October 2012: Time for some fun this autumn…

With the new school year acting as perfect incentive to learn something new, and summer now behind us, October is a good month to get those grey cells working. How better to brighten up the darker evenings than to learn a language and dream of exotic, far-off locations…we have new autumn evening courses starting this month, and are excited to be launching long-term academic courses in the new year.

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Why has learning the Brazilian Portuguese Language increased in popularity?

1) The Portuguese language has 236 million speakers, is the 6th most spoken language in the world and the 3rd most spoken language in the western hemisphere.

2) An attractive culture plays an important part in encouraging more people to learn the Portuguese language. There have recently been several popular films set in Brazil, such as ‘City of God’ which won worldwide recognition, and critically acclaimed authors including Paulo Coelho have gained an international reputation. Brazil also gave the world the Bossa Nova style of music, not to mention the largest carnival in the world.

3) Brazil’s media coverage has grown exponentially over the last ten years, not least because of former president Luiz Inácio Lula da Silva. He improved the quality of life of the Brazilian people and virtually eradicated hunger. In so doing, he also received many awards for his work throughout the world giving him, and his country further global recognition.

4) Portuguese is relatively easy language to learn if you have already mastered a Latin-based language such as French, Spanish or Italian.

5) The Brazilian government is promoting the Portuguese language through “Project Leitorado” ’ where Brazilian academics are part funded by their government to lecture on the language and culture at universities around the world.

6) Many people wish to learn Portuguese simply because they have Brazilian partners, or may, one day, wish to emigrate there.

7) In recent years the Brazilian economy has grown rapidly, and the country is now recognised as an emerging world power, prompting multi-nationals to seek to invest in Brazil, so creating further opportunities and jobs. The discovery of oil in Santos Bay will attract inward investment from global energy corporates, with many companies believe that learning the language is another step towards gaining the trust of local companies, customers and clients.

8) Brazil is staging the FIFA World Cup in 2014, such an enormous international event , reported around the globe, that many people want to learn the language to ensure they fully understand the national culture and approach to the event.

9) Brazil will also host the Summer Olympics 2016 which, again, is a prestigious world sporting event prompting massive media coverage and placing the country firmly in the spotlight.

10) Brazil is now the perfect holiday destination with stunning beaches, wonderful climate and fascinating rainforest.

Cactus offers a variety of Brazilian Portuguese language courses throughout the UK, Brazil, USA and Canada.

Cactus announces winner of 2012 Suzanne Furstner Foundation Scholarship

The Suzanne Furstner Foundation supports language and educational training across the world. Introduced in 2007 in memory of a friend and colleague who died tragically in a road accident, the foundation funds an annual scholarship enabling one aspiring 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: Seville, Playa del Carmen, Milan, San Francisco and Barcelona. This year, applicants were competing for the opportunity to take a CELTA and a language course close to Suzanne’s home, in the seaside town of Brighton.

All scholarship applicants are assigned a task, involving both a language awareness exercise and a piece of creative writing based around the TEFL course destination. As ever, the standard of the applications that we received was exceptional, and it was a very hard choice. Anna’s entry was original, touching, passionate and relevant, and we would like to congratulate her on her success.

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

Congratulations Anna!

6 Weeks in Brighton: – A girl named Su.

We met at a pancake party. That’s what she called it. In fact, it was Pancake Day and us Brits had congregated with our new international friends to celebrate. At home it was an occasion that passed many of us by, however out here it seemed to be an integral part of our cultural heritage.

I’ve been friends with her since then. Her name is Su.

Su made the ideal companion for a culture shocked English teacher embarking on a South Korean sojourn. She was born and bred in the city of Busan. Su is a seaside girl. The lure of other coasts took her to Brighton to learn English, but now back in Busan and educated in the British lingo, Su was on hand to educate me. Whenever I muddled my way through a menu of unrecognisable letters, fearful of ordering live octopus or silkworm, Su was there to ensure the table was filled with soups, dumplings and Korea’s own spicy take on a pancake.

Six months on, the world around me had become more familiar. Coming up the steps of the underground I barely noticed the old lady behind me tugging on the hem of my skirt, fixing a loose thread. Or the tie-dyed puppy in front of me, with it’s teeth wrapped around the strap of my bag. These occurrences had become everyday. I had far more pressing matters. Typhoon Bolaven was forecast to strike in the coming hours and the black clouds were looming over Busan. I was more than a little nervous. However, Su had convinced me that my worries were unfounded. ‘They say it won’t be that bad,’ she had told me over the phone earlier. ‘Sort of like a British summer day.’

‘Anna.’ She waved. She whisked me away from the neon glow of the main streets to a road which was empty, except for one solitary wooden coffee hut. ‘This is my friend Hyong. Introduce yourself,’ she said with wicked encouragement. ‘Jonun Anna immnida! Bangapsamnida!’ Her friend’s eyes lit up at my attempt at basic conversation.’

‘You see, that’s why I learnt English,’ she sighed. ‘I just wanted to be able to talk to people.’ Su and I always ended up discussing our passion for language and affectionately mocking each other’s cultures. Our coffees arrived. ‘Do you have an extra sachet of sugar? Do you know if you are going to use it?’ I asked. ‘No, it’s all yours.’ She gave me the sachet and smirked.

‘That’s what confused me the most when I first arrived in Brighton. I thought I could speak English well. But this British way of speaking, I didn’t know if it was a question or a request or a statement.’ Having confused many non-native speakers with my own convoluted British indirectness, I am sympathetic. I recalled the array of cross-cultural mishaps I have been involved with, or the cause of. One particular with a melon, but that’s a story for another day. It reaffirms to me that the language classroom has to be brought to life. Real life.

She continued, ‘But you’ve just got to let yourself get it wrong. If you want to learn a language you have to open your mind first. ’ She doesn’t know how perfect a soundbite she has whipped out for me. But there is no PR spin behind her statement. It ’ s honest. She’s been through the exhilarating, exhausting, baffling and life changing process of learning another language.

They say that the course of true love never runs smoothly and my own route to becoming infatuated with English was a tumultuous one. In fact, I had to break contact with my native tongue altogether before I returned enamoured , with my tail between my legs. After University, I moved to Germany to become an intern at a cultural organisation. I barely spoke any German, but I threw myself into it.

It wasn’t the shuffling around of verbs that surprised me, or the cases. I knew what I was letting myself in for. However, what blew my mind was getting to understand the true meaning of words. The world became a different place when I spoke German. After that, all the idiosyncrasies of English came to light and I suddenly wanted to go around and tell everyone about grammar and semantics and tenses. I didn’t, instead I decided to become an English teacher.

I think about how learning a language has changed me and influenced the choices I have made in my life. I think about all the people I met because I was able to communicate with them. I look over at Su and think about who she is and who she’s met and the world she has got to know. She may have been born and bred in Busan, but when she speaks English, she is a Brightonian.

She is Su, the girl who used to go to the corner cafe every weekday, and chat to the owner whilst he made her a sarnie.

She is Su, who used to sit on the promenade with her friends, eating mushy peas and cheek biting vinegary chips.

She is Su, who drank a cuppa every morning with her single parent landlady nattering about the unpredictable British weather whilst the kids ran around looking for their thingamajig.

She is Su, whose weekends included pubs, tea rooms and pavilions. Piers, greasy spoons and boutiques. She met hippies, rockers and old ladies sat on benches and Spanish friends who told her to take a Friday afternoon siesta, in preparation for those weekends.

After a year of testing the TEFL waters, I am sure this holiday romance is going to get serious. A CELTA is what I need to make this my future. I imagine that future. I’m back in England, standing in front of classroom full of adults from all around the world. I’ll tell them that they aren’t too old to learn a language. I’ll tell them that they aren’t naturally bad at languages. I’ll tell them my story. And if they still don’t believe it. Well, I’ll tell them about Su.

If you are interested in being considered for future Suzanne Furstner Scholarships, please find more information here: https://www.cactustefl.com/about_us/suzanne_furstner_foundation/

Tags: scholarship, iatefl, efl, course, cactus, learning, tefl, english, tesol, language, celta, england,

Please read about previous Suzanne Furstner Scholarship winners:

Winner of the 2011 Suzanne Furstner Scholarship

Winner of the 2010 Suzanne Furstner Scholarship

Winner of the 2009 Suzanne Furstner Scholarship

Winner of the 2008 Suzanne Furstner Scholarship

Our favourite German words & expressions

To kick this off, this week she has been looking into some favourite, funny and quirky German words and expressions. The list was long, so here a selection of Clara’s favourites as collated by Cactus staff, family and friends.


Discussing Pfannkuchen (pancakes) in Germany can be rather controversial because it depends upon the area you are in, as to what pancakes are called. Terms vary from Pfannkuchen to Eierkuchen to Palatschinken, to Flädle to Plinsen… and Austrians just rip the pancake apart and call it Kaiserschmarrn!

And as if that was not confusing enough, there is another type of pastry people call Pfannkuchen in Berlin, but everyone else calls it Berliner (the pastry, not the people!) or Krapfen, or something completely different.

It is almost impossible for non-German natives to understand this complicated system of designations. In fact, most Germans struggle with it, too!

Play it safe and just call them Pfannkuchenspezialitäten! (pancake delicacies)

Wunderschön – Adjective

Wunderschön is usually translated as very beautiful or gorgeous. It doesn’t only refer to people, but can describe actions or simply express delight. Everything can be wunderschön!

Foul, Elfmeter, Tor!

Football plays an important part in the German culture. Watching a football game in Germany can be a unique experience, especially when you know the most important vocab.

A Foul (nice and simple) in the Strafraum (penalty box) is usually followed by an Elfmeter (penalty kick), which should be closely followed by a Tor! (goal)

“Dickbauchig“ or “Knollig“- Adjective

Dickbauchig (literally: fat-bellied) or knollig is usually translated as bulbous and used to describe the shape of items like bottles, vases or jars. In some cases dickbauchig may also refer to other people (also see “Fettsack” below).

“Fetter Sack“ or “Fettsack”

While dickbauchig and knollig can be used in a factual, non-offensive way, describing someone as Fettsack (literally fat sack) or fetter Sack is neither polite nor very nice!

Ossi & Wessi

Germans don’t only have nicknames for people from other countries, they also have nicknames for each other. Someone from former East Germany is called an Ossi and someone from the West is called a Wessi. Neither term may endear you to the person described as such.

“Besser als in die hohle Hand geschissen”

You won’t hear this phrase very often, but we like it because of its vividness. The English equivelant would be “Better than a poke in the eye with a sharp stick”.

You would use this phrase to emphasize that what you’ve got is still better than having nothing at all…or having someone’s poo in your hand.

Pulverschnüffler = Powderhound

Pulverschnüffler is the German expression for powderhound – a skier who insatiably seeks the best powder snow. Sick!


One of the great things about the German language is that you can make everything smaller or cuter by putting a “chen” at the end of the word – e.g. the world-famous German Wurst (sausage) becomes a Würstchen (cocktail sausage).

While armes Würstchen (“poor little sausage”) is a tenderly pitying expression for someone unlucky, referring to a gentleman’s pride as Würstchen is generally not considered tender, or well received.

In some southern parts of Germany “chen” is substituted for “le” in this case a Würstle, and in Switzerland it is “li”, so a Würstli.


Literally translated, Glocke means “bell” as in “church bell”. But the word Glocke has a number of meanings: It can refer to a cowbell, cloche or doorbell.

The plural Glocken also describes certain female and male body parts or in some cases the blossom of a flower, e.g. Osterglocken (literally: Easter bells or Daffodills).

Jemandem auf die Glocken gehen (“walk on someone’s bells”) means annoying someone.

Kompletter Unsinn/Blödsinn!!

A great way to end (or start) an argument is telling your opponent that what he/she is saying is kompletter Unsinn or Blödsinn. It means something is complete nonsense or bullsh*t.

Dicke Wandersocken

Germany is world-renowned as an engineering nation, and this talent is not limited to the automobile industry. Germans like to apply their engineering prowess and enthusiasm to all areas of life, producing a multitude of more or less useful gadgets to solve some real (and imaginary) problems. One such invention includes dicke Wandersocken or dicke Skisocken – thick socks that apparently are specially engineered for Wandern (hiking) or skiing.

Nacktschnecke and Schildkröte

One of the great qualities of the German language is its vivid descriptiveness. Germans like to be precise and factual, so they describe things and objects exactly as they see them.

Nacktschnecke (slug) for example is literally a nackte (naked) Schnecke (snails), due to its lack of a shell.

Another good example is the German word for tortoise or turtle Schildkröte, literally a “shield toad”, i.e. a Kröte (toad) carrying a Schild (shield).

Nicht kleckern, klotzen!

Translating this phrase is pretty difficult. An English equivalent would be “doing things in a big way” or “not taking half-measures”. Kleckern literally is to dribble or make a mess, while klotzen is a colloquial term for showing off.

Be careful to pronounce the “L” in klotzen though, and not to say kotzen (to vomit) instead. That would give the sentence a completely different meaning!

“Genau” and “Genau!”

The adjective genau describes something or someone as very exact and precise. It can also be used as an expression Genau! – meaning you are in agreement with someone.

“Diese Beschreibung ist sehr genau.“ “Genau!“

(These descriptions are very precise. Exactly!)

We hope you have enjoyed our journey into the intriguing and humorous nature of the German language (who would have thought?!).

Join us again next time for more of our favourite foreign words and expressions!

Next up: English

The Academic Credentials of the Cactus Language’s Academic Team

Our Academic Department consists of two highly qualified individuals, who are experts in teaching, and experienced in language learning. They are responsible for helping develop our language courses and resources enabling them to offer ongoing support and training to our vast network of tutors and trainers, and of course, they are always on-hand to answer your queries.

Meet the Team

Our Director of Studies in the UK, has a BA (French, Indonesian; James Cook University), a PostGrad DipEd (ESL/EFL/French; University of Queensland), and a Masters in Linguistics (JCU).  Rod has close to 30 years of TEFL experience, Cambridge Speaking examining, linguistic research at UQ, JCU and Oxford, Torres Strait music research, computer networking,
CALL and database development/management.

image – Our Assistant Director of Studies in the UK,
has a BA Hons in Hispanic Studies and Politics from the
University of Liverpool, a certTESOL from Trinity College London
and a post graduate Diploma in English Language Teaching
Management from Trinity / English UK. She has worked
extensively as a languages teacher, teacher trainer and
educational manager in the UK, Spain and Mexico.

Here at Cactus Language we offer free language level tests for anyone who is unsure of their language level.  However, should you have any academic inquiries then please do not hesitate to contact one of our team either by email or by calling: 0845 1304775 (UK) or 1-888-577-8451 (US) and selecting option 5.

Cactus Language offer a variety of language courses in the UK, New York and worldwide.

Russian Evening Course: Staff Review

“As I have not learnt a language since my school days, I was very apprehensive about entering back into a language learning environment; particularly as I had struggled with learning French and German at secondary school. I was up for a challenge though and quite excited about learning such a different language and new alphabet. I had also read about how being bilingual could delay Alzheimer’s and boost brain power (an added bonus); not to mention increase confidence and add to my current skill set.

I was extremely happy to learn that our Russian teacher was a native speaker, as we could learn so much more first-hand about Russian culture and customs. He had also learnt a repertoire of languages including Mandarin, so he was able to compare other languages to Russian and was aware of which sounds and letters we might struggle to pronounce.

Our lessons compromised of listening, reading and speaking, which was interactive and engaging and helped our teacher correct any words we weren’t pronouncing correctly. The majority of the writing exercises were given as homework.

One of my main concerns was speaking aloud in class and getting things wrong; a fear that also dates back to my school days. But I found that after the first lesson I felt quite comfortable speaking Russian in front of the other students. My confidence grew quickly and I was not worried about making mistakes anymore.

I also found that my lessons were nothing like they were back in school, because I was surrounded by adults who were enthusiastic about learning. We were actively encouraged by the teacher and our fellow students to just get on with speaking Russian and not worry about whether it was correct or not. Generally when one student found a particular word or sentence difficult, the rest of us did as well, so there was nothing to be embarrassed about. 

I really enjoyed being in a classroom environment again and interacting with other students who all had an interest in learning Russian. I especially enjoyed when I pronounced a sentence correctly or my homework was correct, as I felt a great sense of achievement.

My class was small, which created the perfect leaning environment, and the school was centrally located just a five-minute walk away from my work – no excuse not to go.

I thoroughly enjoyed the whole experience of learning a language, and particularly one that was so different to my own. I was surprised at the progress I made in only 10 weeks. 

I would definitely recommend learning a language to anyone who wants to be able to interact with the locals of a particular country and wants to learn more about a country’s culture. “

Spasibo Lucy, for sharing your experience!

To follow in Lucy’s footsteps and get to grips with Russian, check out Cactus’ Russian Courses in London & nationwide.

Why study English in New York?

In my case, although there are a lot of Koreans in New York, I chose to come here to learn English. I was studying English in Florida and Hawaii because I was worried that I would not have as many opportunities to practise my English in New York, due to the number of Koreans studying here. However, my opinion has changed since I moved to New York.  The number of Koreans did not make a difference for me and in my opinion, it is better to learn English in New York than any other city in the U.S.A. Read more

Cactus Reveals The Winner Of The 2013 Cactus to Conference IATEFL Scholarship

October 2012

Cactus is very pleased to announce that Louise Cranston is the lucky winner of the 2013 Cactus-to-Conference IATEFL Scholarship .  Louise’s scholarship entry was chosen as the winner out of the many entries submitted and she will be attending the conference in Liverpool next year, where she will receive free IATEFL membership and benefit her teaching career. Louise explains her future plans for development:

“Once I have gained 2 years experience of teaching I would like to do a DELTA or Trinity diploma followed by MEd Tesol with a view to progressing onto PHD level so I can contribute to the research field of TEFL. I am also interested in working at University level or in materials development.” Good luck, Louise!

The Cactus-to-Conference Scholarship was created in 2009 to enable one new EFL teacher the opportunity to become a member of IATEFL (the International Association of Teachers of English as a Foreign Language), and to attend the annual conference.  While all EFL teachers are eligible for IATEFL membership, in reality it’s not something that a newly qualified teacher can afford, so Cactus’ scholarship offers a unique opportunity to network and gain greater knowledge about the ELT profession.

Scholarship entrants this year were asked to draft a short article about their experiences of their best lesson.  Louise’s winning description of a particularly good class in a language school in the UK caught the judges’ attention and showed the hugely rewarding aspects of the job.

My Best Lesson

Cactus to Conference winning entry for 2013 conference

My most effective lesson was a skills lesson I delivered on speaking and skim and scan reading on the topic of travel and tours in the UK. The learning objective was for students to have practised skim and scan reading and have presented a pitch to advertise a 3-5 day tour in a country of their choice, incorporating recycled adjectives.

I believe the lesson was successful as it was both interesting and useful to for the students. I began by engaging the students by showing them pictures of landmarks in the UK and asked them to stand next to the picture of the place they would most like to visit. This provoked interesting discussion on a topic that was directly relevant as a number of the students were considering where they might wish to travel whilst in England. I then introduced a jigsaw skim and scan reading activity on the topic of tours in England, namely two similar flower shows. I produced question sheets for each text which encouraged the students to effectively scan read the article and analyse it accordingly to find the information they required. I then introduced a ‘comparisons’ question sheet and the students worked with a partner who had read an alternative article to compare, contrast and evaluate the tours to decide which was the best. This encouraged oral fluency with peer support and ensured the students used the texts fully. This worked well because a number of students were considering using organised tours to visit London so it gave them the opportunity to practise with an authentic text that was directly applicable to situations they would encounter outside of the classroom. The students then used the articles to find 5 adjectives and then came up with 3 of their own that they would use to sell a holiday or tour.

The students progressed onto using brochures to prepare a pitch for a tour of their own and used the adjectives they had found and listed. The students relished this opportunity because I provided an aim for the oral fluency activity by stating there would be a vote at the end for the best tour. This awakened their competitive nature and they enjoyed using the brochures to find good hotels and apply as many of the positive adjectives as they could. This led to very lively presentations which really demonstrated their ability and led to them asking questions about the tours’ content.

If you are interested in being considered for future Cactus-to-Conference Scholarships, please find more information here: https://www.iatefl.org/scholarships/

IATEFL  recently launched a trial of a new membership tier – Early Career Teacher Membership.  This new membership is a full individual membership, which includes a Special Interest Group and the opportunity to pay extra for discounted periodicals, but runs for two years.  It is open to teachers who are in the first two years of their ELT teaching career, who have never been a member of IATEFL before. As an Early Career Teacher member you will also be subscribed to an online Forum where you can seek advice from experienced members of the IATEFL community.  IATEFL hope that this will enable new teachers to grow and develop with other like-minded professionals, keep up to date with the latest developments and share their own new and exciting ideas. https://www.iatefl.org/membership-information/join-us

Tags: scholarship, iatefl, efl, course, cactus, learning, tefl, english

Please read about previous Cactus to Conference scholarship winners

Winner of the 2012 Cactus to Conference IATEFL Scholarship, Lizzie Pinard

Winner of the 2011 Cactus to Conference IATEFL Scholarship, Camila Heath

Winner of the 2010 Cactus to Conference IATEFL Scholarship, Fiona James

September 2012: New academic year, new things to learn…

European Day of Languages on 26th September is the perfect incentive for those of us who see the new academic year as time to put our minds to something new. Aimed at showing people how important languages are – there are, after all, over 6,000 of them – and how much fun can be had learning them, we’re hoping to play our part by bringing you inspiring language learning ideas, no matter how old you are.

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Pen friendship – A fun way to practice your language and make the world a friendlier place

Malcolm was a student who took one of our Spanish courses in Valencia, Spain. Malcolm is part of the International Friendship League (IFL) which is a voluntary organisation that encourages people from around the world to get to know one another through a range of activities including pen-friendship, email, travel, hospitality and social activities.

The IFL is an international group of people who are keen to make the world a friendlier place through encouraging friendships and understanding between people of all cultures. They believe that through cross-cultural communication and understanding we can promote peace and international friendship, whatever your country of origin or race.

The idea of international penfriendship matched perfectly the ideals of IFL and soon hundreds of people from many different countries have got to know each other through IFL: ‘Initially people start by writing letters to each other but often the friendship leads to e-mail exchange, telephone calls and visits. Some pen friends have even got married!’

We think it’s a wonderful idea, not only for its potential to promote peace and cross-cultural communication but as a fun way to help you improve your language skills and learn more about the culture behind the language. There are IFL groups in Britain, France, Sweden, Portugal, Uganda, Zambia, Kenya, Senegal and the Seychelles and new groups are starting up in several other countries. In many other countries worldwide there are individual IFL members.

To learn more about the International Friendship League and how you can get involved, please visit their website.