Oktoberfest or “d’ Wiesn” to the locals

To help you survive this annual German festival we have come up with some essential phrases and vocabulary…

Every year over 6 million people flock to the city of Munich in Germany to be part of the world famous German festival, Oktoberfest. And what exactly do you do? Drink beer from 6 of Munich’s brewers for 16 days! However, there are plenty of other things to do in this charming city in southern Germany, such as trying the delicious local food and taking a ride on the world’s largest portable rollercoaster!

Finally, if you really want to join in the festivities, why not try dressing up? Ladies traditionally wear a Dirndl, which is a Bavarian dress with an apron, and men wear a Lederhosen, which are leather shorts with embroidery.

Impress the locals with our top 10 Oktoberfest phrases and vocabulary!

Hello my name is….what is your name? Hallo, ich heiße ….. Wie heißt du? – (Great way to make new friends!)
Another beer please Noch ein Bier, bitte.
I need a re-fill, please! Nachschenken, bitte!
It’s tapped! O’zapft is! (b)
I want to buy beer tokens Ich möchte Biermarken kaufen
Which way is the Wiesn? (Large field where Oktoberfest takes place) Wo geht es zur Wiesn?
Next round is on him/her! Die nächste Runde zahlt er/sie!
Cheers! Prost!
One, two, drink! Oans, Zwoa, Gsuffa! (b)

Rollercoaster die Achterbahn
Beer tent das Bierzelt
Family day (prices are cheaper) der Famillientag
Waiter/Waitress die Bedienung
Sausage die Wurst
Beer mug der Bierkrug
Pretzel die Brezel
Ticket die Fahrkarte
Music die Musik
Bartender der Wirt

(b) indicates that it is in Bavarian German

If you find yourself wanting to expand on your vocabulary, also visit www.oktoberfest.de for a whole dictionary of essential Oktoberfest words.

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. Our expertise in the field of face-to-face tuition is second-to-none. 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.

The FIBA Basketball World Cup 2014

The next FIBA Basketball World Cup is taking place in Spain and we thought we would like to help basketball enthusiasts, around the world, with some essential vocabulary and phrases in Spanish!

This international event, which takes place every four years, will be hosted by several cities across Spain from the 30 August to 14th September 2014. The FIBA Basketball World Cup brings together 22 teams from across the world, including previous champions the United States. The tournament has been running for over 60 years!

How exciting would it be to watch this invigorating sport in Spain?! To ensure you can join in on all the fun, we have provided some essential Spanish vocabulary and phrases to make sure you are well and truly warmed-up for next year!

Basketball lingo that will even impress the likes of Michael Jordan and Kobe Bryant!

Slam dunk One of the most famous phrases. It is a high jump shot in which the ball is thrust down through the hoop. Mate
Bank shot A Shot that is aimed at the backboard so it “banks” into the Basket. This shot is used when close to the basket and usually when the player is face on and not to the sides of the court. Tiro a tablero
Player A member of the basketball team. El jugador / la jugadora / el/la baloncestista
Jump pass / shot A pass / shot made while the player is in the air. El pase / el tiro en suspensión
Free throw An unopposed attempt to score a point, usually awarded to a team after a foul by the shooter on the opposing team. El tiro libre
Dribble When a player bounces the ball. Driblar
Referee An official who enforces the rules in sports. Árbitro
Substitute A player who comes into the game to replace a player on the court. Sustituto
Dead ball When there’s a dead ball, the ball is not in play. Balón muerto
Pivot When a player is standing still with the ball he has to keep a foot on the floor, until he passes or shoots the ball. He can’t lift his foot but he can turn on it. This is called pivoting. Pivote

Top ten phrases translated into Spanish for when you’re cheering on your team in the Basketball World cup!

Coast to coast Costa a costa (from one end of the pitch to the other)
Take the shot Toma el tiro
He shoots, he scores! Tira y marca
Let’s go, let’s go! ¡Vamos vamos!
We are better than them! Somos mejores que ellos
Champions! Campeones
Pass the ball Pasa el balón
Ref, that was a foul! ¡Árbitro, que era una falta!
My grandma could throw better than that! Mi abuela podría tirar mejor que eso
Shoot it Tira

Check out the official FIBA website for more information: www.fiba.com

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. Our expertise in the field of face-to-face tuition is second-to-none. 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.

Ramadan in Morocco: my experience as a foreigner

Assistant Director of Studies Leticia Artiles Gracia, who lives and works part-time in Morocco, discovers that Ramadan is both an eye-opening and a heart-warming experience.

My language and cultural immersion continues and I cannot describe how enriching this whole experience is turning out to be.

I continue to find the language really difficult; it’s not that the more you learn the easier it becomes, but the other way around. This is, however, challenging and motivating: I’m definitely not giving up.

I have just spent 4 weeks in Brighton working and came back 3 days after Ramadan had started. First time ever I am in a Muslim country during this holy month for them and it’s definitely a whole new experience for me.

Most people may think that Ramadan is just about not eating and drinking while there is daylight, but there is a lot more to it than the simple act of fasting: simple may not be the right word as it must be anything but simple. It’s true that the most known part is the fact that Muslims fast for a whole month, from dawn to sunset. This means refraining from eating, drinking liquids, smoking, sexual relationships and even swearing.

The month of Ramadan is the ninth month of the Islamic calendar and this month is regarded as one of the 5 Pillars of Islam. This year it took place between the beginning of July and the beginning of August and the start and end dates vary from country to country. In Morocco it started on 9th July and it ended on 9th August with what is called Eid al Iftar: a 3 day holiday where a lot of celebrations take place and presents are exchanged.

Regardless of how much people follow religion during the rest of the year, Ramadan is something everyone in Morocco does (except people belonging to other religions or atheists). But it’s not my intention to deepen into the theory of Ramadan – more to share my experience as a foreigner in Morocco during this month.

It really gives me a sense of peace and joy to see how they all become one. The fact that everyone is doing the same and they all follow the same patterns is something I have never experienced before.
During Ramadan many things changed before my eyes. Streets were full of people from around 10pm but what was surprising is that it wasn’t only men; there were lots of women and children too. Having said that, the complete opposite happened every day from around 6.30pm until 8.30pm, the time when everyone would run home to have Iftar with their relatives or friends.

Most days, at this time, I just sat on my terrace or went for a walk to enjoy what a couple of months ago I thought it was impossible: silence…

Another big change I observed during this month was women’s clothing. Because this is a spiritual month they all put away their usual clothes (no matter how traditional or how modern they normally dress) and opt for a more modest way of dressing: generally the djellabas. Women wear them in so many different colours and patterns that it made the landscape even more beautiful to my eyes.

As it is also a time for even more praying, the mosques became so full that they even had to create some extra space in their patios and in the streets for men to come to pray, especially for the prayer after the break of the fast.

But it also has its negative side: arguments and conflicts in the streets are more usual during this period as people tend to be in a bad mood when they cannot smoke and eat. And also people use their cars more as they all want to be home on time to break the fast with their families, so you have to be extra careful when you are on the road.

I had the pleasure to join friends some days for Iftar and I absolutely loved the experience. The ritual is quite impressive as they all sit at the table with all the food ready, but they do not start eating until they get the sign that the they can do so, which is announced by the call to prayer. Then they start by eating some dates and drinking either milk or water or juice.

The meal varies depending on the place and the different families but usually consists of a harira (soup made of chick peas, lentils, meat, egg, flour, etc) served with bowls of dates and hardboiled eggs sprinkled with salts and cumin. On the table you might also find Msemen, Harsha and other Moroccan bakery specialities and sweets such as Chebekia or Sfouf. But what cannot lack are drinks. They drink all that they have not been able to drink during the whole day (water, juice, tea, coffee, milk, etc.). After this meal, some people have another one at around 10pm and yet another one before 3am. Night-time hours are spent walking the streets, in cafes or watching TV and chatting to the family.

Life for the Moroccans changes so much during this month. Many people stay up through the night and sleep during the day – including those who work normal hours during the day, which means that their hours of sleep during this month are almost halved. I don’t know how they do it but they manage to function well, although they do look very tired all day long. If you walk through the parks during the day, you see many people lying on the grass sleeping but I guess those are the ones that don’t work or those that own their own shops and will work during the night.

Ramadan is a month for spending time with the family and friends, socialising, caring, sharing, praying… It’s definitely not easy, but it’s something they are used to doing and they love it!

And I loved seeing how it is and sharing it with so many friends who opened their homes and hearts to help me experience it to the full.

Cactus Staff Review: French Language Course in Brighton

Sebastian Clemens, intern for Cactus Language, tells us about his 10-week French Language Course in Brighton.

I studied French for three years at school but never had the opportunity to put into practice what I had learned as I have never visited France. So a language course with Cactus seemed like the perfect opportunity to brush up on my knowledge and skills. I did not remember much from school so I decided to take a Beginner 2 French class, which turned out to be a good decision for me as the level was neither too high nor too low.

After revising some of the basics of the French language like the alphabet, personal pronouns and grammar structures, the whole class was surprisingly quick at forming sentences and because of this my confidence grew when speaking in just a few hours of the course.

I think one of the reasons for my quick progress was due to the full immersive teaching method used. I believe this is the best feature because instead of translating words into English, the teacher explains, illustrates and describes language structures and words in French, helping the class understand and remember more. It is a lot of fun once you get used to this method and feels much more effective when learning a language.

The lessons lasted for two hours and time usually flew by with speaking, listening and writing exercises. There were occasional games and the lessons never felt boring and every week was a mixture of gaining new knowledge and revising what we had learnt in our previous lessons.

The homework helped me to keep track of the content covered in the last lesson as I found that sometimes it was hard to keep track of my progress, particularly because I am working and found I did not have a lot of time to revise.

I find that I still struggle with understanding spoken French on the radio or TV, but definitely hope I can continue some studying the French language on my own in the future.

If you would like to follow in Sebastian’s footsteps and take a French language course, then Cactus offer a variety of courses throughout the UK, US and in France.

Cactus Staff Review: French Language Course in Brighton (in English / en français)

Christina Niedermeier, marketing intern for Cactus Language, tells us about taking a French language course in Brighton after not having studied French for several years.

Sometimes the hardest thing to do is to start again, especially when studying languages – or so I thought.

When I was at school in Germany, I took French lessons for three years and I really enjoyed them. But when I had to decide which A levels I wanted to take, I dropped French because I wanted to focus on other subjects such as English, History and Maths. With my focus on other subjects, I did not think about the French language for a very long time and thought that I would not have the opportunity to study it again.

However, this February I came to the UK to do an internship in the marketing department of Cactus Language and as a member of the Cactus team I have the opportunity to take a free 10-week language course here in Brighton. As I was surrounded by people speaking different languages every day, I felt inspired to take them up on the language course but I was not sure which language to take as there are many to choose from. For that reason, I had to ask myself whether I wanted to learn a completely new language or did I want to refresh my really rusty French.

After a while, I decided to take a French language course with Cactus because I had already spent some time learning the language and wanted to revive the bits of French I still had in my head. I did the on-line level test as I was not sure of my language level and began an elementary level French course.

Before my first lesson started, I was fairly worried because I felt like I had forgotten everything I ever knew about French. I think many people who stop speaking a language for some time will feel the same. At the beginning of my course I found I was hesitant and struggled with the easiest of sentences but I knew that the grammar and vocabulary had to be somewhere in my head. I just needed to find them again.

Our French teacher was great and covered basic French grammar in the first few lessons, so everything came back to me step by step. So far, I can use basic French grammar again but I know it will take a little bit longer and a lot more work until I reach my former level. However, now that I have taken the first steps to start learning French again, it’s easier to keep going. I also have the motivation to improve because I will be attending university in Rabat, Morocco’s capital, for a semester and their second official language is French.

Version française

Parfois la chose la plus difficile à faire est de recommencer, particulièrement lorsqu’il s’agit d’étudier les langues étrangères, ou du moins c’est ce que je pensais.

Quand j’étais à l’école en Allemagne, j’ai suivi des cours de français pendant trois ans et j’ai vraiment adoré. Mais quand j’ai dû décider quelles matières je voulais prendre pour mon test de fin d’année de lycée (A levels), j’ai laissé tomber le français parce que je souhaitais me concentrer sur d’autres matières telles que l’anglais, l’histoire et les mathématiques. Etant focalisée sur ces matières, j’ai arrêté de penser au français pendant longtemps et je ne pensais pas que j’aurais l’opportunité de pouvoir à nouveau l’étudier.

Cependant, au mois de février de cette année je suis arrivée au Royaume-Uni pour y faire un stage au sein du service marketing de Cactus Language et, en tant que membre de l’équipe Cactus j’ai eu l’opportunité de suivre gratuitement des cours de langues pendant dix semaines ici à Brighton. Etant entourée de personnes parlant différentes langues chaque jour, cela m’a donné envie de suivre un cours de langues, mais je ne savais pas lequel prendre car le choix était important. Pour cette raison, j’ai dû me demander si je voulais apprendre une langue complètement nouvelle pour moi ou si je voulais rafraichir mon français très rouillé.

Après un moment, j’ai décidé de prendre les cours de français avec Cactus parce que j’avais déjà passé quelque temps à apprendre cette langue et voulais faire revivre les petits fragments de français que j’avais encore dans ma tête. J’ai fait le test en ligne comme je n’étais pas sûre de mon niveau de langue et j’ai commencé au niveau élémentaire.

Notre professeur de français était génial et a couvert les points de grammaire de base pendant les premières leçons, ce qui fait que tout est revenu petit à petit. Maintenant, je peux de nouveau utiliser quelques points de base de grammaire française mais je sais que ça me prendra un peu de temps et beaucoup de travail avant que j’atteigne mon précédent niveau. Cependant, maintenant que j’ai repris les premiers pas pour apprendre de nouveau le français, c’est plus facile de continuer. J’ai également la motivation de m’améliorer car je vais aller à l’université de Rabat, la capitale du Maroc, pendant un semestre et que leur seconde langue officielle est le français.

If you would like to follow in Christina’s footsteps and take a French language course, then Cactus offer a variety of courses throughout the
UK, US and in France.

Carnival fever in Rio de Janeiro, Brazil

Time to step into a whirlwind of shimmer, samba and non-stop partying!

Every year over 500,000 foreign visitors are attracted to the world’s biggest party, the Rio Carnival in Brazil. The festival causes the whole city to come to a complete standstill for a week as celebrations continue throughout the day and night. Traditional samba music is played and danced to and colourful costumes and floats parade through the streets.

This vibrant and colourful festival is usually held in February or the beginning of March, the week before Lent. The celebrations start on a Saturday and finish on fat Tuesday (Marti-Gras).

Check out our top tips and essential Brazilian Portuguese carnival vocabulary to make sure you make the most of your trip!

Top tips for Rio Carnival:

1. Organise and book your accommodation well in advance! The best hotels in the zona sul (South Rio) get booked up very early!

2. Buy your Rio Carnival ticket in advance. Tickets to watch the parade can sell out months beforehand – and although ticket prices to watch the Sambadrome parade can reach $200, it is definitely worth seeing! (The best viewing is in section 13).

3. Ensure you have your carnival costume ready and indulge in the Brazilian festival and culture. Let you hair down and dance with the locals and you’ll really feel part of the festivities.

4. Make sure you have plenty of money before the carnival starts, as banks are closed for the week and cash deposit machines are known to run dry.

5. The best form of transport for getting around the festival is a taxi, as they are not very expensive.

6. Make sure you get a map of the local blocos (street parties) so you can enjoy the after party into the early hours of the morning!

Essential words and phrases for Rio Carnival:

Hello Olá
Please Por favor
Thank you Obrigado (masculine)
Obrigada (feminine)
Dance Dançar
Sing Cantar
Lent Quaresma
The lady who holds the samba school flag Porta-bandeira
Partying Festejando
Music Música
Do you speak English? Fala Inglés?
I’m called Me chamo
Cool Legal
Street parties Blocos
Beautiful Belo
Colourful Colorido
Amazing Surpreendente
Costumes Vestuário
Floats Flutua

Carnival Phrases:

How much is a ticket? Quanto custa uma passagem?
I like your outfit Eu gosto da sua roupa.
How do you get to the parade Como faço para chegar ao desfile?
I think they are the best samba school Eu acho que eles são a melhor escola de samba.
Let’s dance! Vamos dançar!
I need to buy a costume Eu preciso comprar uma fantasia.
I love to party Eu amo festejar.
I’m so tired I have not slept in days! Estou tão cansada que não durmo em dias

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. Our expertise in the field of face-to-face tuition is second-to-none. 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.

Cactus staff review: Italian 10-week evening course, Beginner 3

Our Operations Intern at Cactus Language tells us about her 10-week Italian language evening course in Brighton

When I arrived in Brighton 12 weeks ago, I was very happy to hear that I would have the opportunity to participate in one of Cactus’ evening language courses. I have always been extremely fascinated by languages, so much so that when I was 15 and in the 10th grade of school, I was learning 5 different languages as my school offered a wide range of both obligatory and voluntary language classes.

As I had learnt Italian for two years, I decided to register for the Italian Beginner 3 course in my first week at Cactus Language. In my opinion, Italian is one of the most beautiful and colourful languages in the world and listening to people speaking Italian makes me think of lovely Italian towns, amazing landscapes and sunny and carefree holidays.

The 10-week Italian course was the perfect chance for me to refresh and engage in the Italian language again. The lessons not only provided me with this excellent opportunity but also allowed me to meet some new and interesting people who were also studying Italian for a variety of reasons. I really appreciated getting to know some of them personally and forming friendships whilst learning the language. The atmosphere in my classes was very lively and a lot of fun.

Our native teacher Roberta was great and extremely enthusiastic. I was fascinated by the way she taught with a wide variety of methods and materials so that the lessons were never dull. I especially enjoyed how the tasks seemed to relate to real situations, such as working on and presenting Italian dialogues during ‘un viaggio in Italia a Roma’. She easily managed to keep everyone involved and coped well with the different abilities of the class. If anyone was unsure about something, she was always happy to help and, if necessary, explain again using examples to make it clearer.

Having a native speaker of Italian as a teacher was a huge advantage, and it really reinforced what we learnt. I benefitted from the fact that Roberta only spoke English where clarification was needed and used Italian for the rest of the time in the lessons to communicate with us. Further to this, it improved our listening skills and she encouraged us to speak Italian at every chance to advance our speaking skills and especially our pronunciation. The tasks she set us were well balanced between all the disciplines, reading, writing, speaking and listening. I also appreciated that we always had the possibility of homework and that Roberta gave us good advice for self-studying at home during and after the course.

Given the opportunity I would definitely do this course again, as it was a great experience, and if I was staying for longer, I would definitely continue with my Italian course at the next level. I feel that I have made progress with my Italian and I hope to get the chance to use it again soon.

The course really inspired me to travel to Italy and to visit the country.

Grazie Roberta!

If you would like to follow in our intern’s footsteps and take an Italian language course, then Cactus offer a variety of courses throughout the UK, US and in Italy.

Cactus Worldwide Monthly Blog: August 2013

In this first of our monthly blogs dedicated to language holidays abroad, we’re sharing with you what’s new, what’s on offer and where our students are going. We hope that you’ll be informed and inspired!


Hello, and welcome to a new monthly blog here at Cactus! My name is Ollie, and I am the Product Manager for our agency – Cactus Worldwide. Our team of experienced course advisors are here every day to discuss options with you and help set up a varied range of unique language-learning experiences, all over the globe, throughout the year, for all of our wonderful students.

This short blog is designed purely to keep you informed about what we’re up to at the moment: what’s new, what’s on offer, and where our students are going. I hope this will be of interest, and may even provide you with inspiration for your next language-learning experience with Cactus. This month’s topic is Focus on: Spanish and if you have any questions about anything you read here, please feel free to contact me directly and I’d be happy to help.


1. Green season in Costa Rica – why go now?
2. La Tomatina in Spain – not to be missed!
3. 2 weeks for £200 in Granada, Spain
4. 20% off in Sosua, Dominican Republic
5. Spotlight on Karoline Lamb – learning Spanish in Cartagena, Colombia

1. Green Season in Costa Rica @ Intercultura – Colonial Heredia & Playa Samara


We are still accepting enrolments for students looking to study Spanish in Colonial Heredia & Playa Samara during Costa Rica’s ‘green season’ which runs up until November. There is traditionally more rain during this time, but you certainly shouldn’t let it put you off! It’s definitely worth enduring a bit of drizzle for the great value flights that are available and opportunities to visit incredible sites such as Arenal volcano, La Paz Waterfall and Monteverde Cloud Forest during the low season.

This season in Heredia and Samara is very popular with individual students in their 30s, 40s and 50s, and we can also arrange set programmes of classes, accommodation, activities and all-inclusive excursions for groups of 3 or more from £720 per person, per week. Highlights this season are performances by the National Symphonic Orchestra on October 31st and November 25th – so try and make those dates if you can! The school has two centres – one in Heredia, close to San Jose, and another on Samara beach, so students can split their time between the two.

2. La Tomatina 2013! @ Taronja – Valencia

August 28th 2013 is the date set for this year’s ‘La Tomatina’ – an epic food fight (mostly involving tomatoes) which happens in Buñol, close to Valencia, on the last Wednesday of August every year. In 2012, 50,000 people turned up to pelt one another with over one hundred metric tonnes of over-ripe fruit. Giant trucks deliver the fruit to Plaza del Pueblo at 11am on the day, and then the fight ensues…

The week-long festival also includes live music, parades, dancing and firework displays, and our partners in Valencia still have good availability for all course + accommodation options for the week if you are looking for a late last-minute summer break! They will be arranging a school trip to La Tomatina, so that would all be arranged for you. Just don’t forget your goggles…


The great ‘Chef Nando’ in Valencia, preparing pre-Tomatina paella.

3. Special Offer: 2 weeks for £200 in Granada, until the end of 2013 – Granada, Andalusia

If you are looking for a great autumn/winter deal this year then look no further than our partners in Granada, who are kindly (and exclusively) offering Cactus students 2 weeks of classes for only £200, inclusive of course materials and registration fees. The course provides 20 lessons per week, Monday to Friday, usually occurring in the morning between 9am and 1.30pm, and there are activities and excursions available.

Centrally located, the school is medium-sized and provides a friendly, relaxed and international atmosphere in which to enjoy your studies; this option is highly recommended by Cactus for a great value late-season trip to brush up your Spanish.

4. September Special: 20% off course + accommodation in Sosua – Sosua, Dominican Republic

For those of you in the U.S. or those looking for something further afield, how about a course on the beach in Sosua this September? It’s a great month for learning Spanish in the Dominican Republic – especially for students interested in water sports and scuba diving. The conditions are superb, with very good visibility, warm water temperatures and very few other tourists around.

Cactus can currently offer 20% off all listed course and school accommodation prices on request (via info@cactuslanguage.com) and you can check out the listings online here. The school accommodation is basic, but on-campus and with breakfast included (and a pool!), so you can relax as much as possible between your classes.


The private apartment complex (in the school grounds) in Sosua, Dominican Republic.

5. Spotlight: Karoline Lamb – Cartagena, November 2013

One of my favourite students to have helped in the last month is Karoline Lamb, who has just booked a 4-week Intensive Spanish course with host family accommodation in Cartagena, Colombia, with Cactus, for this coming November, en route to visiting her daughter and family in Australia. The accompanying photograph, kindly provided by Karoline, is of her on her travels and trespassing in South America last year.


Karoline’s unquestionable passion for people, learning Spanish and exploring South America is admirable and infectious, and she also intends to contribute to the Juan Felipe Gómez Escobar Foundation as a volunteer during her time in Cartagena – an institution set up to offer assistance to under-privileged children and young parents. I hope she has a wonderful time, and we are all looking forward to receiving her feedback!

Thank you for reading, and I hope this blog has been of interest – please feel free to call us, or contact me directly by e-mail, if you have any questions about anything you have read here. Of course, if you are interested in arranging a trip for yourself later this year, I’d be happy to help!

Best wishes,


Oliver Donovan
Agency Product Manager
Email: oliver.donovan@cactuslanguage.com

Gary Hogarth tells us his story of how he met his wife and how learning Spanish was for love

There are many reasons to start learning a new language – work, personal development, even just simple curiosity – but for me, a self confessed language phobic, there was only one thing that could get me learning again…love.

I come from a typical English family. We have visited the same resort on the Costa Del Sol many times, each time spending a sunny week in “England on Sea” with its Irish bars, English breakfasts and expats. The only Spanish I ever knew (and rarely used) was a few choice phrases enabling me to find the bathroom or order a beer.

Then, three and a half years ago, I met Thais through a mutual friend and was instantly smitten with this girl from Barcelona. At first I was lazy on the language front, relying solely on her amazing level of English, but after my first trip to visit her family it became clear that if I wanted to communicate with her family and friends, I would need to learn Spanish.

Decision made, I now had to figure out how best to go about studying. A quick Google search for Spanish classes in London brings up many different schools trying to get your business. However, time and time again I saw Cactus’ name popping up. When I investigated further, I was pleased that Cactus offered classes at times, levels and prices that suited me perfectly. I booked my first course starting in January 2011, a set of ten weekly two hour lessons at a London Bridge school.

I arrived for my first lesson far too early and a little nervous. The room was laid out like a classroom with desks in rows, so I chose mine and introduced myself to a few other early arrivals. A few minutes later, our teacher Conception (or Imma as we called her) arrived and immediately got us moving the desks into a much more relaxed semicircle. The group was a reasonable size which is normal for a Level 1 course and really good as you get to practise with many different people. Over the 10 week course I managed to become remarkably conversational in the areas/tenses I had learnt, helped by the excellent teaching, the reading materials and the podcasts provided. I also met lots of new and interesting people
(Nathan, Zoe, Will) and learnt a couple of important Spanish lessons that have stayed with me to today:

– Embarrassed in Spanish is not “embarazado” (that means pregnant)
– Coger doesn’t mean “to catch” in Argentina

I was so pleased with my level of Spanish after my first course I decided to go straight into Level 2 in March 2011. I was lucky enough to have the same teacher and many of the same people who were in my Level 1 class. The group was a lot smaller which was good as we had more one on one time with Imma and were able to ask more questions. The class, as with Level 1, was lively and conducted entirely in Spanish (English was only used to clarify if needed). I had a great time and again made lots of new friends, so much so that on the last evening we all went out for tapas (with the teacher as well).

I spent the summer using my new found Spanish skills on holiday in Florida after asking Thais to be my wife (¿Quieres casarte conmigo?). By September I was ready for a booster course before a Christmas/New Year holiday to Barcelona where I wanted to put my Spanish skills to the test with my future extended family. I registered for an intensive 5 week Level 3 course at the Picaddilly school with a new teacher Eduardo; this would be split into 2 evenings a week and the class was a lot smaller (4-5 people). I found that the intensiveness really suited me and helped me to focus on learning Spanish. Eduardo remains to this day one of the best Spanish teachers I have ever had.

I thought after these courses I would take a break from learning, as with a wedding in Spain to plan I wouldn’t have time for lessons, but it was early 2012 when I saw an interesting photo competition on Facebook from Cactus. I entered a photo and thought nothing of it, as I never win anything anyway. Much to my surprise I received an email a few months later telling me I had won a week’s intensive language course in Valencia. I was speechless and booked my flights the next day.

Cactus not only offers great courses here in the UK, but has partnered with some of the best language schools in other countries to offer residential intensive courses. Mine was in Valencia at the amazing Taronja school. I would be staying in a shared flat with eight other students (I got my own room) from around the globe, classes were either morning or afternoon and consisted of four hours a day with two different teachers. I had Ana and Maria Jose and really enjoyed the lively lessons and course content.

In addition to the classes, my study was supported by just being in Spain and speaking/hearing the Spanish language. So after a class, a new French friend and I went to Mercadona (a supermarket). It was really fun walking around a foreign supermarket speaking Spanish (and some English) and good practice for later.

What made the trip for me, though, was the total immersion of it all. Free afternoons and evenings were filled with activities and outings organised by the school (some at no extra cost). Activities included an “Intercambio” or language exchange, a Paella night, a Salsa night, a trip to a Bodega and a walking tour of Valencia. Throughout all these trips we were speaking as much Spanish as possible. This really made the trip feel like a holiday and not like going to school.

When I got back to the UK Thais was truly shocked at how fluent I had become, and I was ecstatic with my level of Spanish, so much so that I have returned for a further 2 week stay since then (I even got to see some of my old friends).

Now all of this was for a reason – love – more importantly, for my wedding speech. I got married on the 26th May 2013 on a beach south of Barcelona. I was so nervous – but not about getting married. I was nervous because I knew that both the guests at the wedding and the speech in my pocket were over 50% Spanish. I am pleased to say that I performed the speech without disaster and I think I rendered a few of my Spanish family speechless. My wedding was not only the happiest day of my life but the proudest as well. Thanks in part to Cactus.

Many thanks to Gary for taking the time to tell me about his experience and to hopefully inspiring others to learn a language.

If you would like to find out more about Gary Hogarth’s Spanish learning experiences, then check out his blog: www.sociallyacceptablegeek.com or follow him on Twitter @garyhogarth

The photo at the beginning of this article was kindly contributed by Gary taken and taken at his wedding by Even Films www.evenfilms.com

Cactus Language Training offers a variety of language courses in a range of languages throughout the UK, US and the world.