Top 10 Christmas gifts for language & travel enthusiasts

If you’re buying Christmas gifts for anyone interested in travel and/or foreign languages, here are some ideas to help in your quest for the perfect present!

1. A language course

A language course makes a useful and highly original present for any friend/relative/partner who is interested in learning or brushing up a foreign language, or who has got their sights set on foreign travel in the new year. There are hundreds of languages to choose from, and lots of ways to learn – evening courses in the UK or US, general, intensive and activity-related courses abroad, or even tailor-made tuition. If you’d prefer to leave the choice of language and location to your loved one, Cactus gift vouchers are available to buy. Give us a call on 0845 1304775 (UK local rate) or 1-888-577-8451 (US toll-free) for more information.

2. Lonely Planet’s ‘Best in Travel 2014’

A great book for any keen traveller, this guide presents the best destinations, journeys and experiences for the upcoming year. Full of inspiration and the perfect antidote to any winter blues!

3. French lessons combined with cookery classes

Anyone who has visited foreign shores will have tasted new and exciting flavours. Present your partner or flatmate with the opportunity to learn French in Aix-en-Provence and study the art of cookery at the same time! The lucky recipient will learn about Provence’s delicious cuisine, including cheeses, pastries and wines, take cooking classes and visit both an olive oil mill and a local vineyard. Bon appétit!

4. Contribution to air travel

If you know someone with impending travel plans, why not help them out with the cost of their flight or even buy the flight for them? This is one present sure to provide memories of a lifetime.

5. A pocket translator

Anyone who is travelling to countries where foreign languages are spoken could find a pocket translator very useful in a whole range of situations…

6. An iTunes voucher for downloading language learning tools for your iPad/iPhone

If free time is in short supply, a flexible and convenient way to learn a language is to download learning materials on to your iPod or Phone. With iTunes vouchers, your friend or relative can download as much material as they like.

7. A travel journal

Lots of people like to write a journal whilst they travel, and it’s a great way to ensure that once-in-a-lifetime experiences abroad are never forgotten. A nicely bound journal to write in will make a great present for anyone about to embark on world travels.

8. A charity donation in their name

Donating money to a charity is something that a lot of people would like to do, but is not something that everyone can feasibly afford. Making a donation on their behalf therefore might make a fantastic present. Donations to charities such as World Vision and UNICEF can be made via the Donation4Charity website.

9. A dictionary/book of verb tables

They may not be as exciting as downloadable podcasts and other online resources, but dictionaries and verb tables are an essential tool for anyone hoping to learn a language.

10. A TEFL course

Gaining a TEFL (Teaching English as a Foreign Language) qualification is a great idea for anyone wanting to get out there and see the world. Teaching opportunities exist worldwide, and working in this type of capacity means that you can truly experience the culture of the country in which you are teaching. If this is something that your friend/partner/relative is interested in, why not book them on an introductory TEFL course?

Spanish Evening Course in Brighton: a first-hand account

Having put my languages on the back burner since having kids, I thought it was time to brush up my Spanish – and, at the same time, hopefully inspire my little ones. An evening course was the perfect way to do just that…

As a busy working mum, fitting a language course into what was already a frenzied week was slightly optimistic. But sometimes you need to stick your head out…this was something I wanted to do, and surely the kids could cope without me at bedtime once a week. So it was that I ran out the door, notebook in hand, one rainy Wednesday evening to my first Spanish Intermediate 3 class.

Week 1

Any doubts as to whether I should be doing a course were put to rest as soon as I walked through the door. Straight into Spanish, smiles all around, and a teacher who I warmed to immediately – a fun, bubbly Spanish señorita who seemed as mad about languages as I am. There were only five of us in the class – three of whom had progressed from previous courses – which was the perfect number to encourage class interaction and allow us individual attention from our teacher, Emma.

The next two hours flew by as we played language games to get to know each other, one of my questions focusing on why my classmates wanted to learn Spanish – a topic that always fascinates me. One girl, for love – of course. Think Spanish boyfriend, in-laws, future bilingual kids, etc. Another dreamed of moving to Spain. Nice. As for me? I just want to get back the Spanish I learnt years ago and which has laid dormant in my head for more years than I wish to calculate. I also want to inspire my kids, to have them grow up thinking languages are cool. I got home that night to find my poor husband frazzled after a chaotic bedtime. But as the little ones bundled into our bed at 6.30 the next morning, asking me to teach them phrases in Spanish (we got as far as “Hola! Me llamo Oliver” and important toy names such as “elefante” and “peluche”), I realised that perhaps this could be a great thing for all of us.

Weeks 2-9

The weeks proceed with us learning exactly what we had requested in our initial course questionnaires: to learn common Spanish expressions, to understand the real Spanish you hear in the streets, and to gain general confidence in speaking. Lessons cover a variety of exercises to ensure we are improving all language skills: listening to role plays, singing popular songs, reading articles from newspapers and media, writing short texts, discussing topical issues in Spain and the world, and so on.

Emma is quick to pick up on any mistakes and ensure that we all understand, in a fun and inclusive way. Intuitive, smiling and radiating enthusiasm, it’s impossible not to get caught up in her passion for teaching, and I think of the lucky school students who she teaches in her day job for having such a natural ‘profesora’. When I was at school it was rare to have a native language teacher, and I can’t think of better GCSE motivation than having someone like Emma at the front of the classroom.

As for us, back learning as adults, we progress quickly too. New vocabulary and phrases are always listed on the whiteboard and topics lead off onto fun and random tangents such as “We just found out the word for blueberry…let’s name 10 other fruits as quick as we can!”. We’re kept on our toes for the whole lesson and the classes fly by, week after week. For me, personally, it never matters how tired I might have felt beforehand…I always leave feeling exhilarated, with a spring in my step. I get home to find that bedtimes have become calm and tear-free, but can’t sleep because I’m excited by all this new Spanish in my head.

Week 10

We round off our final lesson listening to Spanish music and playing a Spanish word game, a glass of tinto de verano in hand (never mind that it’s November) and garlicky olives, chorizo and jamón serrano on the table before us. After all, it’s as much about soaking up the culture as it is about learning verb tables, right?

I feel sad that my brief window of Spanish each week has come to a close but, with the renewed confidence and motivation it has given me, I know this is just the beginning of my renewed love affair with Spanish. Phoning home to check on the kids and hearing a small voice say “Hola mama!” the other end tells me that it’s all worth it.

Sarah took a 10-week evening Spanish course in Brighton at Intermediate 3 level, with teacher Emma Punchard. Cactus offers more evening and part-time language courses in Brighton, London and other UK locations.

Christmas in Rome: A magical festive getaway

The Italian capital is an unlikely winner when it comes to festive getaways…

Rome might not seem like the obvious place to head for Christmas, but for a sumptuous display of Christmas tradition within a unique religious setting, and a glass of mulled wine never far, it is an unlikely winner when it comes to festive escapes.

An obvious and deserved target for any visitor at this time is St Peter’s Square, in The Vatican. With its giant, extravagantly adorned Christmas tree and life-size nativity scene (or presepe) in front of the Basilica, it is for many a true embodiment of Christmas. This culminates with the Papal Midnight Mass on Christmas Eve and the Pope’s annual Christmas message on the day itself: to join the reunion of so many people, from Rome and beyond, is an occasion in itself.

Christmas in Rome is not just concentrated around these few days. In truth it really starts on 8th December, the festival of the Immaculate Conception, an important event in the Roman Catholic calendar. On this day, the Pope visits the Spanish Steps and pays homage to the statue of Mary, crowning her with a garland of flowers. He then goes on to give mass at the church of Santa Maria Maggiore.

From this day in early December the Eternal City begins to twinkle in festive spirit. Christmas markets open up – don’t miss Piazza Navona to scout creative additions to a nativity scene, as well as wooden toys and other Christmas goodies – and smaller nativity scenes than the one at St Peter’s are re-created in churches across Rome. Christmas shopping is less of a chore than a delight as shopping streets sparkle under fairy lights, buskers dressed as Santa play festive songs and some shops even adorn their pavements with red carpet. If nothing else, you’ll be spoilt for choice when it comes to choosing presents and wow your friends back home with some original gifts – fine Italian leather, stylish stationery, traditional local souvenirs and quality food items.

And the big plus? Rome’s relatively mild winter climate means less room needed to pack ear muffs and scarfs and more to fill with all your purchases. Perfetto!

Cactus offers Italian courses in Rome and other locations across Italy. Evening and part-time courses in Italian are also available in the UK and the US for those wishing to brush up on the language before visiting.

Snap a Seat competition: your chance to WIN a 10-week language course

Would you like your next evening course to be free? Simply take a picture of what the Cactus Language experience means to you and it might be…

The Cactus ‘Snap a Seat’ (previously Tweet for a Seat) competition was launched in January 2013 and runs each term of our UK evening and part-time courses.

The idea is for Cactus students to tell us about their language learning, by taking a picture of what the ‘Cactus Language experience’ means to them.

The winning entry receives a 10-week evening language course in the location of their choice!

Previously only open to Twitter users, entries can now be received in three ways:

1) By uploading your photo to our Facebook wall using #CactusLE,
2) By uploading your photo to Twitter using #CactusLE,
3) By sending it to us by e-mail:

Terms and Conditions apply.

To date we have received some wonderful entries: see Alice Dipper’s winning picture from the April-July term 2013 and Elena Giulia Venturini’s winning picture from the Jan-April term 2013.

The closing date for the current competition is Friday 13th December 2013.

Good luck! We look forward to viewing your pictures and to giving a free language course to our next winner – the perfect Christmas present!

Cactus Worldwide Monthly Blog: December 2013

In our last blog of the year we’re bringing you some exciting new locations to look forward to in 2014. A very Happy Christmas from us all at Cactus and we look forward to sending you on more language learning adventures in the new year!


Hello, and welcome to December’s edition of the Cactus Worldwide blog! 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 month’s blog is aimed at letting you know about what’s brand new at Cactus Worldwide for the year ahead, and if you have any questions about anything you read here, please feel free to contact me via and I’d be happy to answer any questions.

1. Olinda Portuguese Language School – Olinda, Brazil


For all of our students of Brazilian Portuguese we are very happy to announce a new partnership with the Olinda Language School, located in Olinda, Pernambuco, one of the most beautiful cities in Brazil! From 2014 (and just in time for the World Cup) we are pleased to be able to offer an alternative destination to the more frequently visited cities of Rio and Sao Paulo, and offer our students the opportunity to spend some time at this exceptional independent school and not only be immersed in authentic Brazilian Portuguese, but also have the opportunity to combine language classes with a variety of social programmes –including activities such as photography, percussion and football coaching with a local expert.


The school is run by directors Justin McPherson and Norman Monteiro (as an Australian & Brazilian partnership) and all the teachers in Olinda are local native speakers and experts in teaching Portuguese to foreign students. The classrooms are comfortable and climate-controlled, and a reading room and break room are available to the students, as well as a large auditorium and a kitchen. Walking distance homestays are also readily available. If you need any more reasons, please feel free to get in touch, or visit the link below for more info!

Brazilian Portuguese Courses in Olinda, Brazil

2. France Langue Opéra – Paris, France


France Langue are a small chain of quality language schools who have been teaching French to thousands of students from over 80 countries since their inception in 1976 and they still welcome students all year round at each of their centres: Paris, Biarritz, Bordeaux & Nice. Cactus and France Langue have worked together for many years, but new to us for 2014 is the offer of French courses at their elegant school in Opéra, Paris, in a lively neighbourhood between the department stores along Boulevard Haussmann and the fabulous jewellery shops in Place Vendôme. All in all, this is a perfect choice for the student looking at visiting Paris to study French, but seeking a comfortable and quiet school in a classy neighborhood. Class sizes here are limited to only 10 students as a maximum, and the average age is 32, so it’s ideal for the focused student for whom individual attention is of the highest importance.


The school itself is in a calm setting, in a typically Parisian building on the Boulevard des Italiens, away from the bustle of the street. With several bus and metro stations close by, access to the school is very simple wherever you are staying in Paris.

You can visit the link below to see much more about what’s on offer:

French Courses in Paris Opéra with Cactus Language & France Langue

3. London Weekend IELTS – Kilburn, London, United Kingdom

Finally, new for 2014 is an intensive 2-day IELTS programme in Kilburn, London, designed for any students of English who are looking to rapidly improve their writing skills in preparation for the exam date.

The course is always scheduled to run 2 weeks before the official IELTS exam dates, and is delivered by our partner, Robin Ashenden, who has nearly twenty years of teaching experience and is a DELTA qualified English language teacher. He has taught IELTS regularly over the past five years and has specifically taught writing and creative writing for non-native speakers at the annual University of Westminster summer school, a course he has now delivered for four years running. Robin has an MA in travel literature, and has been a travel journalist for publications like Sunday Times Travel, Wanderlust and the Guardian.


Nisrine Zaaraoui, from France, writes: “I really enjoyed my English lessons with Robin. He is a very good teacher – I can even say he is one of the best I ever had. His classes are very dynamic and interactive. He has very good communication and pedagogical skills. He is very open-minded and interested in others’ cultures, and he always brings new interesting topics to debate in class. You never get bored in class and he teaches you expressions used in the “real world”. So if you want to improve your English quickly, Robin will be able to make this happen. I guarantee you that you will really enjoy your English class.

To find out more about the weekend programme, please visit the link below:

London Weekend IELTS – Intensive Weekend Writing Course with Robin Ashenden

We hope this selection has been of interest, and may have even given you some ideas for study options for the year ahead. Any Qs, please feel free to contact me directly and I’d be happy to help.

Happy planning 😉

Best Wishes,


Oliver Donovan
Agency Product Manager

A week in Barcelona: a vibrant city in which to soak up the Spanish language and culture

Executive PA at Cactus, Cecilia Harvey, tells us about her week in Barcelona enjoying the Mediterranean sunshine and indulging in local culinary delights…all whilst attending a local language school.

Butterflies fluttered in my stomach as I boarded the train headed for Gatwick airport. Drizzle on the windows made me smile, knowing I was heading for a 28 degree heat.  Since the birth of my children, I had never been away by myself, let alone do something “just for me”. Having not ever been to Barcelona either, I could hardly contain my excitement.

What a luxury to be in the airport alone, to sit and have a coffee and read my Lonely Planet guide. I carefully planned my itinerary for each day, knowing which sites I definitely wanted to see. I also knew that Friday was a holiday in Spain and there would be no classes that day. For that day, beach!

As I left behind the storm that was brewing in the south east, and that had been announced weeks before, I heard people talking on the plane about advice they left to their friends and families about “battening down the hatches”…. The plane did go through some very strong turbulence, and with my stomach in my throat, I just closed my eyes and couldn’t stop smiling.

Landing in Barcelona in the heat was brilliant, my skin immediately thirsty for that Vitamin D. I was in no rush, but knew exactly where I was headed. The Aerobus is fantastic; it leaves from both Terminals at Barcelona’s El Prat airport and takes you right to the centre of the city. I just soaked up the sites as the very easy 30 minute journey left me standing in the beautiful and buzzing Plaça de Catalunya. As I walked down toward my apartment, I purposely chose a quiet street (well, quiet doesn’t really exist in central Barcelona!) but not down one of the main ones, let’s say, as I wanted to leave the world famous “La Rambla” for when I had time to soak up everything around me.

Settling into my flat for the week

I got to my address, and a very sweet girl called Lisa from the school, International House, was there to greet me. She gave me the keys to my room, detailed some basic rules and instructions and left.  Wow…I had a real flashback to my student apartment at Uni. Very well equipped, the apartment gave onto a very noisy and echoey set of courtyards, all connected like a maze. My room was basic but incredibly clean. All I needed really, as I wasn’t planning on spending much time in it anyway!

I went out looking for somewhere to buy some basic essentials for breakfast the following day, but to no avail, as it was by then quite late on a Sunday afternoon. Instead, I stumbled across the wonderful “Cuines de Santa Caterina” – a well know eatery at the edges of a wonderful market, the Mercado de Santa Caterina. Unsure if I was hungry yet, I walked around, passed the Cathedral and through some streets, all buzzing with tourists and residents alike, going about their business.

Back at the flat, I was unpacking my case and heard the front door…it was Uli, one of my flatmates! From Bremen, Uli had a really interesting background.  I then met Katja, a Danish girl who was to be my other flat mate, although I didn’t see her very much at all. Uli and I chatted about our children and about why and how we were there. After deciding we were both hungry, we decided to go and grab something to eat. He had also arrived that day and like me, not managed to find anywhere to get any food. We went to the Cuines de Santa Caterina and I indulged in a local beer, grilled squid and fried artichoke hearts. What a culinary delight that was!

The following morning I turned up at International House, just 5 minutes round the corner from the flat having passed the visually stunning Palau de Música Catalana. I didn’t have opportunity then to spend more time, feasting my eyes on the intricate detail in the décor of the building….but it was on my list, so I knew I would return.

First day at the language school

At the school, all the new students were welcomed and had to take both written and oral tests after which we were all allocated our classes and teachers. In between tests, we were all sent upstairs for 20 mins to the school café, run by a woman whom I can only describe as a “force of nature”. The orders came in, thick and fast, both from us newbies and all the other students who by that time were taking their morning break. I sat on the outside terrace in full sun with my espresso. Fabulous!

My class was run by Marco, a born and bred Catalan guy who made it even more interesting, as he knew and understood the differences and could explain them to us as well as ensure we knew which was Castellano and which was Catalán. There were only five of us in the class which was fantastic, and I knew I would be challenged mentally as not only was the course labelled “intensive” but my level was Upper Intermediate III and my classmates had already been there for 2 or more weeks.  Most of the days following that, I came out of the school, my head buzzing and hurting from the bombardment of information. The verbs really challenged me as they differ so much from Italian ones (I am half Italian) and there are so many more tenses to remember and so many more subtleties. We had a lot of course work which most days I decided to do immediately after school, so I could then just relax and enjoy the free afternoons and evening. This didn’t always go to plan, as the Mercado de Santa Caterina lured me in on my second day and I found myself eating tapas in the Cuines again….

Excursions & wanderings…

The school organised some excursions which on a couple of occasions I joined. The first to the Barrio de Gracia, and the other to the museum of Catalan History. Both incredibly worthwhile going to with local people as your guide as they knew a lot more than any written guide will illustrate. The Barrio de Gracia is very trendy and has a multitude of small restaurants and cafés of different cuisines and wonderful little artisanal shops which are gems. My favourite site there was the Casa Vicens – architecturally mesmerizing. The residents of Gracia are very proud to be “from Gracia” and they have various parties and celebrations, which are different in each street! The museum of Catalan History was very interesting. Created with a multitude of interactive features, it was designed with all ages in mind. Incredibly interesting actually for a foreigner to see just how much Barcelona has contributed to many types of trades which not only still exist in Barcelona and to a wider extent, Spain, but how the city was a pioneer in a lot of them.

I achieved so much in six days: I walked down the Rambla, just with the intent of subjecting my ears to the local language and setting my brain into “Spanish mode” – and it worked. I shopped in the famous Mercado de la Boqueria, where my Lonely Planet didn’t fail me: an explosion of colours, sounds and smells, it became my daily favourite spot to be. I marvelled at Gaudi’s creations in all shapes and sizes; I met some lovely people and ate delicious food in tapas bars in little plaças where you know only the locals go. I walked along the beach and soaked up the rays and the warmth. I sat on grass verges by the marina and listened to a band playing and people dancing to the captivating rhythms and watched street dancers and breakdancers outside the Cathedral.

This experience has enriched me in so many ways. First and foremost I have really progressed in my Spanish and plan to keep it up with a Cactus Skype course. Secondly I have seen some amazing places, art, museums and eaten delicious local dishes and met interesting and friendly people. Last but not least, I visited a city which was welcoming and alive and was blessed to go to a well organised school where the staff was extremely competent and friendly. I will be going back with my family in the not too distant future.

Cecilia took a 1-week General Spanish language course of 20 lessons in Barcelona. Cactus offers Spanish courses in many other locations across Spain and Latin America. Those wishing to learn the basics or brush up before they go can also take a Spanish evening course in the UK or the US.

Weihnachten – Christmas in Germany

The German Christmas season starts in the beginning of December when everyone decorates their homes. Towns and cities put up Christmas lights, people make their home made Plätzchen (Christmas biscuits) and supermarkets are filled with Schokolade (chocolate), Lebkuchen (gingerbread), Marzipan (marzipan) and other sugary Christmas treats. A German Christmas tradition that helps counting down the days until Christmas and is also a great excuse for eating chocolate before breakfast are Adventskalender (advent calendars). A lot of people make theirs or at least fill them themselves, and you can also buy different fillers from the supermarket: like chocolate, wine gums, toys or even cosmetics.

Another tradition that helps to count down the days before Christmas are Adventskränze (Christmas wreaths). They come in many different versions made from pine, wood, plastic or metal. But they are always round and feature four Advent candles. One of them is lit every Adventssonntag (Advent Sunday).

For decoration, there are a couple of typical German accessories: Rauchermännchen (German incense smokers), Schwibbögen (candle arches), a Krippe (nativity scene) or simply Lichterketten (holiday lights).

What’s great about the German Christmas season is that there is another festive day at the beginning of the month. On December 6th Germans celebrate Nikolaus (St. Nicholas Day). Children clean their boots and put them in front of their door. If they have been good all year, the Nikolaus will put sweets and treats in their shoes. If they have been bad, all they will get is a Rute (twigs).

Of course you can get some of the treats on the Weihnachtsmarkt (German Christmas market). If you’ve never been to one-you’re definitely missing out. Every city in Germany has at least one Christmas market with little stalls where you can buy presents, jewellery, and treats like Bratwurst, Flammkuchen (tarte flambée) gebrannte Mandeln (burnt sugar almonds) and everyone’s favourite: Glühwein (mulled wine)!

The Weihnachtsbaum (Christmas tree) is usually put up and decorated on the 24th of December. German Christmas tree decorations do not really differ from other countries. People just decorate their tree depending on their personal taste or family tradition.

On Heiligabend (Christmas Eve), before opening presents, some families go to church, others just go for a walk or have tea. Depending on which part of Germany children are from they either believe in the Weihnachtsmann (Santa Claus) or the Christkind (Baby Jesus) delivering their presents.

In Germany there are also a lot of regional differences when it comes to Christmas dinner.  Most people keep it very simple though and have Würstchen (sausages) or Bratwurst with Kartoffelsalat (potato salad). Then, on Boxing day and Christmas day, the 1. und 2. Weihnachtsfeiertag it’s time for the festive meals: Gänse- or Entenbraten (roast goose or duck), Rotkohl (red cabbage), Grünkohl (kale), Maronen (chestnuts) and of course Klöße (dumplings).

Suzanne Furstner Scholarship 2013 Winning Entry: Rumina Iftikhar

We were thrilled to receive entries from all over the world into our scholarship this year. After careful deliberation by a panel of judges, we are delighted to announce Rumina Iftikhar, from Pakistan, as our overall winner. Many congratulations to Rumina who will take her prize of a 4-week CELTA course in Philadelphia next year. Thank you to all applicants for your inspiring entries.

Here is Rumina’s winning essay…

It’s seven fifteen in the morning and I’m on my way to work. I switch on the MP3 player and flip through the songs till I get to Rihanna’s “Diamond in the sky.” I sing along, loud and carefree. It may be Monday but that’s not going to get me down. I’ve got my planner for the week made, a pile of horribly written English language essays duly checked and I feel prepared to face anything. Even school! Nobody’s going to accuse me of shirking my responsibilities!

As an MBA who opted for teaching after my kids were born, because of the flexible hours and summer and winter breaks, I have often felt at a disadvantage because I have never received any formal training in teaching the English language. That’s the problem with Pakistan. A country that focuses more on long-standing feuds with neighbors than on education and training. Anyone who can speak the language fairly well becomes an English language teacher. Now, me! I’ve always loved this language! As a child I would devour story books. Enid Blyton was my favorite writer, followed by C.S Lewis and Louisa M. Alcott. I was happiest sitting alone in my room, nose stuffed into a book. So though I love the language and feel very passionately about helping my students, sometimes I feel, even after all these years, that I’m just groping in the dark. I’ve learnt on the job, I’ve had some fantastic people help me, but no formal training. And that is what I want more than anything else now. My MBA just won’t let me get very far in this field.

So, back to Rihanna. She helps me enjoy my long, long drive to school and it is with deep reluctance that I get out of my car when I finally arrive. Nevertheless, I stride purposefully into school and make my way to my class. The kids stand up as I enter and chant “Good morning ma’am,” with big grins on their faces. That is what I love about them, their unquenchable spirits. Even Monday can’t dampen those. They may not be the best at essay writing or figuring out the meaning of words from the context, but there is no lack of enthusiasm and good cheer here. They like their English teacher, though she can be a bit of a grouch at times, and they’re willing to try as hard as they can to please her. This week I want them to write a science fiction story. We’ve discussed different genres and the features of some of them. Science fiction appeals to me because there is so much scope for the imagination here. I’m sure they will enjoy it.

I’ve brought along an interesting sci-fi story that I downloaded from the net. We’re going to read that first and go over the features of a sci-fi story as we read. Next is the long brainstorming session. We think up several brilliant ideas and I show them how to turn these into a simple narrative essay. After 80 minutes of non-stop brainstorming, instructing, guiding, I feel they’re ready to fill in their sci-fi prewrite, duly photocopied and handed to everyone in the class. Then they should be able to write the story.

They work assiduously, silently. I walk around the room keeping an eye on them to point out any startling grammatical errors. I know they’re enjoying this, but I can only hope they churn out decent stories. The problem with these kids is that they come from families where English isn’t spoken very frequently and neither do they, as a general rule, enjoy reading. This makes my job even tougher. I don’t have a magic wand, and despite all my planning and researching, I still feel like there is so much more for me to learn. So much more that will equip me with real confidence in my own teaching abilities and will allow me to guide these children better. These children who look upon me hopefully, sure that I will put an end to all their language-related woes, something I would dearly love to do. I think longingly about the CELTA course being offered in Philadelphia. Six weeks of that grueling course would teach me so much, and I would come back so much more poised and in control, undaunted by the challenges of my exacting job, ready to face them head on. It seems like a dream right now, but it’s one I’m determined to achieve.

Cactus is proud to run the Suzanne Furstner Scholarship each year as part of the Suzanne Furstner Foundation, which was set up in memory of our much-loved friend and colleague, Suzanne, who we tragically lost in a road accident in Spain in 2006. The Foundation aims to support language and educational projects across the world, a subject that was close to her heart.