accent. First of all, it’s important to understand that the Northern Californian accent is so clean cut (in that overtly American way) that people from the region constantly sound as if they are selling life insurance or alternative lifestyle products to you regardless of what they’re talking about. I on the other hand, possess a so-called Estuary English accent, and I’m sure that to them, I probably sounded as though I were a Dickensian chimney sweep or I had just walked off the set of Get Carter. The accent wasn’t a problem when talking to my trainers or fellow trainees (well, most of the time) but when teaching a mixed group of international students, who were by then accustomed to the slow prolonged vowels and pronounced ‘r’s of my Californian peers, I may as well have been speaking Chinese. However, I worked on my speech, slowed my voice down and by the end the students understood me – I can say that confidently because they would use words and expressions I taught them in later lessons, in my accent no less.

Away from the school, I stayed with a wonderful homestay couple, who to my delight were hippies during the sixties, well, the man of the house preferred to be called an ex-radical – and listening to his stories that’s a tame word for it. So I had the real spirit of San Francisco at home, every evening, cooking me dinner, telling me stories – the protests, the free love, the music and spitting in Ronald Reagan’s face. They also drove me around on Sunday afternoons (my only free time) and showed me the area.

First let me get this straight, San Francisco, on the face of it, is a gorgeous city. It lives up to the postcards and the movies etc, and indeed most of Northern California is stunning. The city of San Francisco itself ticks all the boxes, but today, it’s a very clean-cut city, maybe too clean cut. Similar to the way American customer service is great, fast, friendly and reliable – but in a completely detached, glazed over and completely impersonal way. So when looking for a teaching job, I knew I wanted to go somewhere a little more rough around the edges. The first job I’ve taken is in a private school in Bari, a southeast Italian city on the coast, and an area I already know relatively well. I decided it would be a good starting point where I could get some experience (not to mention some money) and that first reference under my belt before venturing somewhere completely new – which I plan on doing later this year. It’s a beautiful region of the country that is as charming, backward, relaxed and at the same time chaotic as one might expect – and so far it’s been a joy. The students are really warm, as are the locals, as is the fantastic weather. The other teachers have also been really accommodating. I wish I had more stories to tell at this point, but I’m still all eyes and ears really, trying to take in as much as I can at this early stage.

I genuinely feel my training as teacher started when I started this job just under two months ago. Yet I know I wouldn’t have had the grapes to walk into a classroom full of Italian adult learners had I not had the experience and knowledge I gained during my time on the CELTA course.

Please note that the scholarship for 2011 has now been launched. The prize is a 4-week CELTA course and 2-week Spanish course in Barcelona, including accommodation and return travel to the UK. For more information, including details of how to enter, please visit the Cactus TEFL website.