10 great contemporary French films to watch

The following films, all successful on the international stage, showcase some of France’s best known actors and directors of this era. Included amongst them are Vincent Cassel, Marion Cotillard, Audrey Tatou, Mathieu Amalric and even British actress Kristin Scott-Thomas. All are well worth a watch and will really help your pronunciation, your vocabulary and, of course, your listening skills.

1. La Haine

Released in 1995, this globally acclaimed film depicts the racial tensions and riots that occurred in many Parisien ‘banlieues’ around this time. Shot in black and white, La Haine follows the movements of three young men over a period of twenty-four hours. All three, of different ethnic origins, have grown up in these French suburbs and have experienced the clashes with police first-hand. One of the group, Vinz (payed by Vincent Cassel), comes into possession of a missing police firearm and vows to use it and get the respect he ‘deserves’…

2. Amélie (originally Le Fabuleux Destin d’Amélie Poulain)

Released in 2001, Amélie is a unique, upbeat film that launched the international film career of actress Audrey Tatou and was nominated for five Oscars. Amélie is a fantastical story about a girl of the same name who missed out on a normal childhood due to her father’s mistaken concern that she had a heart defect. As a result, Amélie was starved of any real life social contact and retreated to her own make-believe world with dreams of love and beauty. Later, when Amelie moves to Paris, she decides to help those ill-fated lovers around her and along the way, falls into a love story of her own…

3. The Diving Bell and the Butterfly

‘Le Scaphandre et le Papillion’ as it’s called in French was released in 2007 and soon became a global hit. It was based on the amazing book by Jean- Dominique Bauby (former editor-in-chief of Elle magazine), who, out of the blue, fell victim to ‘locked in syndrome’, which brings about almost total paralysis of the body. Despite being unable to speak or move, Jean- Dominique succeeded in painstakingly committing his story to paper using only blinking movements, a specially devised alphabet, and the aid of a companion to transcribe. Despite its theme, the film is very funny in parts, and although a very sad and moving story, it serves as a great reminder for how easy it is to take life for granted.

4. La Vie en Rose

Another film from 2007 is the fantastic ‘La Vie en Rose’, a biography of adored French singer Edith Piaf. It’s renowned French actress Marion Cotillard who plays Piaf in the film, and in fact it was this role for which she won an Oscar – it was the first time the award had been given for a French language role. Gerard Depardieu also stars in the film, which spans the whole of Piaf’s life, from her humble beginnings in the slums of Paris to the international success but personal tragedies that she experienced prior to her death in 1963.

5. Il y a Longtemps Que Je T’aime

‘I’ve loved you so long’ as it translates in English was released in 2008 and won a BAFTA for ‘best film not in the English language’. It was also nominated for scores of other awards, including a Golden Globe and a Critics Choice Award. In the lead role is fluent French speaker Kristin Scott Thomas, who plays a woman reunited with her sister after a 15-year jail term. The film explores family relationships and social stigmas, but there is more to the story than we are first led to believe…

6. Entre les Murs (The Class)

This Paris-set film was also released in 2008. It is based on an autobiographical novel by François Bégaudeau and is another film that explores life in the Parisien banlieues. This time, the story follows the lives of a class of school children as they approach their final years at school, and the teachers who attempt to educate and inspire in a tough inner city environment that does the opposite.

7. Coco Before Chanel

Another fantastic biopic of a French icon is Coco Before Chanel, a film released in 2009 that tells the life story of world-famous fashion designer Coco Chanel. In the lead role once again is Audrey Tatou, who superbly depicts Coco’s rise from poor, provincial seamstress and performer to the personification of Parisien chic that she became.

8. Un Prophète

‘A prophet’ as it translates in English, is a hard-hitting film about a young Arab man who is sent to a French prison. Although an unwilling subject initially, he soon finds himself tasked by the Corsican mafia who rule the roost, and works his way up the ranks to become prison ’kingpin’. Released in 2009, it received critical acclaim on a global level and was nominated in the following year for best foreign language film at the Oscars.

9. Gainsbourg

Released in 2010, this is the story of French singer/songwriter Serge Gainsbourg. The film spans his eventful life, from his formative years in 1940 occupied Paris to his success as a song-writer in the 1960s and the complicated relationships that came alongside it.

10. Mésrine

Another film starring Vincent Cassel is Mésrine, the story of notorious French gangster of the 60s and 70s, Jacques Mésrine. Infamous for his bravado and numerous prison escapes, he carried out numerous robberies and murders in a criminal career that spanned continents until he was shot dead in 1979 by France’s equally as notorious anti-gang unit. Completed in 2008, the film was made in two parts, and although lengthy is well worth a watch.

Cactus Language offer French courses in the UK, New York, France and Canada!

10 little-known facts about Costa Rica

Here are ten little-known facts about this small but fascinating Central American country:

1. Costa Rica is bordered by Panama to the south and Nicaragua to the north. The Pacific Ocean lies to the west and the south and the Caribbean Sea to the east.

2. Costa Rica has subtropical as well as tropical climates. The dry season in Costa Rica runs from December to April, while the rainy season is usually from May to November. December is the wettest month on the Caribbean coast.

3. The highest mountain in Costa Rica is Cerro Chirripo, a volcanic mountain that stands 3,810 metres tall.

4. Costa Rica is a democratic republic. The country has enjoyed around sixty years of uninterrupted democracy, which is much longer than many other countries in Latin America.

5. Costa Ricans refer to themselves as Ticos (males) or Ticas (females).

6. The Guanacaste is Costa Rica’s national tree and the clay-colored thrush is the national bird. The national flower is the guaria morada, a type of orchid.

7. Unlike many of their Central American neighbours, present-day Costa Ricans are largely of European descent. However, an estimated 10% -15% of the population is Nicaraguan, of fairly recent arrival. Few of the native Indians survived European conquests and the indigenous population today is estimated to make up less than 1% of the total population.

8. Costa Rica is divided into seven provinces – San Jose, Alajuela, Heredia, Cartago, Guanacaste, Puntarenas and Limon.

9. Costa Rica hosts more than 5% of the world’s biodiversity even though it constitutes than 0.5% of the planet’s total surface. There are more than 850 species of birds, 220 species of reptiles and 9,000 types of plants in the country.

10. More than 25% of Costa Rica’s land is dedicated to national parks, reserves and wildlife refuges. There are more than 100 different protected areas to visit.

Cactus currently offers Spanish courses in Colonial Heredia & Playa Samara, Jaco Beach, Manuel Antonio and San Jose.

10 Facts about French

1. It is the mother tongue of 75 million people worldwide, although many more speak it as a second language.

2. It is the second most commonly taught foreign language, after English.

3. French is an official working language of the UN, the International Red Cross, The European Economic Community, NATO, and the International Olympic Committee, amongst others.

4. French is the official language of France, Luxembourg and Haiti and more than 15 African countries.

5. French is one of the official languages of Belgium, Switzerland and Canada.

6. It is spoken commonly as a second language in Morocco, Tunisia, Algeria, Lebanon, Syria, Laos, Cambodia and Vietnam.

7. In the 17th-19th century French tended to be the main language for international communication, but it has now been overtaken by English in these stakes.

8. The Académie française is France’s official authority on usage, vocabulary and grammar within the French language. It has traditionally been infamous for its somewhat strict regulations on anglicisms entering the language!

9. The letter ‘w’ appears only in foreign words within the French language.

10. French is a Romance language descended from Latin.

Cactus Language offer French courses in the UK, New York, France and Canada!

10 reasons to learn English in Dublin

Below are some of the top reasons to choose Dublin as your English study destination.

1. Friendly people and a unique culture

Irish people are famous the world over for their open and friendly nature, and Dublin is no exception. Local people will go out of their way to make you feel welcome and will love teaching you about their city, their customs and the culture that is so unique to the ‘Emerald Isle’. Integral to the traditional Irish way of life is family, religion and music and dance, and the same importance is still attached to these aspects of life today. Irish people tend to be very proud of their celtic roots, and the traditional music that is still played so widely around the country very much reflects this.

2. A fun-loving city with a lively atmosphere

Dublin is well known for its nightlife, in particular the area around Temple Bar, and outside of lessons you’ll have plenty of opportunity to practise your English in the city’s bars and restaurants and experience what the Irish call the ‘craic’ (fun). Going out in Dublin can be expensive, but the ‘inside’ knowledge you’ll gain from staff at the school or the host family you stay with will mean that you can avoid the tourist traps and head to the less expensive and more authentic places.

3. Standard English with a nice accent

A standard form of English is used in most of Ireland, although it is spoken with a soft accent that many people consider to be one of the nicest in the English-speaking world. The accent that you’ll hear in Dublin is easier to understand than some of the others in Ireland, and you’ll enjoy listening to it – if you’re lucky you might even pick it up!

4. Small enough to get around easily

For a capital city, Dublin is relatively small in size, which makes it really easy to get around. Much of the city centre can be explored on foot, and if you want to venture further out of the city into the suburbs or the surrounding towns and villages there’s a really good network of buses and trams to get you where you need to go. Dublin also now has its own bike-sharing scheme, whereby anyone over the age of 14 can pick up a rental bike from one of the 42 stations around the city – it’s a really quick and easy way to get around, and you can choose a long term hire card (10 euro) or a 3-day card (2 euro).

5. The same currency as many European countries

For European students who want to learn English, Dublin can be a great option in that the currency in Ireland is the Euro. Not only will you have to get used to using a foreign currency, it will also save you having to incur fees exchanging money before you go and during your stay.

6. Easy access to and from Europe, the Americas and the Middle East

Dublin has its own international airport just outside of the city where you can take flights to and from all kinds of cities in Europe, America, Canada and the Middle East. There are scores of airlines that operate from the airport, including low-cost carriers like Ryanair, Aer Arann and Germanwings, with whom you can get inexpensive flights if you book in advance.

7. Lots of events and attractions to enjoy image

Quite simply, you will never be short of things to do in Dublin. The city is home to an array of entertainment and sporting venues, including O2 and Grand Canal Theatre for gigs and concerts and Croke Park and Landsdown Road stadiums for domestic and international sports events. Dublin also hosts several festivals each year, including the fantastic St Patricks Day celebrations in March and many more cultural and literary festivals throughout the year. As the capital city of Ireland and the seat of Irish parliament there are plenty of grand buildings and monuments to enjoy, including Customs House and the old university buildings of Trinity College and University College Dublin. And of course, there’s the world-famous Guinness factory, a piece of history in its own right and one of Ireland’s most popular tourist attractions!

8. A long and interesting history to explore

Dublin has a really long history that dates back to the 10th century. Over the centuries the city changed hands several times, and saw some bloody battles – perhaps the most severe during the revolution of 1919-1921, which resulted in the establishment of the Irish Free State. There is a huge amount to learn about Dublin (and Ireland’s) history in the city, which you can get by visiting museums such as the National Museum of Ireland (Archeology, Decorative Arts and History and Natural History), the National Leprechaun Museum and the James Joyce Museum. James Joyce was by no means the only successful writer or poet to come out of Dublin – also counted amongst Dublin’s greats are Oscar Wilde, George Bernard Shaw, Samuel Beckett, WB Yeats and Seamus Heaney.

9. Attractive surroundings and nice architecture image

Dublin enjoys a fantastic location at the head of a lovely bay and close to hills and mountains. There’s a range of sandy beaches where you can enjoy nice walks and picnics in the summer, and to the south of the city lie the Dublin and Wicklow mountains, which provide some great hiking opportunities and some lovely views of the city.

Within Dublin itself there are some lovely squares and parks, but one of the city’s finest features is its architecture. In addition to its splendid public buildings, Dublin has lots of 18th century architecture, including impressive Georgian mansions, many of them with historical association. It’s the southeast area of the city centre, around Baggot Street, Merrion Square and Fitzwiliam Square, where most of the original townhouses remain.

10. A great base from which to explore the rest of Irelandimage

As the principal city in Ireland, Dublin has by far the best transport links to other cities and areas of the country. Should you wish to take a day or weekend trip to Cork, Waterford, Galway or Limerick for example, you would be able to take a train or bus direct from Dublin and be there within a couple of hours at the most.

Cactus offers a range of English courses in Dublin, including General, Intensive, Individual and Combined English. Also available are Juniors English courses, Teacher Refresher courses and a range of Exam Preparation courses. For full listings of courses in Dublin and Ireland, please visit the Cactus Language website.

Top sites to see on your New York trip!

1. Go to the Top of the Rock at the Rockefeller centre on a clear day, the view from the 70th floor is really amazing. It’s $20 or $30 if you want a double entry pass so you can go back at night. Some people say it’s better to do it from the Empire State building instead (100th floor) but then you don’t get to see the Empire State so…

2. Go to a Knicks or Rangers game at Madison Square Garden. I saw the Rangers and it was amazing. I’m not even into it but it’s not the point, the point is to drink beer, have a hot dog and sing along with the crowd or shout at the players 🙂

3. Go out in the Village (Greenwich Village), it’s such a cool area. I especially recommend the Fat Cat and Arthur’s Tavern. The first venue is good for Jazz (which I don’t like, but it’s a cool bar anyway), and the second one is amazing for blues,

check out Sweet Georgia Brown, she’s awesome. Then have a hot dog at the Five Guys on Bleecker Street, best hot dog I’ve ever had!

4. Go to a Broadway show and as a tourist Million Dollar Quartet seems a must… Make sure you get your tickets at the TKTS booth on Times Square though, you can get up to 50% off on same-day shows, so anything between $40 and $60 depending on the show.

5. Go to a comedy show, I went to Ha next to Times Square and it was really, really funny. There are guys selling tickets along Times Square for just $10 for same-day shows.

6. Take a cruise to Liberty and Ellis Island. There is only the Statue of Liberty on Liberty Island but the Immigration Museum on Ellis Island is definitely worth a visit, most cruises visit both islands.

7. Have a beer (or five) at the Bohemian Hall Beer Garden in Queens. I was there for Halloween and it was a tad too cold for it but in the summer it must be amazing.

8. The MoMA (Museum of Modern Art) is free on Fridays between 4-8pm in case you’re into museums (I didn’t go but I wish I had).

9. Go to D.C. for the weekend or 3 days if you can, only 4 hours by train. It’s a great city and the opposite of NYC (clean, green, historic) so a nice change of scenery. Walk from the Lincoln Memorial to the Capitol and take in all the war memorials, the White House and the Washington Monument on the way. Go for a stroll in Georgetown too, which is a cute neighborhood with lots of shops and restaurants.