Cactus uses a so-called ‘full immersion’ method of teaching. What are the benefits of this?

What is Full Immersion?

Full immersion in language learning refers to the foreign language (the ‘target’ language) being taught in that language, with no other language being used during the teaching. It is the preferred method for Cactus’ teachers, and is also used amongst Cactus’ partner schools abroad.

We could say that it is learning a foreign language the same way we learned our native language: by ‘living’ it. The student doesn’t only study the language – they live it, in an exclusively target-language speaking environment: the classroom. A well designed, full immersion course can surround students in the language, giving them opportunities to speak and hear it and, most importantly, teach them not to depend on translation for understanding.

Where did Full Immersion originate?

Full Immersion is originally a teaching method where non-language curriculum subjects, such as history, art or science, are taught in a foreign language. The foreign language is learnt alongside the non-language subjects. The first full immersion programmes, in French, began in the USA and Canada in the 1950s and 1960s.

The approach has been found to be successful in language teaching, with students showing better progress, learning more, and more quickly.

How do teachers use the Full Immersion approach?

Good teachers are able to make themselves understood without using the students’ language, even at Beginner level. They use gestures, pictures, objects, dialogues and other means of getting the message across. And they always teach ‘in context’. Students know from the context what is likely to be said – there are only so many variations on what people say to each other in a restaurant, in a shop, at a party and so on. So students already understand what would be said in that context in their own language and are then receptive to learning the target language forms. As the level advances, simple explanation is effective in helping to get meaning across, as long as it is within the range of what the students can comprehend.

Right from the beginning, target ‘classroom language’ is used, ‘open your books’, ‘I’ll write it on the board’, ‘what’s the word for x’, and so on, and students can then generalise their understanding of much useful language in this context over to new contexts.

Teachers will move from a more controlled method of teaching to free practice during the class, so that students feel supported when they start to learn new grammar and lexis. As they become more familiar with it the teacher will give less and less reinforcement, so that by the end they are able to ‘do it alone’. Rather like riding a bicycle and taking off the training wheels, improvement is smooth and progressive.

What is the student’s role?

Sometimes it’s difficult for people who are new to the method to understand how it works – particularly with beginner learners. It’s ideal if the students are aware beforehand of what to expect. However, even if students don’t know what to expect, a good teacher will make it easy for them by teaching from Day 1 through means that make the meaning clear. Students have to work hard. It is so easy to freeze and panic and think they will never understand. A good teacher knows this and helps by encouragement and demonstration and example. Importantly, students need to go over what was covered in class immediately after the class and again the evening before the next class: this revision is essential to make it stick. And students should always ask teachers if, after putting in some effort, they still don’t understand.

Students should be prepared to speak up and take risks and not be afraid to get it wrong; students should just say whatever seems ‘right’, and keep trying: they will learn from their own and their classmates’ mistakes, along with judicious correction from the teacher.

Is learning through Full Immersion similar to how we learnt our own language?

Although there are differences between the way we learn our own language as a child, and the way we learn a second or subsequent language as an adult, there are many similarities, and immersion learning exploits these similarities. Hearing and seeing language in context, simple listening and repeating, and trying things out and receiving feedback are features common to learning our first language and learning a second language in an immersion setting.

The secret is to ‘train’ yourself to ‘think’ in the target language, and to resort to translation as little as possible. Initially, students think in their own language, translating somewhere between the thought and the spoken word, until eventually there comes a point where suddenly the thinking is happening in the new language – (and even, some say, the dreaming! )

On the other hand, translation is in fact a natural resort for students when they are trying to fully understand a word or phrase in a foreign language. If used deliberately and appropriately and in moderation by the teacher, translation can be very useful in the language learning process. It’s a question of balance.

What about learning the culture of the target language country?

Ideally, full immersion would mean full contact with the culture too, such as may be experienced in the target language country. However, students don’t have to go abroad to experience the target language culture. In a good class, the student will learn much more than just grammar, sentence structure and vocabulary, also getting a good idea of the history, culture and sociological aspects of the target culture. At Cactus we take the view that the teacher is the student’s connection with the culture, and the classroom is the world of the target language for the learner. Class time is short, so this language world needs to make the most of all the time available to surround the student in the language: to fully immerse them.

What are the advantages of Full Immersion, in a nutshell?

There are many advantages to learning in this way, but the main benefits of the Full Immersion approach are:

1.  You learn faster! Once used to the method, you should pick up pieces of vocabulary more naturally and quickly.

2.  You learn to speak more naturally. This method trains you to think in the target language, not translate word for word.

3.  You’ll have the confidence to use what you have learned. Because you are ‘living’ the language in the classroom, you will be better prepared to use it in ‘real’ scenarios.

4.  You will understand the spoken language. Because you are used to hearing the language spoken, you will be able to understand it in real-life situations.

5.  You develop good pronunciation. You get maximum exposure to the language and are encouraged you to use it, helping you to develop speech patterns and pronunciation.

6. You gain a cultural insight into the language and the people who speak it.

7.  It’s fun! You will be using the new language straight away, which is a lot more motivating, engaging and fun than studying language theory.

Cactus offers a range of part-time language courses in locations around the UK and North America. We also work with language schools all over the world to provide language courses at a range of levels, lengths and formats. For anyone interested in a more bespoke type of training course, we also offer tailor-made and corporate language training options all over the world. 

One year in Poland: Cactus staff experience

One Year in Poland – English Version

After my first year at the Business School of Montpellier (in the South of France), I decided to spend one year in Poland, in Warsaw. It is so difficult for me to describe how amazing this experience was.

The most important part of my experience was the language learning. I was in a country where Polish is spoken, yet my studies were in English! But at the end of the day, it wasn’t so hard.

During my first semester, I chose to take a Polish course at the University of Warsaw, in order to be able to speak to Polish people in the street. It was very important for me to be immersed in the Polish culture, and without the necessary language skills this seemed an impossible task. I had 5 hours of Polish per week. I learnt to be independent in the street or in shops, with phrases like “Ile kosztuje?” (how much is it?). It is so gratifying to be understood by the people of the place where you decided to live.

The second part of my learning was about improving my knowledge of English. At the beginning, I found it very difficult to understand the teachers and other students. But step by step you try, and finally people don’t laugh at you; they know that they were like you in the past. Therefore, the most important thing that I learnt is DON’T BE AFRAID TO TRY TO SPEAK ANOTHER LANGUAGE. If you make mistakes or if your pronunciation is not perfect, nobody really cares! After my first months in Warsaw, I was able to understand, read and write English. But my learning is not over at all…I now have to learn to understand native speakers better. 

I want to mention one other point. When you embark on this kind of experience abroad, you are not only learning a new language but so many other things, about you, about living in a community, about meeting people all over the world. At the beginning of the year I wasn’t very confident in myself or ready to live such a rewarding experience. But now I have only one idea in my mind: what is next? And you, when will your next experience abroad be?

Une année en Pologne, Warszawa – Version Française

Après ma première année à l’école de commerce de Montpellier (dans le sud de la France), j’ai décidé de partir étudier un an en Pologne, à Varsovie! Il est vraiment difficile pour moi de décrire cette expérience, tellement magique à mes yeux.

La partie la plus importante de ce voyage a été l’apprentissage des langues. J’étais dans un pays où l’on parlait polonais mais tous mes cours étaient délivrés, eux, en anglais! Mais finalement, cela n’a pas été si difficile.

Pendant le premier semestre, j’ai choisi de prendre un cours de polonais à l’université de Varsovie dans le but d’être capable de parler avec les polonais dans la rue. C’était vraiment important pour moi d’être imprégnée de la culture polonaise, d’essayer d’être en immersion totale. Et sans la connaissance du langage cela me paraissait impossible. J’avais 5 heures de polonais par semaine. J’ai appris à être indépendante dans la rue ou dans les magasins: “Ile kosztuje?”. Il est tellement gratifiant d’être comprise par les habitants du pays où l’on a décidé d’habiter.

La deuxième partie de mon apprentissage a été d’améliorer mon anglais. Dans les premiers temps, il a été très difficile pour moi de comprendre les enseignants ou les autres étudiants. Mais petit à petit, vous essayez et finalement personne ne rigole, ils savent qu’ils ont été dans cette situation dans le passé. La chose la plus importante pour moi a donc été de comprendre qu’il ne fallait jamais avoir peur d’essayer de parler une autre langue. Si vous faites des erreurs ou que votre prononciation n’est pas parfaite, tout le monde s’en moque en réalité. Après mes premiers mois à Varsovie, j’étais capable de comprendre, lire et écrire en anglais. Mais mon apprentissage n’est pas encore fini, loin de là… il faut maintenant que je progresse sur la compréhension des natifs.

J’aimerais également parler d’une autre chose vraiment importante à mes yeux. Quand vous décidez de faire ce type d’expérience à l’étranger, vous n’apprenez pas seulement une autre langue mais tellement d’autres choses, sur vous, sur le fait de vivre en communauté, de rencontrer des gens venant de toute la planète… Au départ de l’expérience je n’avais pas vraiment confiance en moi ou je n’étais pas prête à vivre de telle expérience. Mais maintenant je n’ai qu’une idée en tête: what is next? Et vous, quand est-ce que va être votre prochaine expérience à l’étranger?

Academic viewpoint: Learning a language through podcasts

As we all know, learning a language isn’t just about sitting in a classroom for 2 hours a week, hoping to absorb the information the trainer provides. It takes a bit more effort than that, but one of the main pitfalls we have is time, or rather the lack of it. However, for most people every day brings some minutes or hours spent unproductively – sitting on the bus or subway, or stuck in traffic – and what better use of that time than to brush up on some language.

Listening to short podcasts is very convenient, since we can use this learning tool at any time, for instance on our way home, during coffee breaks or even on holiday, to improve our language skills. A podcast is an audio file that is generally free and distributed on the Internet. There are now hundreds upon hundreds of short, interesting files that you can save to your MP3 player and listen to, ranging from basic grammar and vocabulary practice to news casts and lectures.

While podcasting is no alternative to a traditional face-to-face class, it provides good support material, and with authentic texts can help in a number of ways. ITunes has many options (go to

How can you use a podcast?

The content of many podcasts is based around a short dialogue, which is repeated for you to be able to listen a second or even third time. Here are some more specific ideas:

• If you’re about to go abroad on vacation, listen to the appropriate chapters of the podcast the day or week before, and learn some of the phrases you’ll need for different situations.

• For higher level students, try to find a podcast about a museum or location you will visit on your travels. Listening to commentaries about that place in the target language is useful and interesting.

• For fluency practice – mimic the voices on the podcast to improve your fluency.

• For specific new language focus – listen to a dialogue and use a dictionary to learn new words that aren’t in the podcast glossary.

• For pronunciation practice – listening and repeating key words and sounds on the podcast to improve accent and pronunciation, as the voices used are authentic speakers of the language.

• For examples of how to describe different lexical items – because of the detailed vocabulary list on the podcast the listener can follow how to give explanations and how to describe items.

• To practice reading aloud – using the PDF versions of the podcast.

• If you are having specific difficulty understanding the audio, you can read and listen at the same time, going through the dialogue a few times until you are more certain of the content. Then you can practise without the written support, developing your ‘ear’ for the language.

Happy podding!

If you want to brush up your language close to home, Cactus runs daytime, evening and weekend language courses in the UK and the US & Canada. For tailor-made, private tuition in your home or workplace, Cactus Language Training will gear a course to your specific needs and interests.

Cactus also runs language courses in more than 30 languages, 60 countries and 500 destinations worldwide. Courses are available from one week upwards, at all ages and levels, and can be combined with a range of fun activities ranging from surfing and diving to cooking and wine tasting.

School trips for the new school year

With students fresh from holidays and the new school year upon us, this is the perfect time for parents and teachers to start thinking about school trips abroad for the next academic year.

For students studying a language there can be no better opportunity to bring the language to life than speaking it in the country where it’s spoken. A language trip abroad is a valuable chance to put into practice all those years of language learning, outside the confines of the traditional classroom, and give real purpose to the language they have learnt so far. Students will receive instant reward and gratification as they make themselves understood and have real-life conversations in their target language, something that can only encourage and motivate further. Read more

Italian evening course in Brighton: Cactus staff review

Walking into the classroom to be greeted by a cheery ‘Ciao’ from my teacher was a grand welcome to my first Italian learning experience. I returned the ‘Ciao’ with great confidence, sat down, and was delighted to hear Grazia, my teacher, welcome the others and start talking about the course in Italian. Not a word of English despite the fact we were all absolute beginners. I could hardly understand a thing but it didn’t seem to matter as the meaning for the most part was clear.

And this was how it progressed from there. Hardly any English apart from a few muttered translations from my fellow students. One could definitely get a sense of confrontation from some of them – this is not how we studied French at school! – but after a couple of lessons everyone seemed to get into the groove and we started producing our own somewhat hesitant, somewhat clumsy Italian sentences. But Italian nonetheless!

Grammar was taught, but very much in context for the most part – some focus work on verb endings aside – which made it seem as if it were like learning pieces of vocabulary rather than structures. For me this worked better, as I find learning grammar by rote (amo, amas, amat…) about as interesting as learning a telephone directory.

Also, to have this immersion in the language every week was refreshing and different, and meant that walking into the classroom was like entering a little language bubble for those 2 hours. Even if I didn’t get some of what was said – and Grazia always did her best to repeat, rephrase and re-contextualise when necessary – I felt that this was what it must be like for a child learning its first language and was happy to let the unconscious do its work. A few times this meant that I was able to make connections and understand language that hadn’t been explicitly taught, and proved a fascinating part of the learning process.

Now I have finished the course, the challenge is to maintain and build on the linguistic foundations laid down. The next level is not running this term, as so many are away over the summer, and I’m already missing the discipline the weekly bubble provided. I’m listening to a few podcasts and doing a bit of self-study on the side, but I can’t wait to sign up for the autumn term and get back into la bella lingua!

Chris took a 10-week beginner’s Italian course in Brighton. Cactus offers daytime and evening language courses in many other languages and locations across the UK, as well as language courses abroad for those wishing to put their language into real-life practice.

How I learnt to speak German in Berlin

Spies learn languages quickly, and with deathly precision. My experience with German, however, has been somewhat different. After over a decade of attempts, I have yet to come close to commanding the language. But while I’m far from fit to go undercover, I’m proud to say that in German I am semi-literate. And I can hold down a conversation. This is largely thanks to my latest, most serious effort which began about two years ago along with my collaboration on the group effort German Professor

I began by traveling to southern Austria, a region I’d repeatedly been warned against for its appalling dialect. Despite its spectacular lakes and emerald countryside that lure in the German glitterati, the German word police have written it off as a linguistic wasteland. 

“Shoo cont learn German in Owstwia!,” they would scold. But having actually studied linguistics, a science based on a descriptive, rather than prescriptive analysis of language, I rejected this as a snobbish trope. I will learn German where it may lie, I told myself, and the German I learn in Austria will be just as authentic as the German I could learn anywhere else! 

Eight months later I was running, not walking to the airport. The word police were right. Sure, I’d learned some German during my stay in Austria, but it was only from a course taught in High German (the standard dialect) and from hanging out with exchange students from Germany. Localspeak was baffling, and most friendships with locals were necessarily conducted in the English language.

I was Berlin bound, in search of a blander dialect and a larger concentration of German speakers. If I was to melt away into the population, this was my chance. I didn’t. But I did improve my German in four crucial ways:

• “Tandem” or “language exchange”

• Making friends

• Reading books in German

• Taking a German course

Here’s how it shook out.


Tandem is conversational meeting (usually over coffee) in which a German speaker and an English speaker divide the time between two languages. Rather than pay a tutor for an hour of German instruction or conversation practice, I could get a half hour of help in the form of casual chatting, and getting questions answered about how to say certain words or phrases in German. For the second half hour I would help my tandem partner with her English, as she was preparing for a placement test to get back into school.

I wanted to learn German slang. So she taught me that in German the hip-hop version of Wie geht’s? is Was geht? I believe it’s like the difference between “How are you?” and “Whatup?” It may seem trivial, but it actually got me a lot of mileage with the locals. It’s not like anybody mistook me for a thug from the knife crime district of Berlin, which would have been an awesome character for a spy, but at least it made people laugh and helped break the ice more than once.

Tandem was the most likely place for me to learn this piece of German slang. I wouldn’t have had the time in the German class I took, where the focus was lesson plans and grammar, nor did I ask any of my German friends teach it to me, as I didn’t want to bore them excessively with minutia about a language they generally take for granted. In Tandem I had the luxury to talk exclusively about the fun aspects of the language.

And, as an unexpected perk, my tandem partner hooked me up with a really cheap apartment in a nice part of town. (I liked to think of it as my safe house).

You can find Tandem partners in the activities section of Berlin’s Craigslist.

Making friends

I knew going into it that the most organic way for me to improve my German would be to speak solely in German with all the new people I met. I assumed all Germans spoke perfect English, so I was prepared for a challenge. But after settling in I was happily surprised: not all Germans speak English!

In fact, a couple very close friendships were conducted entirely in German. But because my German was even worse then, I couldn’t help feeling slightly suspicious of anyone who would tolerate lengthy conversation with a verbal cripple like me.

What were they getting out of it? Were they spies too?

That remains an open question, but for me the rewards were crystal clear. I got hours of real-life practice forming sentences, responding to questions, making jokes and even working through misunderstandings caused by my poor language skills. Talk about a steep learning curve. I even picked up some very practical language tips: after asking was? all the time, I was told to change it up occasionally with the more polite phrase: wie, bitte?

Of course, many Germans do speak English extremely well, and inevitably I made friends with folks who spoke only English to me. I didn’t mind the friendship, but it didn’t help my German at all. And here’s where an unbroken pattern revealed itself: the first few moments of meeting somebody would absolutely determine the language used for the life of the relationship. The second I said “Hi, how are you,” to someone, the German language was DOA. 

I think the reason is because I am a different person when I speak German. I express visible glee whenever I can formulate a sentence. Time slows down and every object on the street or in the café becomes amazing, something worth inquiring about. In German, I am a child.

Once I put it to a test and tried switching to German with a friend who normally spoke English to me. It was a complete disaster. One could almost hear a grinding sound as I tried to switch gears into that friendly, lobotomized character that worked so well in German-language friendships. I smiled and blinked uncomprehendingly as a torrent of gibberish flowed from his mouth. He was baffled by my precipitous drop in IQ. It took only moments for us to switch back to English. We were both embarrassed.

Reading books

“Here, read this,” a local once told me. It was Arabboy, by Güner Balci, about a Lebanese-Palestinian boy who chooses a life of crime in the poor part of Berlin. Despite its humor, darkness and valuable insight into the immigrant experience, the prose would have bored me stiff if translated into English. But in German I am a child. And in German, I thoroughly enjoyed the book. I followed it up with Bertold Brecht’s The Threepenny Opera, and inevitably found some parallels in the criminal heroes of both stories.

Of course, in both cases practically every sentence yielded multiple new vocabulary words. So rather than look each word up as I encountered it, I would simply write it down and move on. Only at the end of each chapter would I look up all the definitions, write them down, memorize them, then re-read the chapter with a whole new level of comprehension.

It’s work, but it works; the primary benefits were reading comprehension amassing vocabulary. But while this is not a direct method of learning grammar rules, reading hundreds of pages in German did make me more comfortable with the way German sentences are thrown together, and I actually think it even helped my spoken German.

But for real help with grammar, there’s nothing like taking a German course:

Taking German classes in Berlin

I enrolled in a German course through the Volkshochschule, which is a nationwide adult education program for lower income folk. An expat friend recommended it, but the Germans I knew would disparage it. One was concerned I’d get bored, and another, with decidedly elitist sensibilities, was uncomfortable mentioning the word in public. The course was held in a bright orange high school building from the Soviet era, located in Wedding, a district with zero popular appeal and a large working class population.

I was attracted to it because I’m cheap. A month long course involving around 80 hours of instruction cost something like 100 Euros. There were other young American expats like me in the course, along with older people who came to Germany looking for economic opportunities. Some students hailed from really exotic places like Belarus, Nigeria and the newly-formed nation of Kosova. Our instructor was very friendly but inexperienced. She spoke with a slight Turkish accent, and the course moved at a snail’s pace; per the lesson plan we wasted a lot of time in activities like making posters to pin up to the wall. Nobody liked the text book but her hands were tied, she said.

Despite these criticisms, I really did learn fundamental grammar rules that I wouldn’t have learned outside the classroom environment. No matter how inefficiently the course was run, I feel that by getting up early and putting over four hours in every day, I was bound to learn something, even if I didn’t make it through to the end of the month. If I had to do it again, I might pony up a bit more, for a faster paced and more exciting German course in Berlin. Of course, you’ll never hear about it; by the time it’s over I’ll be deep undercover.

Will Sherman is a lifelong student of German.

Cactus offers a range of German course options, including intenisve language courses in Germany, Austria and Switzerland, and part-time evening courses throughout the UK and North America.

Cactus staff get linguistic: practising what we preach

At Cactus we deal with languages every day, we take bookings for evening courses, we send people all around the world for language holidays and we hear different languages on a daily basis as we get phone calls from far and wide. Moreover, our current staff represents a total of eleven different nationalities. But still, do we really practise what we preach? Are we ourselves making the effort to learn languages in our pastime?

A quick question round in the office seems to give a positive answer – 88% of our employees have taken part in Cactus courses, either in the UK, abroad or both. 

And let’s not forget our New York branch where you can find a further 5 employees. One of our US staff took a German Level 1 evening course with Cactus in the Big Apple, and is soon going to test the skills acquired in real-life as she is moving to a German-speaking country. Italian learned in the classroom in Brighton was also quickly put into use when our Head of Marketing attended a wedding in Monterchi, Italy, half-way through her beginner course.

The range of languages studied by Cactus employees covers 10 languages, including Hindi, Japanese, Polish and Russian. What’s more, this list only includes the languages they have studied with Cactus – most of the staff already speak several languages on arrival at Cactus.

In general Spanish is by far the most popular language offered by Cactus, and this seems to hold true among our staff as well. Spanish is the most commonly heard answer when you ask any of us about the language courses we have taken during our time at Cactus. Besides taking Spanish evening courses in the UK, Cactus members have tried Spanish immersion courses in places such as Buenos Aires, Málaga and San Sebastián. If you decide to practise your skills in an authentic environment, you often also have the chance to combine the lessons with some fun after-class activity – it can be French and surfing in Biarritz or Spanish and salsa in Havana, to mention just a few combinations our staff has tried on their holidays!

The position of the second most popular language among Cactus staff is held by another Latin-based language, French. In France, the seaside city of Biarritz has attracted many of us.

Italian ranks high as well – our employees seem to be fond of Italy as many different corners of the country have been explored by members of Cactus: Florence, Taormina, Tropea, Cagliari and Alghero. Portuguese and German follow on the popularity list after these three languages, but several members of staff have also tried their hand at Japanese and Arabic.

The top 5 courses taken by Cactus staff:

1. Spanish Cactus Level 1

2. Spanish Cactus Level 2

3. Italian Cactus Level 1

4. Japanese Cactus Level 1

5. Arabic Cactus Level 1

The 5 most popular languages studied by Cactus employees:

1. Spanish

2. French

3. Italian

4. German

5. Brazilian Portuguese

10 good reasons to TEFL

1. Travel

TEFL gives you a perfect way to see the world and fund your travel. Some people start teaching in one place, fall in love with it, and stay for a long time. Others however prefer to change location every year, and by so doing literally work their way around the world. Read more

Arabic evening course: Cactus staff experience

The Level 1 Modern Standard Arabic course provides basic reading, writing and speaking skills in the Arabic language in a really entertaining atmosphere.

All the students have their own reasons and motivations for following this course. That’s why the teacher is happy to define particular objectives to reach, according to what the students actually expect from the class. Consequently the learning is really adapted to each one’s needs.

The first approach of the language is quite disturbing for a complete beginner! Indeed the first step is to go through the Arabic alphabet, and to discover the various new and unfamiliar sounds. Pronouncing and repeating the letters is a real challenge on the first lesson! But there is actually nothing to fear for the following sessions, because the language is then analysed little by little, and the students can make progress at their own pace.

Every week, a new group of similar letters from the Arabic alphabet is studied, including how to write them separately and how to join them to make up words and phrases in a proper way. This is really like a game, playing with symbols and trying to give sense to those. It is quite fun! Moreover the lessons and the exercises from the book are used in such a way that the students learn how to write Arabic from a strong basis and in a smooth manner.

In a same progressive way, students get to know the numbers from 0 to 10. Later they learn how to compose bigger numbers as well as cardinal numbers, and how to write them, both with symbols and letters. Once the functioning of Arabic numerals is understood, they learn how to tell the time.

When it comes to vocabulary, students are invited to give a list of specific words that they would like to learn for personal purposes. Otherwise basic words of daily life are looked at, such as colours, days of the week, members of the family, etc. Some grammar is also tackled such as differentiation between feminine and masculine words.

As for the speaking side, students get to know a few sentences for a basic, survival conversation, such as greetings, presentation and useful phrases in particular situations. Some role plays are organized to make the pupils really involved, and to keep them active and dynamic!

In order to make noticeable progress, it is essential to do practical exercises, to write as much as possible, to learn the vocabulary every week and to keep the lessons interactive. It’s then a huge feeling of satisfaction, happiness and pride, being able to express yourself in such a different language!

Cactus runs evening and weekend courses in Arabic in London and Brighton. Courses are also available in many other languages and cities across the UK.

German evening course in New York: Cactus staff experience

Week 1.

Just started the German Beginners course in Tribeca – not a language I have ever planned to study before, but I’m fast becoming hooked by its never-ending words and grammatical rules. As the class is small- only 4 of us- we have plenty of opportunities to practice, and it’s a nice relaxed and enjoyable environment. We spend time getting to know each other today, and learning the basics of the German alphabet and how to pronounce the new letters we see. Bonus- there’s a great coffee place very near the school for me to top up on caffeine before this new form of brain-exercise!

Week 2.

I learnt today that there isn’t a single American in my group. We’re British, Hong Kongese, Spanish and Puerto Rican- a great mix!! I’m not sure if that helps us with our studies or not, but we’re all enthusiastic, which definitely does.

We did quite a lot of review today- very necessary to remind us all of what we learnt, and subsequently forgot, from last week’s class. Saskia, our teacher, is very patient and goes through things with us in both German and English so we don’t miss a thing.

My word of the day: Entschuldigen – Excuse me.

Week 3.

Questions and answers, and our first real look at how verbs are formed. There’s a lot to learn, but fortunately German is a language with a lot of rules, so once I have those down (if ever) I should be able to get quite competent. Learning verb tables reminds me of learning Latin when I was in Secondary school- hopefully I’ll do better with German than I did with Latin though! We learnt and practiced a lot of question forms, and asked each other about families and pets. I’m getting to know the other students quite well now, and in class we have no secrets!

Week 4.

Kein and nicht – 2 ways to say no. Sounds easy? Well, it’s not- combined with word order and part of speech to determine usage I feel like I’m wading through a big linguistic swamp. When I say no I mean no, so I don’t want to get this wrong. A few exercises for homework will help, but much more important is the practice we do in class to reiterate the different uses and smooth out the errors.

Week 5.

The mid-way point of the class, and at this point I feel like I have already come quite a long way. I can introduce myself, talk about my family, talk about jobs and use different verbs in the present tense, as well as being able to ask quite a lot of questions. Now it’s just time to get used to listening to the different accents out there.

We also had a quick-fire question quiz in class, a kind of review of everything we’ve done so far. Quite a few things have clicked into place, so I don’t think I embarrassed myself too much- we all had fun and ended the class on a German high!

Week 6.

Unfortunately I had to miss this class- I hope I didn’t miss too much though. Fortunately my very kind teacher Saskia sent me a summary of the class and homework by e-mail, so I can still keep up in my own time and I won’t feel too left behind next class.

Week 7.

Phew- there was a review of last class on the board when I arrived, and as I was a little early I had a chance to talk to Saskia about the grammar of the previous class. Important stuff too- like, love and hate- I wouldn’t want to miss out on how to say that, not that my husband will understand when I coo Ich liebe dich in his ear.

Time to learn the imperative, and give orders. As a teacher myself I can be quite bossy, so I can see this coming in handy.

Week 8.

Again another very intense class – we did a lot of work with the different cases in German – Accusative, Nominative and Dative. Compared with English this language is pretty complicated, but once you get the hang of it you feel like you can conquer the world!! Needless to say, I haven’t conquered anything yet, but with a little practice I should do OK.

The whole group felt quite tired by the end, but nothing that a drink together after the next class won’t improve!

Week 9.

Essen und Einkaufen – Eating and shopping – 2 essential subjects to learn about. There are a lot of interesting cultural facts which go with food too, like the German for dinner- Abendbrot – means evening bread. And they only have a very light dinner, not like the English who tend to have their largest meal in the evening.

We also studied time – and now I know why Germans are always early: their halb zwie – ‘half ten’ actually means 9.30!! Half before ten. We don’t stand a chance against that!

Week 10.

Last class- really? Already? It seems like 10 weeks have whizzed past, and I actually feel like I have learnt quite a lot. OK, so I’m sure I make mistakes every sentence, but I can speak and understand a range of topics, talk about what (or who) I love, like and hate, go to a restaurant or hotel and not be completely embarrassed, find my way around a new city, ask quite a lot of questions… all the things you need for a trip to Germany as a matter of fact.

2 of my co-students are actually off to Germany for work next week, so we spent some time in class going over things they would need to be able to say when they get there. They both looked happy and confident- and I’m sure they’ll have a fantastic time.

I had to finish the course with a new sentence: Deutschland hat ein sehr gutes Fussballspiel gespielt – Germany played a very good game of football.

My teacher was very happy with the results so far- and next will be the Germany- England game. Go England!!

So all in all I’m a happy student following this course, and I hope I’ll be able to sign up for the next level to keep it up. In the meantime I’m going to take Saskia’s advice and get down to the Goethe Institut for some language practice. She also recommended a website which has resources and a dictionary- sounds good to me!

Cactus runs German evening courses in New York and San Diego.

Those wishing to practise their newfound language skills abroad can take a German course in Germany, Austria or Switzerland. Learning a language in the country where it’s spoken is the ideal way to really immerse yourself in the language and culture.