Cactus announces winner of 2011 Suzanne Furstner Foundation Scholarship

Introduced in 2007 in memory of a friend and colleague who was tragically lost in a road accident, the Suzanne Furstner Foundation supports language and educational training across the world. Every year since its introduction, the foundation has funded a scholarship enabling one budding TEFL teacher to take a training course to help them on their way.

The TEFL course has been offered in a different place each year, with destinations including Seville, Playa del Carmen, Milan and San Francisco. This year, applicants were vying for the opportunity to take a CELTA and Spanish course in the beautiful city of Barcelona.

All scholarship applicants are assigned a task, involving both a language awareness exercise and some creative writing based around the TEFL course destination. Although the standard of the applications that we received was exceptional, Sarah’s entry was engaging, inspiring, intelligent and relevant, and leaves us in no doubt that she is, and will continue to be, a fantastic English teacher.

We all loved reading Sarah’s piece and hope that you will too.

Congratulations Sarah!

Six Weeks in Barcelona

I love my purple rusted bicycle, brakes screeching as I cut through the rain. It is my saviour which delivers me from the commuter-crammed tube, the words ‘Freedom Tiger’ branded in yellow on the scratched-up frame.

The posh bikers look me up and down. Theirs are of smooth gears, wicker baskets and upright posture.

Drum-and-bass thumping in my ears, my brain sifts through potential discussion and vocabulary topics as I swerve between red double-decker buses and shiny black cabs.

‘Don’t forget it’s Diego’s birthday. Don’t forget it’s Diego’s birthday’. I chant along to the beats which turn over in time with my pedals.

I feel a smile inside as I walk briskly into the building which houses my school, greeted by the chh-chhh-chhh of the photocopier and a smirk from a coffee-hungry colleague. It’s 7:45 and classes commence at 8am. My first class, Intermediate fluency, poses the challenge of extracting conversation from a group of students whom I predict will be half-asleep.

‘Good morning everyone! Your teacher is away so I’ll be taking your class this morning. My name is Sarah. Can anyone guess where I come from?’


‘Good try, but no, I’m sorry.’




There it is. My heart sinks with one word. Spain. It’s hard to bring myself back on track.

‘Ok guys, I will give you a clue. Think…kangaroos.’

‘Australia!’ There is a chorus of voices now, and it’s clear that more than one or two students are awake. The keen questioning begins.

Have you ever eaten kangaroo? Do you know Sydney? Is it always hot in Australia?

I allow five minutes of Australiana Q and A before we move into learning some new vocabulary and how to use it in conversation with others.

‘Today, we’re going to learn how to talk about films. Movies you’ve seen, famous actors, that sort of thing’.

We laugh together as we spit out words like BAFTA, director, producer and protagonist and elicit a variety of questions to do with films. We practise pronunciation, drilling words and sentences until the students are confident they can take their new vocabulary out into the world.

‘Have you seen the blockbuster film The Titanic?’

‘Yes,’ the students drone. The class discusses well-known English-language films and I discover that aside from the one with the famous iceberg, most students have seen very few films in English. I tell Diego that his regular teacher made me promise not to forget his birthday and an international rendition of Happy Birthday follows.

The bell goes and the students vacate the classroom. As soon as the last student has gone, the feeling returns – the pain – of Spain.

‘Imagine there’s no country…it isn’t hard to do…’ – John Lennon’s lyrics recite in my head as I imagine that my passport would allow me to live and work as an English Teacher in Spain. But it doesn’t.

My mind plays tricks on me and I begin to smell the salty air of Barcelona. It’s as though I’m there again, the wind blowing my long, thick curls as Alejandro and I, on our ‘freedom machines’, duck and weave our way through the crowds of tourists to find our afternoon spot on Barceloneta beach. Last night’s paella was amazing; homemade and matched perfectly with Catalan red wine. As we cycle along side by side, Alejandro puts his arm around my shoulders and asks me what I thought of the meal. ‘The p…….’ – I abruptly cut off my sentence in fear of mispronouncing his national food. ‘Delicious’, I add, acknowledging the meal as the cause of my long sleep-in, one which London life does not afford.

Later that night, it’s Gracia Festival and the people smile and dance to live music in the streets. I meet a man from Zaragoza, who is surprised I have been to his town, which he calls boring.

I am so in-tune with this city, this country, its people, the food and the smell of positivity in the air. Amid the local employment crisis and global recession, families still meet regularly for a home-cooked meal fit for a king, and people continue to smile at, encourage and kiss each other, not neglecting both cheeks.

Due to the effects of the recession, it’s too expensive for Language Schools in Spain to hire teachers from outside the European Union, and I ask myself, why do I have to come from so far away? Why does Australia have to be on the other side of the world? What good is this useless passport to me now?

Accepting my fate, I begin to scrawl through websites for a teacher training course which will allow me to both upgrade from my Aussie TEFL certificate to a CELTA and spend time in Barcelona.

In the classroom I return to thinking about immigration policies around the world, particularly the rules for residency and study which have become much stricter in recent times. I consider my students from Colombia, Libya, Peru, Mongolia, Mexico and even from Spain, some of whom have fled war, unemployment and financial strain to come to London in the hope of building a better life. I think of Andreas, whose parents have worked their whole lives to save enough money to send him to London where he can complete his English studies and graduate as a Medical Practitioner in England. Students, who with the weight of the world on their shoulders, represent their entire families and generations to come. They often work one or two jobs whilst studying in order to pay the hefty London rents. Young people expected to use their parents’ precious, hard-earned money wisely. Not to buy clothes, or McDonalds, or to travel to Paris or Copenhagen or Barcelona as I have. But to do one thing and one thing only – to learn English, and to learn it well.

All of a sudden the school bell rings again. Into my consciousness floods a new awareness of my own responsibility and a sense of urgency to complete my CELTA so I can better lead my students in the English language.

I arrive at pictures of the students in their own blockbuster films, budding protagonists, each reaching for a solid-gold Oscar. And then there’s me, the teacher, who is determined to help them get there.

Jungle fever: 5 lush destinations to learn Spanish

The choice of destinations when it comes to choosing a language course is impressive. Beach, city, town, mountain, island, historical ruins – they’re all there. But it doesn’t get much more adventurous than packing your mosquito net and heading into deepest darkest jungle. Well, ok, you don’t have to be Indiana Jones, but when it comes to taking a language course a jungle location makes for an impressive postcard home.

So grab the Deet, pack your sunblock, wrap your dictionary in a waterproof and look no further…

1. Leticia, Colombia

Located in the far south of Colombia, at the point where Colombia, Peru and Brazil meet, Leticia is a hot and humid frontier town on the legendary Amazon River. Hidden in the rainforest, life here is peaceful and safe, yet fully geared to support those who arrive by flight or boat to explore the incredible flora and fauna of this precious part of the world. There aren’t many people who can say they learnt Spanish on the banks of the Amazon, but become one of them and you’ll be sure of a once-in-the-lifetime Amazonian adventure.

Spanish courses in Leticia

2. Boquete, Panama

The lush valley of Boquete is justifiably considered to be Panama’s eco-tourism capital. Located in the country’s western highlands, Boquete is found at 1,200m above sea level, nestled among the mountains and surrounded by pristine cloud forest. As such it enjoys an enviably sunny yet cool mountain climate, and is home to superb natural landscape that lends itself perfectly to a host of adventure activities. Try your hand at white water rafting, take a canopy tour, spot some exotic birds – including the famous quetzal – or immerse yourself in a hot spring…it is rare to have the chance to be at one with nature whilst indulging in your favourite activities, but in Boquete you have the best of both worlds.

Spanish courses in Boquete

3. Monteverde, Costa Rica

Monteverde – literally ‘green mountain’ – is a nature lover’s paradise set in Costa Rica’s central highlands. The reserve is alive with countless species of wildlife and vegetation, and organic farming and eco-tourism are prevalent. Founded by Quakers in 1951, the town is spread out along the cloud forest and has grown from a small settlement into a popular tourist destination: in an effort to keep this precious environment as it is, sustainable ecotourism and alternative energy are important issues here. Come to study Spanish in Monteverde and your classes will take place in a fully-equipped school surrounded by pine trees and with stunning views of the cloud forest and the Gulf of Nicoya.

Spanish courses in Monteverde

4. Cusco, Peru

Although not in the jungle itself, Cusco is a much-loved city and gateway to the lost Inca city of Machu Picchu which sits at 2,450m above sea level, high in the Andes mountains above the Sacred Valley. Surrounded by untouched forest and with breathtaking views, we feel it is deserving of inclusion in our list of top jungle locations; indeed, for many people, Machu Picchu is a highlight of any trip to South America. Spend some time learning Spanish in Cusco before embarking on the Inca Trail and you will have a chance to soak up the history and awe of this magnificent place. A truly memorable place to learn the language.

Spanish courses in Cusco

5. Manuel Antonio, Costa Rica

Manuel Antonio is one of the smallest but most popular National Parks in Costa Rica. It’s worth the 4-hour bus ride from busy, bustling San Jose to stand barefoot in the soft white sand, breathe in the warm Pacific air and explore the dense rainforest. The park’s 1,700 acres of land mass and 136,000 acres of marine reserve are a natural habitat to species including the white-faced capuchin monkey, two-toed sloth, black-collared hawk and white-nosed coati – perfect subjects to explore after your Spanish class, which may well take place in view of the ocean. And all this in the name of education…holidays don’t get much better than this.

Spanish courses in Manuel Antonio

Cactus staff have visited all of the above locations so feel free to quiz us if you have any questions!

Cactus offers Spanish immersion courses in 20 countries worldwide, including Spanish evening courses in the UK and in the US & Canada.

Why learn Spanish in Pamplona?

Of course, the running of the bulls is definitely a sight to behold, and one that you’ll be telling people about for years to come if you witness it first-hand! The city itself is great to visit at all times of year though, and is far more affordable outside of July. Its location on the Camino de Santiago assures it a steady stream of visitors all year round, but especially during the spring and autumn.


Pamplona is actually the historical capital of the whole of the Basque Country, as well as of the Navarra region, and as such has a wealth of ancient buildings, museums and some beautiful architecture. Many of Pamplona’s main sights are located in the “old town”, which is divided into three areas: La Navarrería, the oldest part of the city, and the 12th century boroughs of the towns of San Nicolás and San Cernín. Included amongst the sights to explore are the ancient city wall, and within it la Ciudadela (the fortress), el Portal de Francia (the French entrance), the bull ring and the Taconera gardens. Also well worth a look is la Ciudadela, a fortress that was built in 1571 by the architect Verbon under the orders of Felipe II.

Atmosphere and nightlife

Despite its rich and ubiquitous history, Pamplona exudes a very cosmopolitan and youthful feel – largely due to the thousands of students who attend the university there. It has a fantastic and varied nightlife, and a popular way to start an evening out is to eat out at one of the many pintxos (tapas) bars, then continue onto one of the night clubs in the city.

Food and drink

Navarra and the Basque country are well known for having one of the most delicious, and varied, cuisines in Spain. Specialities from the mountain-ranges include lots of dishes made from game, and fish like salmon and trout. A specific kind of local bean forms the base of many of the typical dishes of the region.

The Navarra region is also well-known for its wines, red wines in particular, which go very nicely with the local fare!

Green spaces

Pamplona has got to be one of the greenest cities in Europe, with a massive 11 million square metres of green areas in the city centre. Included amongst its many parks are la Taconera, Larraina, Biurdana, Del Mundo, Mendillorri, Vuelta del Castillo, la Ciudadela park, Aranzadi and Yamuguchi. All offer a great place to soak up the Spanish sun and watch the world go by.


Once you have discovered all that Pamplona has to offer, it’s really easy to get out and explore some of Northern Spain’s other cities. It’s really close to places such as San Sebastian, Vitoria and Bilbao, which are all accessible either by road or train, and France is also just one hour away by car, should you want to hop over the border for a day!

Cactus offers a wide range of Spanish courses in Pamplona, ranging from General and Individual Spanish to specialist programmes such as Business Spanish, Spanish for Engineers and Spanish for the Medical Profession. For full listings, including prices and dates, or to book a course, please visit the Cactus Language website.

Suzanne Furstner Foundation Scholarship 2011: Shortlisted Entry Number 3

Six Weeks in Barcelona – The Fulfillment of Many Dreams

Growing up in a city where people usually greet each other with “qué tal” instead of “hello”, I have always been fascinated by the country that has left so much of its mark in my native land.The Philippines was under the Spanish rule for more than three centuries. During this period, Spain has shared its language, culture and traditions to the Filipinos. We may not have gained much from Spain in economic terms but it has left us a rich cultural heritage that defines so

much of what we are as Filipinos today. Even until now, the Spanish heritage is still visible in many places in the country.

I grew up in Zamboanga, a city that was originally a Spanish headquarters in 1634. It was established as a quaint little Spanish town that the Spaniards can call their “home away from home.” Even today, this city still has narrow streets, calles as the Spaniards would call them, that are typical of many old Spanish towns. Fort Pilar, the fortress that was built as a defense against the pirates, still stands even up to this day. After the Spaniards have gone, the front area was transformed into a chapel where masses are held daily. When I was a child, I remember attending masses with my father in Fort Pilar every Sunday. With my small hand in his, I would confidently walk though the aisles of the chapel knowing that I was with the“strongest and most loving man” in the whole wide world. I knew that my father would never let go of my hand. He will always be there for me. It has been more than six years since I last held my father’s hands. He has gone on ahead of me but I know that he has never let go of my hand. Whenever I go back to my hometown and pass by Fort Pilar, loving memories of my

father fill my mind. It is there in that Spanish fortress that I am reminded of my father’s kind and loving nature.

When I was in high school, we were required to study two novels written by our national hero Jose Rizal. Noli Me Tangere and El Filibusterismo were written by Rizal in the 1800s to awaken the Filipinos to the true state of the Philippines while under the Spanish rule. Although the novels were supposed to breed hate for Spain in the hearts of Filipinos, what I felt was fascination for the rich cultural heritage that Spain has brought to my country. It was amusing how the Filipino characters in the story conversed in Spanish even when they were just here in the Philippines. Studying these two books stirred up a longing in my heart. I vowed to myself that one day I will travel to Spain and visit as many places as I can in that country so I can learn its language and experience its culture. So when I had the chance to visit Intramuros, a walled city in Manila built during the Spanish period, I was excited. I knew that this was the

closest that I can get to Spain – for now. Upon entering Intramuros, I was amazed to see that the Spanish influence is still very much visible here. I walked through the city’s streets taking in as much history as I can. But in my heart, I knew that one day I would be walking through the streets of some of the cities in Spain where I will be able see so much more than what I was seeing in Intramuros. First it will be Spain, then the world.

For me, seeing the world entails learning as many languages as I can. I can say that I have a knack for learning languages because when I was just in First Grade, I already knew four languages. When I lived in Indonesia, I learned one more language in just a few months. I can truly say that language is such an amazing “invention”, if I may call it that. By just combining different sounds, one is able to convey messages to other people. Just by changing the tone of your voice, you are able to express different emotions. Every language has its own intricacies. Each one is unique and interesting. Although some languages are easier to learn than others.Being able to express oneself in more than one language is a wonderful experience. But some people are not as flexible as I am. These are the people who think that learning a new language is torture. I want to help them discover the joys of language learning.

I have ventured into teaching before but due to my lack of training, there were many instances when I became frustrated with my students and with myself. I hope that I will I get this scholarship so I can help others learn English in a more effective manner. My dream is to be able to empower the Filipino youth by giving them an opportunity to learn a global language

that will make them more competitive in the marketplace. English may be one of the official languages of the Philippines but many students in public schools are not receiving quality English language teaching. As a result, their level of English competency is very low. I want to do something about this. But before I can do something significant, I need to be properly trained.

So Six weeks in Barcelona is the fulfillment of many dreams: the dream to see Spain; the dream to learn Spanish; and, the dream to get proper equipping as an English teacher so I can positively impact the lives of many people. I hope that you will be an instrument in fulfilling these dreams. To Barcelona I say, “Hasta que te vea, Barcelona!”

Suzanne Furstner Foundation Scholarship 2011: Shortlisted Entry Number 2

Six Weeks in Barcelona

The year:1935. The place: Barcelona, Spain.  I am one of a handful of newly recruited English teachers who have come to work with a group of Spanish immigrants before they are scheduled to ship off for work in the United States.  I have experience working with immigrants in England, mostly in the job centers, but this is an entirely new experience for me.  Love to the family. Wish me luck!

I turned over the page of the handwritten letter, still barely legible all these years later.  It was signed, Elaine Frances Miller, August, 18, 1935.  It looked like it had been torn out from a book of some kind, maybe a diary?  There had to be more information about this somewhere in all these boxes Mom had kept up in the attic.  Grandma Miller had died ten years ago in an elderly care facility, deteriorating daily from a long and difficult battle with Alzheimer’s disease. 

Unfortunately I had never known her before the disease struck, and so my relationship with her had always been one of connecting pieces here and there, rare moments of illumination as she recognized her now fully grown granddaughter, but then just as quickly slipped back into a darkness that had become all too familiar to the both of us. 

After some more digging in the box I finally I found it – a small, dusty but still clearly purple diary.  Purple had been her favorite color.  There was a clasp in the middle that had long since been broken, and immediately upon opening I recognized the page I had just read had in fact come from here.  The title page read, “Barcelona Travel Diary:  August 18 – September29, 1935”.  What could this be?  The only Grandma Miller I knew had spent the better part of her life raising nine kids in the rural backwoods of eastern Michigan.  After that, there was the Alzheimer’s, and a lot of mystery in between.  I began flipping through the pages, all in the same, perfectly neat handwriting.  It seemed there was an entry for every day of those six weeks.  Grandma Miller had been an English teacher in Europe before immigrating to the U.S. in 1939?  Why had no one ever mentioned this to me, given I was also an English teacher? 


The first time I ever taught an English class, I honestly didn’t know what I was doing.  My director for some reason assumed that I already knew what a worker center was, what a day laborer was, and what the realities of life as an undocumented immigrant were in Chicago.  I didn’t have a clue, I just nodded my head and agreed to check out the local worker center and see what would happen next.  I was shocked when they asked me if I would like to start an English language program.  I wasn’t even sure if I’d heard them right, did I mention I had never taught a class before, in anything? 

Two years later I left Chicago, and sadly left that worker center and the people who I had come to know as my students, when they were at the center waiting for work, trying to figure out how to improve their English while their attendance was inevitably inconsistent.  I mean let’s face it; the worker center was a place to go for work, not for an English class!  Yet some did come just for the class, and over time, a community was built. Many students became more than students to me, and became the first friends who told me of their experiences crossing desert to reach the United States, or of how many times it took them to finally get into the country, or even the ones who would bring people across the border in the middle of night’s darkness and somehow ended up in Chicago on the often frozen, early morning streets waiting for work.  This was a community of friends learning English, sharing struggles, and striving to live better lives. 

Now years later I live in Mexico City, working maybe to try and erase some of these inequalities that force people into such conditions in the first place.  Working with public high school students and migrants in local shelters, I use English as a means to erase some of the invisible barriers between us, to offer people a different choice that will empower and better their lives.  If I can play even a small part in such a thing, I have done my service to the world.


I decided to open up the diary once more, and for some reason flipped to the last entry, dated Saturday, September 29, 1935:

So sadly this whirlwind of a trip has come to an end.  We are returning to England tomorrow and the students are about to be shipped out to New York.  This teaching experience has changed me forever, made me realize the gift that teaching anybody anything truly is.  It can also never be taken for granted, because I was not the only one teaching in that classroom.  I believe that in the exchange between a teacher and her students, a synthesis happens that leads to the ability to really learn something.  If there is respect, there is exchange, and then anything can be learned, and no one will leave that classroom the same person they were when they first walked in.  When I think about the question my students asked me on our last day yesterday, about why I became an English teacher in the first place, I suppose the only answer I have had and will ever have is that at this point I simply don’t know how not to be.  And even if they considered me to be their teacher, they taught me so much more than I ever realized that I needed to learn.  May I keep what they have taught me in my heart forever.

Well said, Grandma Miller, my sentiments exactly. 

Suzanne Furstner Foundation Scholarship 2011: Shortlisted Entry Number 1

Six weeks in Barcelona

Click! Click, click! Click! A hundred seat belts are being unfastened. “Good luck with the course!”

“Thanks. It was nice talking to you.”

We have landed: Barcelona Airport, “La Prat” apparently, and the adventure is about to begin.

Emotions, memories and images are all chasing around inside my head. My stomach is tight with excitement and apprehension.

I remember the first time I climbed down from a plane in Spain, the hot air hitting us like a physical blow.

Torremolinos, 1969. The start of the package holiday phenomenon. A barely finished hotel surrounded by a dozen building sites of other hastily thrown up, multi-storey concrete cubes. Sand too hot to walk on bare foot, but dirty brown and despoiled with litter. A rotting carcass. Buying mini Toledo swords in a ‘gift shop’, that, even in 10 year old eyes, screamed “Tat’. Watneys’ Pubs. Fish and Chip Shops. Stunning views of looming mountains and the iridescent Mediterranean.

I have always thought that at the right time and, if circumstances allowed, I would head boldly off, split an infinitive or two, and seek out new lands in search of adventure. I had to close my catering business a couple of years ago. It had been building nicely for a number of years: I had managed to secure contracts with many of the leading financial institutions in Guernsey, had expanded and taken on more staff and the future looked good. Arrive the collapse of Lehmann’s, the ‘Credit Crunch’, the slashing of finance company budgets; my business is devastated almost overnight.  I tried to continue for a couple of years, looking for new sources of income, but was eventually forced to close and lost everything. Life turned into a soul sapping limbo, but now I have the chance to fulfil a dream: six weeks in Barcelona and the start of a new chapter.

An experiment. A crash two year Spanish ‘O’ Level course. The teacher more exotic than the subject: lanky, greasily long-haired, John Lennon glasses. Excitement at learning the first sentence: “Ramon tiene un burro”. A phrase that has helped in many a sticky situation since! Being taught colloquial terms for women’s body parts and boys being given ‘girly’ magazines as end of term prizes. Thankfully, sacking avoided until the end of the course.

Here is my chance to exorcise the ghost of the engagingly inappropriate Mr. Gillespie and time to build on the most solid foundation of Ramon’s burro.  My own experience of formal language learning, then, was no template for good teaching practice. As well as Spanish and German, I learnt French at school, but my ability only became passable when I set up a study and activity centre. We had a high proportion of French school groups staying and I soon learned that for them to use the centre as I wished I had to learn a whole new vocabulary. This related to domestic tasks and rotas, outlining programmes and timetables and not throwing Gauloises’ butts into the neighbours’ gardens. One might say that, as far as vocabulary goes, ‘necessity was the mother of retention’. An important lesson for the classroom: make it relevant to the lives of the students and it will stick so much quicker.

Before the disaster of the catering business I had many years teaching and training. As I sit waiting for my turn to disembark an image pops up of a group of muddied, blindfolded ‘brown owls’, mostly plumpish and middle aged. I am taking them through some confidence building exercises. They are dutifully following a rope through a wood, giggling and shrieking like the brownies that they would put through the same ordeal the following week. Another lesson to take with me: make it fun and you carry the most unbiddable student with you.

My mind is all over the place: flashes of a different me in a different Spain force themselves into my consciousness.

Eating sardines on the grubby wooden deck of a fishing boat. The fish glimmering in the evening rays, plucked from the still flapping, waiting-to-be-unloaded catch and tossed on a long-blackened cast-iron brazier. Licking oily, fishy, smoky fingers and tossing the cartoon skeletons over the gunwale as a huge orange globe dips inexorably below the horizon.

Apprehension comes flooding in again: tightness, pulse quickening, palms moistening. My anxiety demon is whispering in my ear: “It’s so long time since you did any proper studying. You’re going to fail. You’re too old- they’re going to laugh at you, Grandad. They’re going to think you’re an old f….”“STOP!” Ok, so I am worried about the studying. And I am anxious about being older than the other students.

I try to bolster myself with a line from Paul Coelho: “People need not fear the unknown if they are capable of achieving what they need and want”.

“You may be an old dog”, I tell myself, trying to brush the demon off my shoulder, and wondering when I started sounding so corny, “but you’ve always loved learning new tricks”. Age is an issue though. I always have a shock the rare times I look in the mirror. Who’s that old bloke looking back? When did I stop being 20? Back home I prefer to be with my children and their friends, than friends of my own age. Is that strange? It never feels it. They accept me as ‘one of the boys’ or, more disconcertingly, ‘one of the girls’. I am used to it and so are they. I had something of an epiphany a few years back when I took my son to start university. We found ourselves in the union bar. I felt right at home until I looked around. It was full of very young looking ‘freshers’ and old-looking parents. I was one of the latter. I wasn’t one of the boys. I was an old dad.

So, how will I get on with my new course mates? Will I feel like one the boys/ girls or will I feel like a dad in a bar full of rosy cheeked freshers?

It’s nearly time to disembark. Stop worrying. Think of something else. I wonder if I’ll have a chance to go and see Andy and Pauline in Ronda.

“You’ve bought a hotel in Rhondda?” “No, Ronda!” So, not scrubbed and besuited miners belting out Hen Wlad Fy Nhadau in beautiful harmonies, nor leeks, coal, rain and the veneration of Sts. Gareth, JJ, JPR and Barry; but vertiginous cliffs, awesome bridges, Hemingway, bleating goats, sausage factories, the energy sapping heat of a searing sun bounced off a thousand naked rock surfaces and the blissfully reviving chill of a spring-fed swimming pool.

“Thank you. Bye-bye”, I say to the stewardess, thinking “I should really have tried that in Spanish”, as I pass through the door hatch and place my foot on the top of the boarding steps. Six weeks in Barcelona. The adventure is about to begin.

Congratulations to our evening language course winner! July-October 2011

At Cactus we have come to the end of another term of evening courses, and are delighted to have chosen the winner of our feedback questionnaire prize. This is awarded to the person who we feel has given us the most useful and structured feedback, upon completion of their course, and the prize is a refund of their course fees or a free continuation course.

Our winner this term is Katie Webster Gomes, who took a Level 1 10-week evening course in European Portuguese at our centre in Soho, London, with teacher Fernando Almeida e Costa. Katie has chosen a refund of her course fees as she had already enrolled on and started her continuation Level 2 Portuguese course.

Here is what Katie said about her course:

“I chose Cactus because it was the only European Portuguese class that I could find when searching on the internet for classes. I enjoyed the course; it was good to meet new people and I have found it has really improved my Portuguese.

I found the majority of the content to be useful, or a good refresher of what I already knew. I found some things irrelevant, like learning metaphors that contained body words – even when saying them to my Portuguese husband, he said they were barely used, so I think these are certainly not relevant to beginners.

The teacher was good at encouraging role plays, and we all got to speak a lot due to the class size. I feel I have made a lot of progress and I am now able to say more to my husband and in-laws.”

Language learning resources that I found useful… The textbook from the course was useful, as was Google Translate for learning new vocabularly. The most useful resource I have found is “Earworms”, an audio CD where you learn phrases to music. I found that the new phrases I learnt really embedded in my head.

I really enjoyed… The whole experience! I enjoyed learning new words and phrases each week and meeting new people. I also liked having homework each week as it re-inforced what we learnt each week.

I didn’t like… The speed and amount we covered in Level 1. I think it is too much to cover in only 10 weeks and therefore I sometimes felt confused about what we covered in class and found it difficult to apply to the homework.

“Cactus language courses are a good way to motivate yourself to learn another language. They provide a good structure, as you have a weekly class and homework to reinforce what you learnt, which provides you with the essenitals and constant exposure to the language to allow you to quickly pick up new vocab and phrases.”

Thank you Katie; we will take all your points into consideration and wish you all the best for your continuation Level 2 course!

Cactus named ‘Agent of the Month’ by IALC

The International Association of Language Centres (IALC) is a global network of independent language schools. Cactus works closely with IALC schools in locations all around the world including destinations in the UK, the US, France, Germany, Austria, Italy, Spain, Portugal, Ecuador and Australia.

Each month, IALC nominates a school and agent of the month, and Cactus has been specially selected to be ‘Agent of the Month’ for October.  Rich Ambler, Founder of Cactus, comments: “We are delighted to have been awarded this accolade, especially given the number of partner agents that IALC works with globally. We very much enjoy working with our IALC partners, not only because of the professionalism and efficiency of the staff, but also because of the high quality courses that they offer. IALC schools ensure quality through regular inspection, a code of ethics and a commitment to continuous improvement. On top of this, they provide a high level of attention to students, and a large range of language courses with accommodation and cultural activities included.”

Cactus named ‘Agent of the Month’ by IALC

Each month, IALC nominates a school and agent of the month, and we’re happy to report that Cactus has been named ‘Agent of the Month’ for October!

We are delighted to have been awarded this accolade, especially given the number of partner agents that IALC works with globally. We very much enjoy working with our IALC partners, not only because of the professionalism and efficiency of the staff, but also because of the high quality courses that they offer. IALC schools ensure quality through minimum standards, regular inspection, a code of ethics and a commitment to continuous improvement. On top of this, they provide a high level of attention to students, and a large range of language courses with accommodation and cultural activities included.

Currently, Cactus works with IALC schools in a range of locations, including destinations in the UK, the US, France, Germany, Austria, Italy, Spain, Portugal, Ecuador, and Australia.

Read more about Cactus’ foreign language course locations

Read more about the International Association of Language Centres

Working the English way – a comparison between the English and German workplace

This article is actually very interesting for me in particular as I study International Business Communications back home in Munich. At university we were encouraged to go into our internship abroad with a critical approach. So I am very pleased to be given the possibility to share my thoughts.

“Du” and “Sie”

The first thing I noticed, and of course already knew before having arrived in Brighton, is that the English don’t distinguish between “Du” and “Sie” as the Germans do. Here, there is only “you”. On the one hand I really like that, because it sets you on the same level no matter what qualification you have. It also helps you to build up a professional relationship with your colleagues a lot easier because it isn’t as difficult to address them. On the other hand it doesn’t really create the sometimes needed respect when having discussions with your colleague or even boss. In Germany, the rule is that the senior colleague has to offer the “Du” to the younger one. The younger one is given the “permission” to name the senior colleague by his first name. It usually doesn’t take a long time until you will be “per du” with the colleagues you mostly work with. However, to be allowed to call your boss by the first name is very unlikely unless you really earn his trust and know him for quite a long time.

In my opinion, this separation between “Du” and “Sie” contributes to the stereotype that Germans are very serious people. I have to admit that the more I think about it the more I actually agree with this stereotype when comparing Germans with the English. But, if you plan to spend a language holiday in Germany don’t worry, the Germans know how to laugh and have fun too!

Working Environment

I can only compare working for Cactus with working for a big American company selling technical machinery that has a subsidiary near Munich. But what I realised is that the atmosphere at Cactus is much more relaxed – despite the fact that there are about 25 people working in one busy room. Everyone gets along together really well and we laugh and joke a lot. I couldn’t imagine that back home in Germany. But in fact, if you look at the aspect of communication this is quite good because you don’t have to knock on a door or even call someone if you want to talk to him/her. You can just hop over and have a quick word with your colleague. All in all, the information flows a lot faster.

Even our boss is sitting in the same office as we are, which means that you can always have a word with him if you have something on your mind. If you wanted to have a word with the boss at the company I was working for back home in Germany you had to make an appointment first.

Of course the size of the company plays a crucial role when it comes to the layout of the offices and how many people are working in one office. And I guess it is difficult to compare an online based company selling language courses with a company selling a completely different brand.

Attitude to Work

Another thing I noticed is the attitude to work in general. I noticed that my colleagues have fun when working. You hear someone singing from time to time and I haven’t witnessed a serious argument during the 11 weeks I have been here! Another thing that is important here is that you motivate your staff – it’s for this reason that we have a champagne Friday every last Friday of the month. We work until 5pm and after that we all gather in a big room. Our boss gives us reasons to celebrate, which are mostly achievements by the staff themselves. After that we have champagne and go to the pub as a group.

All in all, these factors make Cactus a really enjoyable place to work and once I am back in Germany I will certainly miss the atmosphere in the Brighton based Cactus Worldwide office.