Learning Italian in Brighton & Venice: Cactus staff review

I have always wanted to learn Italian. A few people around me asked me why I wanted to learn a language which is only spoken in one country. For me, languages should be learnt because you are in love with them. Italian represents a different world of ideas embodied by Pirandello, Dante, Machievelli and Umberto Ecco but also Dylan Dog. It will sound like a cliché but I thoroughly enjoy Italian food too.

I have found that doing an evening language course it is the most cost-effective method to learn Italian in Brighton. I could have gone for private tuition but I also wanted to enjoy the social aspect. A language course is a fantastic way to meet like-minded people who are passionate about traveling and languages. I must admit that I have not been disappointed. All the students in my class are really nice and friendly. They are all fantastic learners too. After ten lessons, we are able to communicate formally and informally to people and are able to interact in Italian for most of everyday life situations such as ordering food in a restaurant, finding our way, writing an email or speaking on the phone. I am now able in my job at Cactus to talk in Italian to my Italian teachers and even to write emails in the language of Dante.

My teacher Roberta Bonfa’ has been truly amazing. Roberta is very dedicated and energetic. The classes were always fun and informative. She has always been incredibly supportive and has given me and all the students the opportunity to send her emails in Italian. She has met the requirements of the course curriculum but as my group progressed pretty quickly, Robert asked us what we wanted to learn. For instance, we have studied the lyrics of a famous song called ‘Caruso’ as a girl from my group liked this song.

I enjoyed my Italian course so much that I have decided to further my Italian skills by taking an Italian language holiday in Venice with Cactus. The accommodation facilities are in an old cloister on an island just opposite the main island. I can’t wait to be there!

I chose Venice because I have always dreamt to visit ‘la Serenissima’. Venice is a literary dream that I am looking forward to exploring and cannot wait to share ‘le mie photographie’. A presto!

3rd October: Day of German Unity

The 3rd October is a public holiday in Germany, and each year the reunification, when the Federal Republic of Germany and the Democratic Republic of Germany united to create one single, federal Germany, is remembered throughout the country.

Each year one city is chosen to host the national celebrations, which usually include a ceremonial commemoration and a citizens’ festival (Bürgerfest). Last year this was Bremen, the year before Saarbrucken, and in 2011 it’s the former West German capital, Bonn which will stage the celebrations.

How will you be celebrating German Unity Day this year?

Looking for a festive but alternative way to spend Christmas this Year?

The course in the Bavarian city of Regensburg gives students a unique opportunity to gain an authentic experience of Germany at Christmas time, and learn German in the process. Students learn German during the week (6 days language tuition between 21 and 30 December) and also take part in the festive social programme that includes tasting gastronomic Christmas delights!

Accommodation in a single room in the student residence is available to book between 20 December and 2 January (or from 13 if you take a 3 week course and start a week earlier).

Lessons will not take place on public holidays over Christmas, including Friday 24th and 31st.

For more information please visit the Cactus Language website

10 great reasons to learn French in Chamonix

Below are ten of the best reasons to choose Chamonix as your French course destination…

1. You can ski in winter or walk/bike in summer.

Taking a language course abroad doesn’t solely have to be about sitting in a classroom. Students who take a General course are likely to have either the morning or afternoon free each day, which means there is plenty of time to explore the area, or to enjoy some sporting pursuits. Chamonix is a very popular winter ski resort but is also great for walking, biking and climbing in the summer.

2. It’s beautiful.

As you might expect from any world-famous ski resort, Chamonix’s Alpine setting makes for some pretty spectacular scenery. The town itself is very pretty too though, with attractive chalet-type houses and lots of well kept parks and shopping areas.

3. It has good nightlife and lots of nice restaurants.

Chamonix is one of the larger ski resorts in the French Alps and as such has a lot to offer in terms of entertainment. It has a very lively atmosphere during the winter and summer seasons, with plenty of bars and restaurants to enjoy outside of lessons.

4. It’s compact and easy to get around.

One of the really nice things about Chamonix is that it’s large enough to have a good range of entertainment venues and shops, but small enough that you don’t need to rely on public transport to get around. All accommodation arranged via the school in Chamonix is within walking distance of the school.

5. There’s a great range of activities on offer.

Whilst some students choose to go skiing, biking or hiking independently in their free time, others take advantage of the huge range of activities that are organised by the school. Some of the activities that are offered include ski trips to Courmayeur in Italy, avalanche and glacier rescue courses, wine tastings, fondue and raclette evenings as well as French film nights. The school also offers daily yoga- & pilates classes at the school in the evenings.

6. The school offers a modern learning environment with great facilities.

The school in Chamonix was recently renovated and as such has bright and modern classrooms, a well-kept reception and lounge area, free wifi, coffees, teas and snacks. It enjoys a really central location and is only a 5 minute walk from a range of cafes and restaurants.

7. It’s easy to reach.

As a popular ski resort, Chamonix is well-served by public transport. Regular buses arrive in Chamonix from international airports like Geneva, and there is also a train station in the town centre. There are regular trains to other towns and villages up and down the mountain, including St Gervais Les Bains, where you can get trains to both Lyon and Geneva.

8. The school has a good nationality mix.

The school in Chamonix is a popular centre and attracts students from all over the world. Having a mix of student nationalities means that it’s imperative for everyone to communicate in French, and more practice means more progress.

9. Students can experience the unique Savoie culture

Although Chamonix is in France, its location in the mountains and close to both Switzerland and Italy gives it a very different feel to more ‘quintessentially French’ areas of the country. Studying in Chamonix, you’ll learn lots about this unique area of France, and the very different way of life that the people who live there have. This part of France has a different history, different cuisine and different culture to explore…and you won’t be disappointed. 

10. It’s a safe and up-market study location.

Although Chamonix may not have the big city lights of places such as Paris, Nice and Lyon, this is not always a bad thing. Anyone who enjoys a more laid-back existence in safe, up-market and picturesque surroundings will be really enjoy studying in Chamonix…

For more information on French courses in Chamonix, or to book, please visit the Cactus Language website.

Celebrating All Saint’s Day in France

It is the day when all the Saints recognised by the Roman Catholic church are honoured. The following day is Le Jour des Morts (All Soul’s Day), when people pray for the souls of the departed. Both days are national holidays and children have a two-week holiday from school at this time of the year.

The origins of All Saint’s Day go back to the 5th Century AD, when the ancient Celtic festival of Samhain was celebrated at the beginning of November. Samhain marked the start of the dark half of the year and was the time of feasting and drinking when it was possible for the living to communicate with the dead. This festival was adopted by the Christian church and transformed by Pope Boniface IV into a day dedicated to the mother of God and all the saints who had been martyred. It was originally celebrated on 13th May, but around 830 AD Pope Gregory IV moved it to November and rededicated it to all saints.

Today, La Toussaint is marked by the lighting of numerous candles in cemeteries and the decorating of graves with chrysanthemums, the flowers associated with death. Stone lanterns of the dead, which are lit during the festival, can also be found in many cemeteries, especially in the Massif Central region in central France, and in Brittany. Family reunions are held to honour the dead, church bells are rung, and churches are decorated with chrysanthemums, candles and banners.

On the eve of Le Jour des Morts churches are draped in black, funeral songs are sung and prayers for the dead are recited. People visit cemeteries to pray at their family graves, then have parties involving singing and telling stories about the dead. At midnight they eat a special supper for the dead which traditionally includes milk, black grain, bacon, pancakes and cider.

The most famous cemetery in France is the Père-Lachaise in Paris and is well worth a visit during La Toussaint, or at other times. Established by Napoleon I in 1804 and located in Paris’ 20th arrondissement, the Père-Lachaise is one of the most visited cemeteries in the world, and the final resting place of many famous people, including Honoré de Balzac, the French novelist; the Polish composer, Frédéric Chopin; Jim Morrison, the American singer with the Doors; and Oscar Wilde, the Irish writer.

Cactus offers French courses at its Père-Lachaise school in Paris, in other schools across Paris and in a total of 19 locations across France.

As one of the world’s leading language training companies, Cactus provides language courses in more than 30 languages, in over 60 countries and in some 500 destinations worldwide.

Will a rise in UK students going to university abroad help foreign language learning?

Whilst one of the main attractions for British students is that the lectures, seminars and administration can all be done in English, studying and living in a foreign country will surely call for some level of proficiency in the local language.

It has been widely documented that universities in Holland, such as Maastricht, are already seeing an increase in the number of British students, an article in the Guardian in March 2011 stated that the universities of Valencia and Milan are also seeing a rise in UK interest.

Although it’s a shame that for some British students, attending a university in the UK is no longer even an option, might the rising numbers of Brits in foreign universities help the current situation regarding foreign language learning in the UK?

Please leave us your comments below…

More on evening and part-time language courses in the UK

More on tailor-made and one-to-one foreign language tuition

More on foreign language courses abroad

Why it pays to learn basic grammatical terms before you learn a new language

Often, this can stem from disappointing language learning experiences at school, when the grammar may have been an aspect that seemed particularly complex. It’s a widely acknowledged fact, though, that in Britain, we are not taught in depth about the grammar of our own language, which goes some way to explaining why learning the grammar of another language might prove hard!

Whilst a French or German student would most likely be familiar with terms like ‘verb’, ‘noun’ and ‘tenses’ from lessons in their own language, there are still a fair amount of British people who aren’t exactly sure what these mean.

Whilst on a day to day level this may not pose too much of a problem (profession permitting!), when it comes to learning foreign languages, not knowing the basic terminology associated with grammar can cause confusion and dejectedness, which can so easily be avoided.

Before learning a language therefore, it’s advisable to get to grips with the meaning of terms such as ‘verb’, ‘noun’, ‘adjective’ and ‘adverb’, just so you know what the teacher is referring to when they ask, for example, that you conjugate the verb ‘to be’.

There are lots of online glossaries that you can use to read up on these, including one on the Cactus site, but if you want to do some more in depth study there’s also an online English Language Awareness course that you consider. Originally developed for people who are interested in training to teach English as a Foreign Language, it’s a great way to learn all the grammatical terms and what they mean.

Glossary of common grammatical terms



The name of a person, place, thing or concept. Examples are: house, teacher, Italy, love, etc.

A “concrete noun” is something you can see or touch: house or teacher.

An “abstract noun” is something that you cannot see or touch: fear or cold.

A “count” or “countable noun” is something that you can count, such as car, euro, table, cup.

An “non-count” or “uncountable noun” is something that you cannot count, such as water, cheese, music, information.


An adjective describes a noun (and sometimes – rarely – pronouns). Examples are: heavy, yellow, quick, Welsh and so on.


Often referred to in simplistic terms as a ‘doing word’. Examples include run, sit, sing, live, believe, fight.


Adverbs show (1) how activities/actions (etc.) happen (e.g. Their excitement built up gradually), and (2) add extra meaning to adjectives (it was very cold last winter). Examples are: slowly, quietly, well, often, very, etc.


The form of a verb that shows us when the action or state happens (past, present or future).


Infinitives are unconjugated forms of verbs, typically interpreted as the “to” form, for example, “to eat”, “to drink”, “to sleep”. E.g,

‘TO EAT’ (infinitive)

I eat

You eat

He eats

We eat

They eat


A word like at, to, in, over etc. They show a relationship of time, place, direction (and so on) between two or more things:

The book is on the table.

– on shows the relationship between the book and the table.

Get some milk before you come home.

before shows the relationship between getting the milk and getting home


A word like I, me, you, he, him, it etc, that replaces a noun.

A: The dog in the yard is mine.

B: Do you know who it belongs to?


Active Voice

In an active (voice) sentence, the subject does the action, and the structure/feeling is active:

The bird flew away, the girl bought a handbag.


The “indefinite” article is a (a house), and an (an egg). The “definite article” is the.

Auxiliary Verb

A verb that is used to assist a “main” verb (an infinitive or a participle). Be (He is talking) and have (I have broken my leg) are auxiliary verbs which focus on certain aspects of the situation, continuing action (the continuous) in the first example and a present result based on an action that happened in the past in the second (the perfect).

Do (Do you know where the butter is?; She does indeed know where to go), can, might, should, must and others are modal auxiliary verbs – they show a certain type of feeling (mood > modal) towards the action. Do focuses on truth/reality (asking questions, giving negatives [Don’t go!], emphasising reality), can on ability (she can swim), might on possibility (it might rain tonight), should on advice (you should exercise more), and so on.


A group of words that are based around a verb – a sentence or a “sub-sentence”, for example:

The train chugged happily along the tracks.

The plane that crashed into the sea was radio controlled.


A word used to connect words, phrases and clauses (for example: and, but, if, when, etc.).


The basic form of a verb used as an order: Go!, Be good!, Drop it!


An exclamation inserted into an utterance without grammatical connection (for example: oh!, ah!, ouch!, well!).

Modal Verb

An auxiliary verb like can, may, must, should etc that modifies the main verb and expresses possibility, probability etc. It is also called “modal auxiliary verb”.


a) The noun or pronoun that receives the action of the verb: He ate an apple. The “direct object” is the word directly affected by the action, while the “indirect object” is the one that receives the object being affected (confused?) – He gave his sister (indirect object) an apple (direct object).

b) The word that comes after a preposition (or is otherwise directly affected by a preposition): The worm is in the apple; He gave the apple to his sister; Who did he give the apple to?


The -ing and -ed/-en(etc.) forms of verbs. The -ing form is called the “present participle”. The -ed /-en(etc.) form is called the “past participle”. The “past participle” is often irregular, while the –ing form is always regular.

Infinitive (present participle) -ing form (past participle) -en/-ed(etc.) form
sing singing sung (she has sung a song)
break breaking broken (she has broken the record)

Part Of Speech

A major type of word (eight are normally specified for English, but this can vary from book to book) – noun, verb, adjective, adverb, pronoun, preposition, conjunction and interjection.

Passive Voice

In the passive voice, the subject receives the action of the verb, for example The apple was eaten (see Active Voice).


Any group of words that goes together, but not as a Clause, such as in town, on the shelf, the big, bad wolf, he is running away, and so on.


Each sentence has two parts, the subject and the predicate, the predicate is what we say about the subject.

The shirt is green.

A nice little sailing skiff glided past the stern of the liner.

The man
at the door is a policeman.


A group of words that express a complete idea in itself – and which ends in a full-stop/period (.) [or a question mark (?) or an exclamation mark(!)]. A sentence can be a statement, question, negative statement, exclamation, command, supposition, and so on. Normally sentences are made of the subject and predicate, though depending on the type of talking, either can be left out.

In simple terms, a sentence contains a subject (normally) and a verb (normally), ends with a full stop/period (.), question mark (?), or exclamation mark (!), and starts with a capital / big letter. and a subject.


The subject is the topic of the sentence, what we are talking about.

The book is about the American Civil War.

The cat caught the mouse and ate it.

There was a shady apple tree growing in the garden.

The window is broken.

Top 5 sunny getaways in Latin America this winter

As winter takes its hold, with winter woollies regular attire and lights on by 4pm, far-flung destinations where the sun shines all day and you can enjoy being outdoors without piling on the layers become increasingly inviting!

The Southern Hemisphere is the perfect destination at this time of year, and here’s our pick of the top 5 getaways in Latin America:

1. Colombia – Cartagena

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.

2. Colombia – Medellin

Medellin may have built a reputation for the wrong reasons, but the press has neglected to sing the virtues of its renovation. Out with the cocaine cartels and in with a safe and energetic downtown, this ‘City of Eternal Spring’ has been reborn and can finally be enjoyed for what it really is. Today’s visitor will be treated to stunning mountain views, an enviable climate, bustling streets, an impressive nightlife and a city of fun-loving, generous Colombians who know how to embrace you with their warmth and make sure you’re having as good a time as they are.

3. Rio de Janeiro – Brazil

Rio is a place of dreams: it’s intriguing, exotic and fun. The picture postcard views from Sugar Loaf, the colour and chaos of Carnaval, the swinging of samba hips, the beautiful bodies on Ipanema, the tiny fio dental bikinis…there’s seemingly no end of iconic images for this captivating city on Brazil’s sparkling Atlantic coast. Time your trip with Carnaval in February and you’ll be treated to the cidade maravilhosa, as the locals proudly call it, in all its glory. You may not get much sleep, but this is one experience in life not to miss.

4. Costa Rica – Jaco Beach

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 those who simply want to chill out have ample opportunity.

5. Mexico – Playa del Carmen

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, browse the local shops selling Mexican crafts or take a trip to the wonderful Mayan ruins at Tulum or Chichen Itza. Or simply grab a beer in one of the many seafront bars, hang out and just soak it all up.

Visit Sorrento this December and experience the Festa dell’Immacolata

Throughout December there are also a range of festivities to enjoy in the run up to Christmas, one of which is the Feast of the Immaculate Conception on the 8th December.

From this date onwards in Sorrento, you can enjoy markets, shows and spectacular lights both in the city and in the hills that surround it. Whilst visiting the city will give you some experience of Christmas time and the associated traditions in this part of the world, attending an Italian course there will give you an even more authentic insight into how it’s celebrated and what it means to the local people.

The school in Sorrento offers a wide range of Italian courses, and enjoys a fantastic reputation in the industry. Anna Cavolowsky recently completed a three-month Italian course at the school and says of her time there:

“I went into the experience not really knowing what to expect. I was not aware of the regional differences in Italy or about the Italian culture. I was simply ready for an adventure! After no time, I felt like home in Sorrento and I could speak enough Italian to have an easy conversation with the locals, and the best part was that as I walked down the street, people knew my name. I went to dinner at friends’ houses and helped make fresh pasta and pizza! I went to local concerts and festivals. This small town welcomed me into the community and I was able to experience every aspect of the Italian culture in a way that would have never been possible in one of Italy’s larger cities. Italy’s southern culture is all about hospitality and authenticity.  The Amalfi coast is undoubtedly one of the most beautiful regions in the world.”

Find out more on Italian courses in Sorrento