What will I achieve in a 1-week course?

Attending 4 hours of classes every day for a week is great for anyone who needs to learn the basics of a foreign language very intensively. It is also ideal for anyone who needs a refresher course in a foreign language that they have previously learnt, as the courses are available in a range of levels, not just beginner.

Currently, Chinese (Mandarin), Croatian, French, German, Greek, Italian, Japanese, Russian, Spanish and Swedish are all available in this format.

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

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

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

What’s good about a one-week intensive course? A Cactus Spanish teacher tells us:

La verdad es que fue una pasada. Los alumnos increíbles, muy activos y con muchas ganas, yo pensé que el jueves y el viernes estarían demasiado casados, pero para nada. Al ser pocos pudimos practicar mucha lectura y conversación para pronunciación y la verdad es que verlos el lunes al empezar a verlos el viernes, había una diferencia abismal. No pensé que en una semana pudieran avanzar tanto. Todo perfecto y creo que los alumnos muy contentos también o por lo menos eso me dijeron a mí.”

English translation:

It was great! Incredible, really active, keen students. I thought that on Thursday and Friday they would be really tired, but no way. As it was a small group we were able to do a lot of speaking, reading and pronunciation practice. Amazing to see the change in the students between Monday and Friday. I never thought they would advance so much. Everything was perfect and I think the students were really happy – at least that’s what they told me.”

And comments from his students back this up:

“I have been doing weekly Spanish evening classes (with another tuition provider) since October which are good but I hear very little Spanish spoken. This intensive course at Cactus has increased my confidence enormously both in speaking and in listening/comprehension (though I still have a long way to go as Spanish is spoken so quickly!).”

“Good mix of listening, translation, grammar, pronunciation.”

“Manuel is an excellent teacher. I would certainly want to do more courses at Cactus if the teaching is as good.”

“Manuel is very professional and has a very nice manner.”

“Writing doesn’t feature very strongly but I don’t mind. I can practise written exercises on my own.”

“Great opportunities to hear Spanish spoken on tape and by the teacher.”

“Lots of opportunities to listen to spoken Spanish – on tape or from the teacher – which is EXACTLY what I want!”

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

Top 10 things to do in Dresden

One of the most well-known facts about Dresden is that it was massively bombed during the Second World War – so much so in fact, that 80% of its historic centre was destroyed. The majority of the most important landmarks have since been restored to their former glory though, and Dresden is once again an attractive and interesting city to visit – especially at Christmas, when it plays host to one of the best Christmas markets in Germany!

Here are our recommendations for the top ten things to do in and around the city.

1. Visit the Albertinum Museum

One of Dresden’s best fine art museums, the Albertinum was built in the nineteenth century by Carl Adolf Canzler to serve as a public museum and archive. It was destroyed in February 1945 and subsequently rebuilt, and was then renovated in 2006. It re-opened in June this year (2010).

Until 2004 the Albertinum was the postwar home of the Green Vault (Grünes Gewölbe), often called Germany’s most meaningful collection of royal treasures, however this is now back in the innercity Residence castle in Dresden. Today the museum hosts the Gemäldegalerie Neue Meister (New Masters Gallery) that features masterpieces from the 19th and 20th century including works by Degas, Dix, Manet, Monet, Richter, Van Gogh, and others. The Sculpture Collection holds masterpieces from the classical antiquity to today, with an emphasis on artists from the former GDR.

2. Take a stroll along Brühl’s Terrace (Brühlsche Terrasse)

Brühl’s Terrace (Brühlsche Terrasse) is nestled between the river Elbe and the Old Town in Dresden. Known as “The Balcony of Europe”, the terraced promenade was part of Dresden’s original rampart, until it became the garden of the Royal Palace. The promenade is lined by some of Dresden’s most beautiful historic buildings, including the Albertinum Museum and Royal Art Academy.

3. Head down the river on a paddle steamer

Visitors to Dresden can take a trip down the river Elbe on one of the many historic paddle steamers in operation. You can choose from a variety of trips, including a cruise through the region’s stunning scenery, or a ride down to the Schloss Pillnitz, a pretty summer palace on the leafy outskirts of the city, built by Matthaus Pöppelmann.

4. Visit the Frauenkirche (Church of Our Lady)

In World War II, when bombing raids destroyed the city centre, this beautiful church was turned to rubble. The ruins were left untouched until 1994, when work to rebuild the church finally began.  The project was finally completed in 2005 and today it is well worth a look.

5. Visit the Green Vault (Grünes Gewölbe)

As previously mentioned, Dresden’s Green Vault (Grünes Gewölbe) can now be found in the Dresden Palace. It is home to one of the finest royal treasures collections in Europe, including elaborate artworks of gold, silver, gems, enamel, ivory, bronze, and amber. It also houses the largest green diamond in the world.

6. Enjoy sensory overload at Pfund’s Dairy (Pfund Molkerei)

Opened in 1880 by the Pfund brothers in the Neustadt quarter of Dresden, this unique dairy is beautifully decorated with hand-painted porcelain tiles from the neo-Renaissance period. The Dairy is listed in the Guinness Book of Records as the most beautiful milk shop in the world. Products to enjoy whilst you’re there include cheeses, home made ice cream, and fresh buttermilk.

7. Take a trip to the Zwinger Palace

Dresden’s Zwinger Palace is known internationally one of the finest examples of late Baroque architecture in Germany. Built in the 18th century, it sits on the site of the former Dresden fortress and has the feel of a mini-city within the city. Inside, there are beautiful gardens and courtyards with lovely sculptures and fountains.

The Palace also houses the Gemäldegalerie Alte Meister (Old Masters Picture Gallery), with works by such artists as Titian, Rembrandt, Botticelli and Raphael.

8. Sit by the Elbe and watch the world go by

The river Elbe, which flows right past Dresden’s Old Town, is lined with grassy riverbanks, offering beautiful views of the Old Town. It’s a great place to sit or stroll, no matter what the time of year, but especially in the summer when films are shown al fresco in one of the largest outdoor theatres in Germany.

9. Take in an Opera at the Semperoper

Since the Dresden State Opera moved back into the beautiful Semper building, which was completely destroyed in 1945, it has become even more popular than before. The building is awesome, and the experience of watching an opera there will be unforgettable.

10. Go to see the Fürstenzug (Procession of Princes) image

Located on Augustusstrasse, at the back side of the Royal Mews, the Fürstenzug is a 102 meter long mural. Known as the Procession of Princes in English, it depicts a long line of rulers of the House of Wettin. The mural was originally painted between 1870 and 1876 by Wilhelm Walter, although when it started to deteriorate it was replaced with almost 25,000 ceramic tiles. The tiles all survived the bombing of 1945, and remain in good condition to this day.

Cactus offers General, Individual and Academic Year German courses in Dresden at a variety of levels.

Cactus announces winner of Spanish Facebook competition!

Cactus is delighted to announce that Chris Parker is the lucky winner of our hugely popular Spanish Facebook competition.  Selected at random from 1,000 entries, Chris will be jetting-off with a friend for a fantastic two-week break at the prestigious Malaca Instituto in Malaga next year.

Our language holidays offer the perfect opportunity for students to completely immerse themselves in their chosen language and culture.  Chris will take Spanish classes in the mornings and then be free to explore the sights and sounds of the city in the afternoons, putting his new skills into practice.  For more information on the course, simply visit https://www.cactuslanguage.com/en/book/course.php?course_id=81

Well done Chris – and watch this space for more competitions!

Weihnachten - essential German words and phrases for Christmas

The festivities begin on the forth Sunday before Christmas, or the first day of Advent. Families set up Advent wreathes (Adventskränze) , traditionally with four candles, one of which is lit each Sunday before Christmas, counting down the weeks. Christmas / Advent markets (Christkindlmärkte / Weihnachtsmärkte) traditionally start at this time and shops stay open later.

On the eve of 6th December, St Nicholas’ Day (Nikolaus), children put their shoes or boots (Nikolaus-Stiefel) by the fireplace or outside their bedroom door. If they have been good, their Nikolaus-Stiefel will be full of edible treats in the morning, but if they’ve been bad they will only receive a tree branch (Rute).

On Christmas Eve (Heiligabend), the Christmas tree (Weihnachtsbaum / Christbaum / Tannenbaum) is revealed. Children eagerly look forward to seeing it as they are not allowed to do so before then. German Christmas trees are decorated in a similar way to those in the UK and USA with tinsel (Lametta), lights (Lichter), candles (Kerzen), and edible decorations such as nuts, apples and sweets. Presents (Geschenke) are put under the trees and plates piled with fruit (Obst), nuts (Nüsse), marzipan (Marzipan), chocolate (Schokolade) and home-made seasonal biscuits (Weihnachtsgebäck) and laid out. When the children hear a bell, the can go in to see the tree.

Families sing Christmas carols (Weihnachtslieder) and open presents, and everyone wishes one another Merry Christmas (Fröhliche Weihnachten / Frohe Weinachten / Frohes Fest). Some people go to midnight Mass (Christmette), where there will traditionally be a display of the crib in the stable (Krippe) and a re-enactment of the story of Christmas (Krippenspiel).

Christmas Eve is a time for feasting. The traditional dish eaten on Christmas day is roast goose (Gänsebraten / Weihnachtsgans) stuffed with apples (Äpfel) and prunes (Backpflaumen) or chestnuts (Esskastanien) with dumplings (Knödel) and red cabbage (Rotkohl). Also popular is carp (Karpfen / Weihnachtskarpfen).  In some regions the Christmas feast takes place on Christmas day (der erste Weihnachtsfeiertag) and simple dishes are served on Christmas eve, such as stew (Eintopf) or sausages (Würstchen) with potato salad (Kartoffelsalat).

For dessert there various kinds of sweet bread, such as Christstollen (long loaves of sweet bread with nuts, raisins and dried fruit), Lebkuchen (spiced ginger bread, normally chocolate covered), Marzipan and Dresden Stollen (a type of moist bread filled with fruit).

On 26th December (der zweite Weihnachtsfeiertag), a holiday in Germany, people generally visit family and friends.

Why choose Montreal as your French study destination?

Located in Canada’s eastern province of Quebec, Montreal is the largest French-speaking city outside of Paris. It has gained a reputation as a hugely diverse and vibrant city with an energy and liberalism that makes it a brilliant place to live, or visit.

It doesn’t stop there though; there are lots of other factors that make Montreal a great choice for taking a French course:

1. Huge focus on culture and festivals

These days, Montreal has a reputation as a creative and cultural city with an arts scene that is second-to-none. The huge array of nationalities in Montreal has turned it into a real melting-pot of cultures, with a unique character that is all-embracing and liberal. It’s a city that enjoys the modernity, efficiency and stature of North American hubs, but the joie de vivre and the tradition of European centres.

Throughout the year Montreal plays host to three world-renowned arts festivals – the Jazz Festival in June, the Comedy Festival in July and the Film Festival in September, although all year round you’ll find a range of cultural events to enjoy.

2. Interesting history

It’s often said that a visit to Old Montréal is like going back in time—it’s an open-air museum of French and British architecture dating back centuries.

The city boasts a really interesting history spanning hundreds of years that centred largely around colonisation. Until 1535, Montreal had been inhabited by the Iroquois, but the arrival of French explorer Jacques Cartier spelled the start of a new era. In the early 1600’s, the French colonised the island on which Montreal sits, and the main city (now Montreal) was named Ville Marie.

After the defeat of the French colonists by the British in the 18th century, Montreal was occupied and ‘claimed’ by Great Britain. The British did not expel the French from the island though, and they were able to continue to live there as subjects of the British Empire. Despite being conquered by the British, French Montrealers continued to prosper and by the late 19th century Montreal was the largest city in British North America and the main city of Canada. Annexation of neighbouring towns at the start of the 20th century changed Montreal back to a mostly Francophone city.

Museums to visit in Montreal include the Chateau Ramezay Museum, a former governor’s residence where you can learn about the history of Montréal and Québec, and the Centre d’Exposition La Prison-des-Patriotes, which recalls the Patriot rebellions of 1837 and 1838.

3. Great restaurants and nightlife

Montreal is famed for its gastronomic offerings, with a huge range of restaurants serving all kinds of food. The region is especially famous for being the main producer region of maple syrup, although you’ll also find cheeses, cold meats and breads in abundance – elements of the Gallic culture that you’d expect to be integral in any western French-speaking region!

As well as the many restaurants and bars in Montreal, you’ll also find endless bars and clubs for evening entertainment. The city’s fun-loving reputation is well-deserved, and you’ll be guaranteed a good night!

4. Stunning scenery

It would be wrong to judge a city solely on aesthetics, but this is an area in which Montreal will definitely not disappoint. Of course, it has the skyscrapers of any North American city, which are not to everyone’s taste, but Montreal’s modern constructions actually earned it the title of UNESCO City of Design in 2006 – the first city in North America to be awarded the accolade.

Away from the modern areas, there are streets of attractive greystone buildings and Victorian mansions, and of course, the beautiful Old Town with its cobblestone streets and 18th- and 19th-century buildings.

In terms of natural features, Montreal is also home to a large number of parks, including the 180 hectare Botanical Garden, and of course, not to be forgotten, Mount Royal. Despite its name, the Mount is actually more like a large hill, and situated immediately north of downtown Montreal.

5. Enviable location and good accessibility

Montreal’s location at the very eastern end of Canada has long made it popular with visitors from both America and Europe. It’s very well served by both North American and European airlines, and in fact, the flight from the UK is only 6-7 hours in length. The city is actually really close to the American border, which means that it’s accessible by car, train and plane from the US.

Although Montreal in itself is well worth a visit, the area around the city is also full of things to see and do. Not too much further north you have top-quality ski resorts such as Tremblant and to the west of the city there’s also stunning Niagara Falls.

6. Bilingualism

Of course, if you take a course to either learn French, or improve your skills, the best option is to do so in a country where that language is spoken. You can practise what you’ve learnt outside of lessons, and will pick up more structures and vocabulary just by listening to the people around you.

That said, for people who are complete beginners, the prospect of immersing yourself in a totally foreign language and culture can be daunting. Whilst the people of Montreal certainly prefer to converse in French, the vast majority are bilingual in French and English, so if you find yourself really stuck, it’ll be nice to know that you can revert to English if absolutely necessary.

Cactus offers a range of French courses in Montreal, including General French, Individual French, Combined French and Intensive French.

Cactus launches new Exam Preparation Course for German, Spanish and French learners

As one of the world’s leading language training companies, Cactus is constantly developing new and innovative products and services. Its latest language offering, launched in Fall 2011, is an Exam Preparation course for German, Spanish and French learners.

The course has been specially designed to provide students with extra help ahead of exams and upon completion, they receive a certificate to fit the Common European Framework of Reference for Languages (CEFR; https://www.coe.int/t/dg4/linguistic/CADRE_EN.asp).  This is equivalent to the American Council on the Teaching of Foreign Languages (ACTFL) Proficiency Guidelines, and all certificates are recognized internationally by employers, universities and other educational bodies.

The key areas covered by the course are reading, writing, listening, speaking, grammar and vocabulary.  With small class sizes and lessons taught by Cactus’ highly experienced teachers, students are able to learn quickly and effectively.

“Since I was learning German for fun, taking the Exam Preparation Course was an opportunity to receive certification for all the time spent so far”, says course participant Keri Ellis in New York.  German teacher, Uschi Niethammer, adds: “All our students who took the exam in December passed with flying colours, which is a great achievement.  We’re looking forward to working with our new students in 2012 and achieving ongoing success.”

The Spanish DELE A1 and DELE A2 as well as the French DELF A1 and DELF A2 certificates will enable holders to apply for employment and/or for university.  Just as the German Start Deutsch 1 (A1) and Start Deutsch 2 (A2) certificates who will also be recognized when applying for permanent residency in Germany.

Visit https://www.cactuslanguagecourses.com/courses/exam-preparation.php for more information about Cactus’ Exam Preparation Courses and reach the next level in your education and employment.

Monarch Explorer Magazine - November 2011

Cactus is featured in Monarch Magazine’s inspiring Language Learning supplement this month:

Cactus is the UK’s biggest provider of face-to-face language training, helping over 15,000 people every year learn more than 30 languages in 60 countries worldwide.  Choose from an extensive range of evening and part-time courses across the UK, or jet-off abroad to learn the language in situ instead.  Whatever the right language learning solution is for you, you are likely to find it at https://www.cactuslanguagetraining.com.

To help get your language learning ambitions off to a flying start, Cactus is offering readers of Monarch Explorer the chance to enter a fantastic competition to win a 1-week intensive Spanish course for two people in Malaga at the renowned Malaca Instituto!

Read the full feature…

Corporate Training Experience: Italian tuition in Costa Rica

The Republic of Costa Rica is a small country located in Central America. It is bordered to the north by Nicaragua, to the south by Panama, and it is bathed by the Atlantic and Pacific oceans to the East and West respectively. Costa Rica is widely known for its pacifist tradition and democracy, along with its rich and exotic landscapes of mountains and beaches, that make tourism one of the most important industries in the country.

Its Spanish speaking population of 4.615.518 inhabitants is quite diverse. Especially in San José, the capital city, it is common to encounter people from all over the country. This diversity, along with the country´s level of education and good international relations, have made English and other languages very common in Costa Rica´s business world.

As a result of expanding their services in Europe, a large corporate Costa Rica-based company was faced with the challenge of providing their services to thousands of Italian customers in a rapidly-growing new market. Therefore, I and my colleague were asked to jump on a flight to San José, to train 20 customer service specialists to work directly with Italian speaking customers.

The challenge was to take this group of eager learners from a beginner to an intermediate level in 3 weeks of intensive training – a daunting task, considering that it normally takes months for a class to advance this much. This definitely required skilful time management and a lot of strategic and tailored planning.

As Cactus teachers, we approached this very ambitious goal with a carefully designed program that focused on their specific needs. We immediately recognized the need for a very strong language foundation, in terms of speaking, writing, reading and listening. Moreover, we constantly applied the relevant vocabulary used daily in their industry and in subjects they could relate to.

The students definitely stepped up to the challenge and did their part. Although it was really demanding to meet such a challenging target in a such a short time, students attended the course with enthusiasm and they thoroughly enjoyed it. After an intensive 8-hour daily training program, they were successfully tested and certified at Intermediate level. As a teacher, I found this experience amazing and incredibly rewarding, and I am really glad to have taken part in this exciting opportunity made possible by Cactus. Nowadays, constantly evolving business environments require adaptability, efficiency and accuracy: our own success story proves that Cactus incorporates all these skills into its language training.

Cactus is one of the world’s leading providers of tailor-made language training, providing general, business and industry-specific language courses in over 50 countries and in over 30 languages worldwide. All forms are training are provided, including 1:1, in-company, public group courses, immersion courses abroad and online courses.

What is Thanksgiving and where is the best place to celebrate it?

If you live in the US, or are lucky enough to be in the US over this All-American holiday, make sure you save your appetite because this day is all about food.

The origin of Thanksgiving brings us back to 1621 when the settlers of Plymouth, Massachusetts, sat down with the Wampanoag tribe of Native Americans and shared a feast in order to celebrate their autumn harvest. The two groups gathered to celebrate the bounty of their crops and so it follows that when the modern American family sits down for a Thanksgiving meal they keep the tradition of giving Thanks. Thanksgiving is a holiday for all families, regardless of religion, color and creed.

Thanksgiving became an official national holiday in 1863 when Abraham Lincoln, America’s 16th President, thought it would bring the nation closer together amidst the Civil War. In 1941 President Roosevelt decided that the holiday should be on a Thursday in November and ever since then it has been the sign that the Holiday Season has begun. Most businesses and all schools are closed for Thanksgiving and the following day. Black Friday, as the day after Thanksgiving has been coined, is the busiest shopping day of the whole year in the United States.

There are specific food traditions for the Thanksgiving Day dinner which does not really replicate the original Thanksgiving Day meal in 1621. In 1621 the Plymouth settlers did make fowl, but no one really knows if it was specifically turkey. In modern day America, hands down there will be turkey on nearly every family’s dinner table. Sides will most likely be mashed potatoes, corn, and pumpkin pie to follow.

If you are lucky enough to be in the U.S. during Thanksgiving, try to get invited for a home cooked dinner. But if you can’t, being in New York will rival anywhere in the States, as there is a massive parade down 5th Avenue that includes major celebrities, marching bands and giant floats. Restaurants will still be open and they will even offer their own version of a Thanksgiving Day dinner. Tuck in!

Cactus offers English courses in New York, Boston, Chicago, San Francisco, Seattle, San Diego, Denver, Fort Lauderdale, Los Angeles and Honolulu.

Cactus also offers TEFL / TESOL courses in the US, and part-time evening languages courses in cities across the US.