The Arabic Language: History, Usage & Difficulty of Arabic

Arabic is a Semitic language spoken by between 200 and 400 million native speakers, and a further 250 million non-native speakers, in nearly twenty countries in the Middle East and North Africa. There is a standard form of Arabic, Modern Standard Arabic (MSA), which is based on the language of the Koran, Classical Arabic, and is used as the lingua franca among educated Arabic speakers from different regions, as well as the main language of the media and films. Read more

Is Vietnam the new Spain when it comes to TEFL?

It might finally be the case that fledgling Teflers are veering off the beaten track to Spain for a taste of English teaching further afield. Further east, to be precise.

In a survey by Cactus TEFL, about 45% of respondents about to embark on a TEFL course cited countries in Asia as their main region of interest.

Schools in Asia that have previously found it difficult to meet the demand for English with a steady supply of native-speaking, qualified teachers have been offering enticements for new teachers. Many now match the Jet scheme “standard” of providing flights, accommodation, and bonuses.

And the move seems to be paying off.

Private English teaching establishments in China, Vietnam and Thailand are expanding rapidly.

ILA Vietnam is currently on the lookout for some 150 qualified teachers of English. The company’s director, Tony Williams, estimates this figure will double within the year.

Williams says that new teachers now look beyond pay and conditions when making a decision about where to apply. “Newly-qualified teachers are armed with all the right questions these days,” he says. “Career pathways and evidence of solid academic management is as important as a decent rate of pay and working hours.”

In Thailand, another large school group, ECC, offers reimbursement of 50% of a teacher’s Celta course fees in return for a year’s teaching in one of their schools.

Other schools also offer to pay for the return flight home provided the teacher stays on for predetermined contract duration – typically one year.

The need to tie teachers in may raise an eyebrow amongst the more sceptical teachers and lead them to ask, “Why wouldn’t I want to stay a year anyway?” It may be that the requirement has something to do with contract conditions, course durations, and the regime in a school. But also, the wide cultural and climatic variance from life back home could lead would-be Teflers to consider Tefl in Asia as no more than a six-month job option.

The safest option when making a decision is to opt for a school that conducts its interviews in the United Kingdom, with a day’s proper orientation that includes presentations, interviews, a chance to chat to existing teachers, and plenty of opportunities to ask questions, without fear that this could scupper your chances of employment.

Cactus TEFL offer a wide range of TEFL courses at a variety of destinations around the world.

Winner of the Cactus 2011, Suzanne Furstner Foundation Scholarship, talks about her CELTA course.

Suzanne Furstner Scholarship 2011 – Winner’s Review

It was a Friday evening when I was sitting in the library with some of my colleagues, after having worked non-stop all week. We were researching for an assignment, furiously reading and taking notes, when from behind a tall stack of books a voice calmly stated that at that moment, the rest of the world was probably enjoying a cold beer and some well-deserved R & R. We barely entertained the idea, concluding that whilst it was attractive we had our work cut out for us, and so we dropped our eyes back to the books, saving our cervesas for another day. Such is the life of a CELTA trainee.

barcelonaIn February 2012, I attended the Cambridge CELTA course at International House Barcelona, one of the most reputable teacher training centres in the world. Made possible by the generosity of Cactus TEFL’s Suzanne Furstner Scholarship, the course was a rich and rewarding experience for me. Four-weeks of full-time training was made up of input sessions (a sort-of mix of workshops and lectures) and teaching practice, with the evening hours dedicated to lesson planning and completing written assignments. I received continuous support and direction from the course tutors, each of whom brought to the training room their years of teaching experience.

My class of 18 CELTA candidates was made up of individuals from the UK, the EU, the USA and Ireland, with me, the Australian, being the furthest from home. Some of my classmates were preparing to enter the workforce for the first time, whilst others were looking for a change in career and lifestyle. The training room was a fun learning environment from Day One, when an ongoing impromptu comedy routine was birthed due to an unusually high number of witty personalities in our group.

My expectations of the course had been set-up by a friend in London who had earlier completed his CELTA, and whose forewarning of long days and an intense transformation period proved to be true. I had experienced teaching English for a short stint before the course and was acutely aware of my need for quality training. I found the CELTA methodology to be both stretching and awakening, and unlike other candidates without prior experience I had to unlearn a few bad habits and replace them with ‘new and improved’ techniques.

An example of an area of learning for me was with regards to developing flexibility in the role of teacher. I devoted a lot of time to preparing my lessons, and sometimes the lessons didn’t go according to plan, either because of an aspect I had overlooked in my planning or because of a class dynamic which effected a change in direction. This experience taught me to ‘let go’ a bit as a teacher, to be guided by the students and to allow and encourage organic developments to occur. It taught me that being prepared for a lesson is equally as important as being ready to respond to its natural flow and momentum.

At the completion of the course, our group enjoyed dinner together at a restaurant to celebrate our success and hard work. A few of my classmates shared how they questioned if teaching English was the job for them, because in a course of such intensity you really have to work relentlessly from woe to go. However to live the CELTA as your every day life would be impossible; it’s an intensive training period crammed with all the content and practice you need to start working. The course is challenging but the end result is worthwhile; teaching is a rewarding and fun job that helps others, and having a CELTA opens up doors to employment in many countries around the world. As for me, I came to Barcelona exclusively to attain the CELTA, and five months later, I’m still here, nurturing my love of coffee and drinking in the beauty of this city. And when I’m not riding my bike or trying to improve my Spanish, I’m in the classroom, teaching English.

Cactus TEFL is an admissions and advice service for quality teacher training courses worldwide. Cactus works with well-known course providers to offer CELTA, TESOL, equivalent and online courses in over 90 locations across 36 countries. Cactus TEFL also offers free post-course careers advice and support, as well as access to our very own TEFL jobs board and job alerts. The next Suzanne Furstner Scholarship will be in 2016.

 

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

eu

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.