Italian Language Course in Florence: A great way to learn the language and understand the history

Giles Picciotto, a Hatha yoga teacher from London, tells us about his 26-week-long language holiday in Florence, Italy, and how it has given him a greater understanding of this fascinating country’s culture, history and language.

Giles’s passion for Florence is evident, with comments like: “The world without Florence and the Renaissance isn’t possible frankly – totally unimaginable.” This, combined with wanting to do something different to your average holiday abroad, led him to choose a language holiday in Florence. Cementing his decision to study in Florence as opposed to Rome was the fact that he lives in London and did not really want to study in another large city. He had also heard from friends that Florence was slightly cheaper and if he was going to be staying there and studying for six months, this was an important factor.

When Giles landed in Italy he knew nothing of the Italian language. Starting as a complete beginner, over the course of six months his Italian language skills and vocabulary grew immensely. Throughout his course he met many interesting people of all ages and backgrounds and, although he felt that the fully immersive teaching methods were great to develop his Italian, he also felt that in cities such as Florence and Rome many people speak English, offering him fewer opportunities to practise what he had learnt in class.

Giles really liked the language school in Florence, as it was local and in a fantastic area with great teaching staff. His favourite part of the course was learning something new each day, which would stay with him long after he departed Italy. Staying in a shared student apartment, Giles enjoyed the freedom that came with it and practising his Italian with the lady who owned the apartment who came to clean it every two weeks.

Learning Italian Giles felt that he was able to understand further Italy’s rich history and culture. This, teamed with his belief that Florence is the most important and influential city of the last 1000 years, and not to mention his passion for the food and the wine – which he thinks are awesome! – meant that a language holiday in Florence was the perfect choice for Giles.

I asked Giles if he had any language tips for future students looking to study abroad and he thought some basic knowledge of the language beforehand would help, suggesting at least a vocabulary of a 1000 words and 30 phrases. For him, studying in Italy as a complete beginner and with the fully immersive method used in class, it was sometimes a struggle to process everything. He would also encourage all future students who wish to study in Florence to walk the city every day, go and see something every day, and come to understand how a city so small became so great.

Giles strongly believes that Florence is the most important city in the world and that no city except ancient Athens ever produced so much greatness at one time. Florence’s list of important people includes: Michelangelo; Dante; Boccaccio; Botticelli; Machiavelli; Leonardo and Galileo, all native to the region of Tuscany and almost all from Florence itself. He believes every one of those influential people still resonates powerfully today, many are buried within the walls of the city and there are more current inspirational people such as Gucci and Ferragamo who come from Florence that Giles can identify with.

When asked what inspired Giles most about his trip, he replied that it was just an amazing all-round experience and he was grateful to have had the opportunity to call Florence his home for 6 months, speak Italian to a good standard after his course and meet interesting people during his language holiday in Italy.

Giles is very keen to return to Italy soon and continue his studies, but first he has booked a 2-week Mandarin course in Hong Kong with Cactus. Giles is a true language enthusiast who enjoys travelling the world and learning about a country’s art, culture and history. He loves the way in which society used to work and function both intellectually and physically, believing that practising yoga and learning languages are life skills and the modern world has lost touch with that, relying too much on comfort and technology. He believes the brain must continually be challenged as well as the body.

Many thanks to Giles for taking the time to tell me about his experience and to hopefully inspiring others to do the same.

Cactus Language Training offer Italian courses in Florence and in many locations across Italy. Evening courses in Italian are also available in the UK and we also offer private language training.

Language training via Skype

For those wishing to learn a language the most flexible and economic way possible, language training via Skype is the ideal option.

At Cactus Language Training, Skype is fast becoming a popular and effective means of delivering language tuition to corporate and private clients who require results fast. Doing away with the need for a classroom, Skype, or video conference, requires no more than a computer, web cam and good internet connection – and for this reason it allows lessons in almost any language to be delivered to any location worldwide, any day of the week and any time of day, with no price variation.

Prospective students may be forgiven for thinking that they are missing out by choosing a computer-based course over a traditional classroom setting, but to the contrary. The feeling of learning via Skype is almost identical to being in the same room as the trainer. Your trainer is right in front of you, virtually, and the picture and sound quality is usually excellent; the optional use of headphones and a microphone makes listening and speaking even clearer.

As for course content, remote learning brings with it distinct advantages. For a start, your trainer can be based anywhere at all, meaning that Cactus can choose from its vast network of trainers to find the very best person for the job, given your specific interests and requirements. This facilitates the provision of very specialised business or academic-specific language by native language experts located anywhere in the world. Furthermore, since there is no need for the trainer to travel to the student’s home or office, there are no additional costs such as trainer travel expenses, and the minimum lesson duration is 60 minutes as opposed to the customary 90 minutes for face-to-face training.

Once you’re up and running, both you and your teacher will work from the same course book and learning materials, which ensures access to the same texts, documents, exercises, grammar and vocabulary. In addition, Skype’s chat box or messaging facility allows your teacher to write corrections or suggestions during the lesson, without interrupting you as you speak. Your conversation in the chat box is then available at the end of the lesson for you to copy and paste into your own personal documents for subsequent self study – and, crucially, all these notes are specifically geared to you and no-one else.

If you would like to trial this smart new approach to language training and find out whether it’s for you, simply contact Cactus and request a ‘taster lesson’ at the standard hourly rate with no further commitment.

Cactus specialises in organising language courses for individuals and groups, having done so since 1999 for clients all over the globe and for diverse needs and budgets. With an extensive network of approved teachers and a strong in-house academic team, we are able to tailor a language course to suit your specific learning needs, anywhere in the world and whenever is convenient to you.

French course in Annecy: the perfect preparation for one client’s emigration to France

Cactus student Rob Mepham tells us about his 5-week French course in Annecy and how it has helped him immerse himself in French life.

When Rob Mepham’s feedback came in after his French course in Annecy I knew that I wanted to speak to him. Using words such as ‘my French vocabulary has exploded and grammar improved beyond expectation’, I wanted to find out what exactly had made his experience so good – and pass this on to others considering a similar venture. Now ensconced in his own little corner of France (or not so little, given his 17 acres of farmland), Rob kindly took the time to tell me what had motivated him to learn French and to pass on a few valuable tips about relocating overseas.

Retiring from the military, Rob’s course in Annecy was part of his resettlement training from the Ministry of Defense. An immersion course in France turned out to be considerably cheaper than the equivalent in London – and decidedly more effective, given that it’s in-country. It was also incredibly easy to book, Rob quoting Sandra at Cactus as being particularly efficient in organising his course and replying to every email personally. He chose the chic and pretty town of Annecy in the foothills of the Alps as the location for his studies, with the hope of indulging his passion for paragliding at the same time; the fact that he never actually got to do this became irrelevant as everything was, in his own words, better than he could have imagined.

Once at the school, where he was enrolled on a 5-week elementary French course, Rob could not have found the staff more helpful and patient. He was able to learn at his own pace, aided by the language being spoken slowly around him, and he picked up a vast amount of vocabulary by jotting down new words in class and reading French articles and magazines in his own time.

He was in a class with a mix of nationalities – Chinese, Taiwanese, Mexican, American and Swedish, to name a few – and, most importantly, had no opportunity whatsoever to speak English, meaning that he had to get by and make himself understood in French whichever way he could. The learning curve was steep and he improved dramatically. This was further enhanced by his stay in a host family, where he says he learnt just as much as at the school. His host gave him ample opportunity to practise the language, keeping her speech simple and clear, but she also gave him space to do his own thing – the best of both worlds.

I asked Rob what he thought about learning a language later in life (he is 53), as so many people think that they are too old to learn a language or that classes might be full of teenagers straight out of school. Rob’s class was a fascinating mix of 17-62 year olds and, although he conceded that it depends on the type of person you are, he felt that he had more self-confidence taking a course now. He clearly thrived during his time in Annecy and I found his story even more heart-warming as he claimed to be dreadful at languages at school. It just goes to show that taking a language holiday abroad bears no resemblance to childhood memories of sitting in a classroom at school, too embarrassed to say anything.

Moving on from his experience in Annecy, I was keen to find out more about Rob’s subsequent move to France. I asked him whether he thought knowledge of the language was important in immersing himself in another culture and got a resounding ‘yes’! His 5-week course was perfect as it gave him a good grounding; two or three weeks, he thought, was probably not enough. His French has been invaluable in tasks such as registering his car and sorting out its MOT. He has even found the locals more accepting of him because of his attempts to speak French – I say ‘attempts’ as Rob modestly keeps telling me that it’s far from perfect, but this is exactly the point. People don’t really care how good you are, or not – what they care about is your effort to respect and speak their language, and Rob is a shining example of this.

For others considering relocating abroad, Rob offers a useful piece of advice; it’s good to try to go somewhere where you already know someone. It can be invaluable to have someone who’s already done it answer your questions, especially when it comes to the ins and outs of French bureaucracy. For him, however, the move was extremely easy: he and his wife used a British-based estate agent, which paid for itself with all the hassle avoided. With so many Brits emigrating, they also found internet forums a great source of advice.

I have to admit that what I loved hearing most was how Rob’s course has given him confidence to speak in French to the coach from his local paragliding school, near Limoges where he now lives, and in local shops. Speaking some of the language has undoubtedly made a huge difference to his integration into French life, and I found his enthusiasm and determination utterly inspiring. He hopes to resume his French studies again soon – perhaps at the university in Limoges – and I wish him all the best for that and his future in his new home country.

Cactus specialises in organising language courses for individuals and groups, having done so since 1999 for clients all over the globe and for diverse needs and budgets. With an extensive network of approved teachers and a strong in-house academic team, we are able to tailor a language course to suit your specific learning needs, anywhere in the world and whenever is convenient to you.

We offer French courses in Annecy and in many locations across France and Canada. Evening courses in French are also available in the UK and US. We also offer private and corporate language training for relocation.

The photo at the beginning of this article was kindly contributed by Rob; he took it whilst paragliding at Dune du Pilat, the highest sand dune in Europe, near Bordeaux.