My Visit to the Capuchin Crypt and Church in Brno, Czech Republic

I once visited Czech Republic’s second city, Brno. It is largely ignored next to big brother Prague, yet has some beautiful architecture and very friendly welcoming people who are not so fatigued by an endless onslaught of tourists as is the case in the capital.

Although I was there to visit a new school, I was told I simply had to visit the Capuchin Crypt on Capuchin Square near the Cabbage Market.

What I encountered there was not entirely what I had expected. Don’t get me wrong, I’m a huge fan of architecture, and the Baroque churches across Czech Republic, as elsewhere, boast some of the finest examples. The issue was more with the very-much-on-display contents of the crypt.

Thanks to a rare permutation of natural ventilation and a particular soil type, it became apparent many years ago that when the dead were laid to rest there, their bodies did not turn to bone as usual, but rather were mummifying. All fine and good. A curious quirk of nature. And entertaining as Indiana Jones and the Temple of Doom may be in the comfort of a warm cinema and good company, when you’re in a real crypt, with dim lighting and that cool mummifying air whispering down your neck, and all the other visitors leave so that you’re the only one there, suddenly the reality of being outnumbered about 80 to 1 by the desiccated dead with contorted faces screaming silently at you, becomes the stuff of horror films and your worst nightmares. Needless to say I paid my respects and scarpered.

If you, like Richard, are planning a visit to the Czech Republic, why not learn Czech with Cactus?


10 little-known facts about Cologne

Cologne is a great place to take a German course, with plenty to keep you occupied outside of lessons. Below are ten little known-facts about the city, which we hope will inspire you to visit!

1. Located on the Rhine, Cologne is Germany’s fourth-largest city and one of the oldest cities in the country too.

2. Cologne’s impressive Cathedral is Germany’s second largest religious building. Every year thousands of tourists climb the 509 steps to the top and their efforts are suitably rewarded with a magnificent view of the city and its surroundings. For a while, after its construction in 1880, the cathedral was actually the highest structure in the world.

3. Cologne is known as the city of churches, with 12 large Roman churches located within the medieval city walls.

4. It is home to a museum dedicated entirely to chocolate!

5. Cologne has a top-quality array of cultural attractions. It is home to over 40 museums and more than 110 galleries.

6. Every year in July, Cologne hosts Germany’s largest high-altitude musical firework display – the “Cologne Lights” (“Koelner Lichter”). The impressive display and accompanying party atmosphere attract hundreds of thousands of visitors each year.

7. Cologne has its own beer, which is known as Kölsch. The name Kölsch is protected by law so that only beers brewed in and around Köln can bear the name. It’s a pale, straw-coloured beer that is said to be refreshing and sweeter than other German beers.

8. Cologne is home to one of Europe’s largest Pride events. During the first weekend in July every year, more than half a million participants and visitors come together in Cologne’s city centre to party. Besides having fun, the event does focus on current political issues, which are always expressed through the parade’s theme.

9. According to new rankings, Cologne’s Schildergasse is Germany’s most visited shopping boulevard. Bustling with over 13,280 visitors per hour, it just beat Munich’s “Kaufingerstraße” to the top spot. The whole city is known for its abundance of shops, and is simply a haven for anyone who likes to shop…

10. Cologne was the hometown of Italian expatriate Johann Maria Farina, who created a fragrance and named it after the city. Eau de Cologne or “water from Cologne” is still famous the world over, and is still produced in Cologne today.

Find out more about German courses in Cologne, the rest of Germany, Austria and Switzerland.

My week in Marrakech: learning Arabic in Morocco

Marrakech – the first city that comes to everyone’s mind when you think of Morocco. The red city as it’s also known, the noise, the busy and narrow streets, the souks where you cannot walk without being noticed, the lovely, chatty people, the smells of cinnamon, cumin and mint tea…

I had the chance to spend a whole week here, not only as a tourist, but as a student of Arabic. I have been learning Arabic for a little over a year now. I first started studying in England, through Arabic evening courses, once a week. These courses taught me the basics, to be able to understand basic conversations and to read and write Arabic.

I then decided to go to an Arabic-speaking country to improve my language skills and put them into practice with local people. To my surprise, people could understand me, better than I had anticipated, and I was able to have daily interactions with the locals.

I choose Morocco because I fell in love with the country and its people from the first time I visited. It’s in their nature to make you feel welcome and to make you want to stay there FOREVER.

The week in Marrakech and the Marrakech school exceeded my expectations completely. The staff was so nice and welcoming that I wish I could have stayed longer. The school is in a very nice area in the new part of the city – very easy to reach from the accommodation options they offer. I chose to stay in an apartment, but with hindsight I think the option of staying with a host family would have made my experience even better. Maybe next time – as there will definitely be a next time!

My teacher was always very well prepared for the lessons and the method he used was a very communicative. I have never before spoken so much during classes. His English was really good, but we mainly spoke in Arabic. The classrooms are equipped with screens and other interactive materials, used to introduce the topics. This made the lessons fun and effective. I much preferred it to following a book.

The 2 hours of lessons a day went so fast through learning new vocabulary, putting it into practice, playing games to practice, and creating my own texts with my own experiences. We also worked with short videos that were used as prompts for us to speak and use the language we were learning. The lessons were complemented with other activities such as Henna seminars and cooking classes, which are an amazing way of getting to know the culture during the course.

The progress made by going to the country where the language is spoken cannot be measured. It’s something absolutely necessary if you really want to make quick progress and it’s not only about the language, but also about immersing yourself in the culture and customs.

As a female travelling on my own in Morocco, I felt completely safe. It is true that men approach you and try to speak to you, as they can tell you are not local. It can happen quite a lot, to the point that it can get annoying. This happens especially in the tourist hot spots such as Marrakech, Fez, and Tangier. If you travel to cities like Rabat or go to the dessert, it is not so bad.

There is no reason to be scared though, this sort of behaviour is very common in the Mediterranean. In Morocco you have to add the fact that local women will not talk to men they don’t know on the streets, so they target foreign women.

If you are in the souks, most of the men just want you to buy their tea pots, spices, souvenirs, etc. To avoid being bothered, you just keep on walking and don’t respond, same as Moroccan women do.

On the other hand, the souks are a good place to practice Arabic, and when people see you speak the local language, you always get better prices! People are generally very nice and welcoming, and as long as you treat them with respect, you should have no problems at all. Just be aware and, as in any other place in the world, it’s always best to go exploring accompanied by other people, especially at night.

Follow in Lety’s footsteps and learn Arabic in Marrakech

Highlights from the IATEFL 2012 Conference

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During the week of 19-23 March, at least 2300 delegates descended upon the Scottish Exhibition and Conference Centre (SECC) to take part in the 2012 IATEFL Conference. Of these 2300, 29 people were lucky enough to receive scholarships that enabled them to take part. I was one of these lucky 29, the winner of Cactus’ “Cactus to Conference” scholarship 2012. As well as my conference entry fee, Cactus very kindly provided £400 towards expenses and membership to IATEFL for one year. This enabled me to also participate in a Pre-Conference Event (PCE). I chose the Teacher Development Special Interest Group’s (TD sig) workshop on Drama and Improvisation. It was a fantastic start to an equally fantastic week.

What a plethora of presentations, what a wealth of workshops followed the Pre-Conference Day! Luckily, I have a smartphone and was able to use the brand new conference app to help me plan my time in such a way as to make the most of everything available. For me, one of the highlights of the week was watching talks given by some of the leading lights of EFL. A plenary by Adrian Underhill on “Mess and Progress”, Jim Scrivener on the need for demand-high teaching, Luke Meddings and Lindsay Clandfield on subversive teaching, Michael Swan on “Grammar doesn’t have to be Grey”, Jeremy Harmer who gave us six pertinent questions to consider. Particularly exciting was an informal follow-up discussion on the talk about demand-high teaching with Jim Scrivener and Adrian Underhill, which took place in a bar in the Crowne Plaza on Thursday 22nd.

Another highlight, the flip side of the coin to the first, was seeing first-time speakers give talks at the conference. For example, Sandy Millin, winner of the John Haycroft Classroom Exploration Scholarship, delivered her very first conference presentation on getting students to use online resources to help them study English. This was not limited to scholarship winners, of course. I also saw a particularly interesting presentation done by a second year teacher who had undertaken a Dogme project at his school in Spain. Seeing people present for the first time made it seem possible that perhaps at the next IATEFL conference I myself could present for my first time. Everybody must start somewhere and this is the great value of the Cactus to Conference scholarship: it allows an inexperienced EFL practitioner to attend this conference and enjoy all the benefits of it, which sows the seeds for future professional development, which may not have been possible without this inspiration.

One multi-sensory memory that will stay with me as I pursue my career in teaching EFL is that feeling of being right at the forefront of ideas, amongst the buzz that can only be generated by a group of people – in this case from all over the world – with a shared passion. Thank you, Cactus, for making this experience possible for me!

 

Find out how you could attend the 2013 IATEFL Conference courtesy of the Cactus to Conference Scholarship…

Previous winners:

2011: Camilla Heath

2010: Fiona James

Picture: Jenny Johnson, Academic Director at Cactus, and Elizabeth Pinard, Cactus to Conference Winner 2012.

Everyone is a winner!* The Olympics Cactus style

All our London language courses will take a 2-week Olympics break from Fri 27th July – Fri 10th August.

As we all know, it can be a nightmare getting around London at the best of times and according to recent Transport for London adverts, this is set to only get worse during the Olympics, affecting both public transport and roads.

We’re therefore taking a 2-week Olympics break – so whether you’re staying to watch, heading for the hills, or have been lucky enough to secure some tickets – you won’t lose out, have to miss any lessons or get hot under the collar trying to fight your way through the crowds to get to us.

All London courses will ‘resume normal service’ from Sat 11th August and will run for an extra two weeks to make up for the break. So you get the full course you paid for, without having to compete for a seat on an overcrowded bus or train or miss your favourite event. 

Book your language course in July with confidence, knowing that we’ve got you covered!

*Applies only to Cactus students, no guarantees can be made for Team GB. We would however like to wish all athletes the best of luck!

April is TEFL month at Cactus

Throughout April we will aim to answer all your TEFL questions, such as:

“What is the difference between TEFL, CELTA and TESOL?”

“Is a 4-week TEFL course as intensive as everyone says?”

“How do you know which TEFL course is best for you?”

We will be posting a series of videos discussing and answering the most common TEFL questions. So make sure you’re a fan or following us and don’t miss out!

www.facebook.com/cactuslanguagetraining

www.twitter.com/cactustefl

For transcripts of the videos and even more TEFL related questions, as well as information on thousands of courses around the world visit www.cactustefl.com.

New Language Courses in Canary Wharf

From April Cactus will be offering its popular 10-week evening language courses in City Harbour, only 2 minutes from Crossharbour DLR station and 10 minutes from Canary Wharf.  View map & school details…

With one 2-hour class per week, from 6.30 to 8.30pm, you can easily learn a language after work. Get started now and you could be speaking a new language in time for this summer, by the end of June to be precise.

Language courses available in Canary Wharf include Arabic, Chinese (Mandarin), English, French, German, Italian, Japanese and Spanish. Courses start from £205 including book and are taught by experienced teachers in small interactive, sociable groups. They run on different nights of the week and start quarterly form 17th April. Book early and you can get £10 off!

“Good value for money and good teachers…” Jody, Spanish student

“I really noticed a continuous improvement week after week.” Rudiger, Spanish student

To find out more visit www.languagecoursesuk.co.uk or call 0845 130 4775.

For previous Canary Wharf students, this move will affect only the location of their course. All other course details, e.g. days and times, remain unchanged.

Why are the Canary Wharf courses moving?

We have appointed a new centre in Canary Wharf, based on feedback received from our students.

During each course we ask for your comments via questionnaires. Your input actively shapes not only the course you are on, but our future course offering.

We would like to thank everyone who submitted feedback or took part in our survey for helping to continuously improve our courses.

Cactus has 17 training locations across London, including Baker Street, Bond Street, Canary Wharf, Clapham, Gloucester Road, Greenwich, Highgate, Holborn-Russell Square, Islington, Kings Cross, Notting Hill, Oxford Circus, Piccadilly Circus, Shepherds Bush, Soho, Victoria and Wimbledon.

How to Choose Your Study Abroad Program

When choosing to study abroad there are many things that go through your head – is it worth it? Will I really learn the language? Can I get enough course credit? All these questions and anxieties are completely normal and ultimately important to your decision making.

The first thing you should do if you are looking to study abroad outside of your home University program is to meet with your school advisor about what you want to do and what you want to achieve. The most important part of your education abroad is that you are rewarded not only in the experience but for the work you did while you were there.

Every University has a different list of criteria for issuing US credit for the courses you take abroad, so before booking a course you should always consult with your advisor on how many hours you’ll need to complete and what type of courses you’ll need to take to not only get the experience you want but the course credit you need.

By confirming the amount of hours you need to complete and having a detailed list of the documents you need from the institution aboard to submit to your home University, you will be well on your way to making your study abroad experience happen. Having this information at the beginning of your search will help you determine which program in which location is the best for you and allow you to make the best decision more efficiently.

Once you have that information, it comes down to how much time you can commit to studying abroad and how many credits you ultimately want to receive. Do you have a week, a summer, or a whole semester? Do you need 12 credits or just 3? Here’s a breakdown of types of study abroad programs and what will work best according to your goals:

Winter and Spring Break

If you want to make the most of the few weeks you have off for winter or spring break there are plenty of options around the globe. The best option for this short period of time would be an Intensive Language Course or a Combined Language Course. These courses are 30 lessons (25-30 hours) per week and focus on advancing your language skills as quickly as possible in the short amount of time that you are there. The standard rule is that 45 contact hours equals 3 credits, so take 2 weeks of the Intensive or Combined course and there’s a solid chance your University will issue you the credits for your time abroad

Summer

Doing a study abroad program in the summer is a great way to make sure you take enough hours of a course to gain the credit you need while still allowing you a varied amount of programs to choose from. You can take a Spanish and Mayan History Course in Merida, a Language and Culture course in Paris or Aix, a German and Music course in Vienna, or a Japanese and Traditional Culture course in Fukuoka, Japan. These courses will not only advance your language skills in a short time period but give you extra elements to the course to provide your home university with good reason for issuing you more course credits.

Semester

If you’re going abroad for an entire semester, it’s most important that you focus on a program that offers you variety to allow you to get the most credits for your time abroad. The reality is that if you’re looking for a whole semester of credit, taking just a language course won’t be enough. Focus on the programs that offer language courses as well as cultural courses so you can get a well rounded academic semester. A good example of this is the semester program in Malaga, which offers a Spanish course as well as courses on Spanish history, literature, economy, and media. Taking this type of program will not only make your time more enjoyable, but will make it much easier to transfer credit upon your return when you are able to present varied course syllabi and assignments for approval.

Ultimately, the options are endless, but the more organized you are about your goals with study abroad, the more likely you are to gain the credit you need and make the most out of the experience.

Still need advice? Feel free to contact us for information on possibilities and programs.

Cactus reveals the winner of the 2012 Cactus-to-Conference IATEFL Scholarship

Cactus is very pleased to announce that Elizabeth Pinard is the lucky winner of the 2012 Cactus-to-Conference IATEFL Scholarship.  Lizzie’s scholarship entry was the chosen as the winner out of the many entries submitted and she has now made all her plans to attend the conference this year, where she will receive free IATEFL membership and benefit her teaching career.

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 yearly 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.  Lizzie’s winning description of a particularly good day at work in Sumatra, Indonesia caught the judges’ attention and explained concisely the hugely rewarding aspects of the job.

My Best Lesson

Cactus to Conference winning entry for 2012 conference

It was seven o’clock on a Friday evening at the EF school in Lampung, Sumatra, Indonesia: Time for my bi-weekly conversation class, level 5B. I walked into the classroom to be greeted by eight sets of tired eyes belonging to eight 16 -19 year old teenaged students, with books open in front of them but spirits filled with weekend-lust. The book, Cambridge Real Speaking and Listening, is great, but far from ideal for encouraging conversation amongst teenagers. Not wanting a rebellion on my hands, I used a lot of creative license to bring this book to life…

On the evening in question, the unit focus was making complaints and negotiating solutions in a business context: think broken photocopiers and the like. (See how this book and these students are not exactly a match made in heaven?!) As a warmer, they worked in threes, role-playing the argumentative customer, the unhelpful shop assistant and the manager. The only other information I fed in was location e.g. a mobile phone shop. My sleepy teenagers sprang to life, improvising brilliantly and setting the tone for the evening.

Next, we moved on to tackling the target language and vocabulary, by using some of the listening and vocabulary activities in the book. However, instead of having everybody filling in their book individually, and nodding off in the process, I had prepared some materials to turn the activities into team games. This worked a treat: the atmosphere was abuzz with collaboration and competition, as my two teams of teenagers discussed the challenges in excited, English whispers and raced to be the first team to complete each task.

Language input accomplished, it was time to check how much had been absorbed and prepare the students for the final activity: turning our classroom into a market place— “Bamboo Kuning”, a cheap but well-loved market in Lampung, to be precise! Firstly, I elicited language we had encountered that evening: that needed for complaining and negotiation and the board was filled, making it clear how much they had assimilated thus far. Then, half the class became buyers, the other half were sellers, while the classroom was transformed into our market place. Finally, I looked on as my teenagers embraced their roles and filled the air with their voices. What a high!

Time flies. Thus, after dismissal at 20:45, I bounded into the staffroom, extolling the virtues of my super teenagers and the enthusiasm, expressed in English, which had reverberated through my room that lesson. You can imagine my surprise when a local colleague informed me that the previous native speaker teacher had likened this class to teaching a bunch of zombies!

Einstein says, “It is the supreme art of the teacher to awaken joy in creative expression and knowledge.” This joy filled my room that night and many others. So, perhaps best of all, it was no fluke: Friday evening or no, we regularly turned our slightly dilapidated, pre-centre refurbishment classroom into a place where magic was made.

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

Show some love this Valentine’s Day with our special date and gift ideas

Why not treat your Valentine to an experience they won’t forget this February?  Instead of the usual clichéd hearts and flowers, surprise your loved one with Cactus lessons in the language of love!

For all Francophiles, Cactus is offering special “French Tuesdays” in partnership with Cafe Rouge.  It’s a chance to learn the basics or brush-up old skills, while enjoying delicious contemporary French cuisine.  The sessions are available every Tuesday from 6.30pm-8.30pm at locations in Hampstead, Knightsbridge, Leicester Square, Wimbledon and Brighton, until 21 February 2012.  To book your place, simply visit https://www.cactuslanguagetraining.com/caferouge/

Or Cactus’ language gift vouchers make the perfect gift for all language lovers.  Available in multiples of £10, they can be redeemed against any Cactus products.  So if you want to whisk away your partner to romantic Rome for a language holiday to learn Italian, or simply fancy learning together with one of our many evening courses, there’s sure to be an option to spark your passion.  Visit https://www.cactuslanguagetraining.com/en/promotion/gift-voucher