Learning German: starting from scratch on an evening course

Having not learnt a new language since taking the unknown foreign language component of my Trinity CertTESOL course in Russell Square in 2003 it was all a bit daunting going into a classroom to be confronted with the possibility of starting a new language from zero. Even on that Trinity course, we were really only learning an unknown language to put us in the position of being language learners to empathize with total beginners. For me, it was time to bite the bullet. I’ve travelled to Germany 4 times for work and each time I am embarrassed by my inability to even say “how are you” in German.

However, as with all new things, it’s never as difficult as you think and the teacher made all 5 of us feel very at home in the class and soon we were greeting each other and saying where we were from. The great thing about being a total beginner is that learning just a few phrases gives you a sense of achievement as you come out knowing relatively so much more than you did before! After we’d had just a few lessons, we’d got into a routine of a few of us getting together for a cheeky pint of beer (Becks of course) after the lesson to practice phrases and compare notes about all things German.

As the course progressed several things struck me. One was that I was the only British person in the class, highlighting how bad we are as a nation at learning languages, and the other was really how similar some German phrases are to English. For example, das ist gut.

Das certainly wasn’t gut when a few of us met up yesterday (just before our final lesson) to see the German football team annihilate England’s underachievers by a whopping vier goals to ein and send us crashing out of the World Cup. I’m sure our teacher won’t be feeling too smug for the final lesson, and I have no doubt that I speak for myself and my classmates when I say that we all have an excellent second team to support. Deutschland! Deutschland!

I mean, I couldn’t possibly support a team led by Maradona!

Alex took a beginners’ German evening course in Brighton. Cactus runs German courses in Brighton and other cities across the UK. German evening courses are also available in the US.

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.

Spanish evening course: Cactus staff experience

I’m walking towards St Giles in Brighton feeling a bit nervous. I’ve signed up for a Spanish course and am about to attend the first class in a few minutes. I wanted a challenge and so enrolled onto the Upper Intermediate level, even though I scored one level below in the Cactus online level test. However, I feel my Spanish skills have become pretty rusty lately. The weeks preceding the course I have been trying to get used to speaking English 24/7, my mother tongue being Finnish, and the sudden swap of languages makes me a bit worried – maybe I will be able to recall English words only when trying to express myself in Spanish for a change.

I find my way to the class room and soon my fears have vanished. The teacher is encouraging us to speak and is happy about every sentence we are able to produce, regardless if it’s grammatically a hundred percent correct or not. The most important thing is that you can make yourself understood. Over the years I have taken lessons in a total of seven foreign languages and some of these I studied for several years. I have been taught by 25 to 30 language teachers. I can tell from my experience that the best way to obtain skills that are useful in real-life situations is to speak, speak and speak a bit (or better still, a lot) more.

Even though I still feel my Spanish is rusty and all the vocabulary I once learned is hidden somewhere in the back of my brain, I feel comfortable on the course. The class size is small, just four of us altogether which forces you to participate actively. It is a weekly full immersion into the Spanish language for two hours. The teaching method is ‘full immersion’ which means that no English whatsoever is used from the moment we enter the class room – if we don’t understand a word, our tutor will explain it to us in Spanish. During those two hours on Wednesday nights we have time to do lots of different kinds of exercises – listening, role plays, games, general conversation about some certain topics etc.

The ten weeks pass by quickly and we are finishing with the course sooner than I realise. I am happy with the course but not too happy with my own performance – I should have spent some more time on self-study between the classes. Fortunately I can also continue with independent study after the course as I have my text book, all the materials our teacher has handed out and the podcasts that are available for downloading after every lesson. And actually the immersion experience wasn’t limited to the class time either. Once after our lesson we had a Spanish dinner together with the class and the teacher. Spanish omelette – delicious!

Cactus runs Spanish evening courses in Brighton and other cities across the UK. Courses are also available in the US and Canada.

Those wishing to practise their newfound language skills abroad can take a Spanish course in locations across Spain and Latin America. Learning a language in the country where it’s spoken is the ideal way to really immerse yourself in the language and culture.

German evening course: a first-hand account

At long last, after a long wait, I got to do my first German class. After years of picking up German from friends, family and students, I finally took the plunge to immerse myself in a class.

First class – typical – I arrived a little late for the first lesson, only because I happen to work for the place and could see they needed help at the entrance as there were so many students coming for their different language courses! In class we got down to doing what turned out to be the standard structure. The first part speaking only German – getting to know the other students and introducing ourselves – and then various exercises to sort out the more able from the less, like irregular verbs, listening practice, and so on, and then finishing up with structured conversation development. And it really sorted out the good from the bad – and was I relieved I got through!

First homework: learn 5 irregular verbs and prepare for a role play for next week (buying tickets for travel). It was really good to see it, because it really helped us focus in on what we were to do next week and prepare ahead for it. None of us wanted to feel left behind … The following weeks’ homework was on the same vein, though being different topics was really useful and helped immensely in the classes.

For the following classes we settled into a routine with variations on themes. Always 15 to 20 minutes with each person talking – in German – about what they had done over the week (others asking questions also), then some grammar points, irregular verbs, and so on, followed up by one person each week giving a semi-prepared presentation on a subject like your most memorable holiday. And there were some really interesting tales. The German family reunion, the tour of Aztec-Mayan Mexico, the 5 month beach holiday in Sardinia, camping with Druids at the White Horse…where else could you do this but in a German class?

Unfortunately, not everyone could come every week – I had to miss one week when I went to London on business. However, I found it very easy to catch up. The students were all of somewhat different levels, from one who found it difficult to put two words together to one who spoke almost without thinking, but we all felt included and Regina kept us all together and involved, overtly making sure that noone felt held back either because they were too low or too high.

After the last class we went off to a pub and had a drink to wind down – we all had our homework for the next course next term, we all exchanged email addresses – and are all secretly reading up as much as possible to impress each other (the teacher’s not important – it’s the other students you have to worry about!).



Rod learnt German on a 10-week evening course in Brighton. Cactus runs daytime and evening courses in German and other languages in Brighton, London and other cities across the UK.

Those wanting to practise their new language skills abroad can take a German course in Germany, Switzerland or Austria. Available from one week upwards and at all ages and levels, these courses are the perfect way to really immerse yourself in the language and culture!

Learning French: my motivation and experience

In the 1990’s I watched a multi layered and intriguing film called “L’Appartement”. Since then I can remember being fascinated with France. As time went by, Audrey Hepburn contributed to the allure with her song “Bonjour Paris!” in the film ”Funny Face” along with Bernardo Bertolucci’s ”The Dreamers”.

The cinematic representations of France and its people portray the French as sensual and sophisticated people who understand the true fragility of life and love. They appear to possess a certain “je ne sais quoi”, which to date I haven’t found in other cultures. The eloquence with which they speak, the sophistication with which they carry themselves and the sense of nobility and aristocracy they possess have always played a part in my secret love of France.

I’ve always wanted to visit and learn the language, but to date haven’t made it happen.

In April I decided to take the first step and give learning French a go. Especially to try and get my head around the language, identifying the differences in pronunciation compared to Spanish and English, which I already speak, and also to learn a few phrases which might prove useful when I eventually decide to cross the English Channel.

French has definitely not been easy and by no means have I become fluent in the process; however, in the lessons I’ve had, my teacher has been very patient and encouraging along the way. Finding time outside of class to do self study has been a challenge in itself, yet I found that it’s definitely possible to learn when your mind is in the right place.

Our teacher spoke 99% French, which forced us to really focus on what she was teaching and instructing us to do. Not only did she educate us on the language but she also taught us about her cultural norms, most of which were communicated through her firm yet friendly method of teaching. In class we had quite a few opportunities to speak and, even though we couldn’t say much yet, for me it wasn’t about becoming fluent on the first level, but rather celebrating the romanticized idea of the French language and culture. Something I picked up from watching countless French films without understanding a word.

There is something about speaking French (even if it was just saying: “Je m’appelle Nadine.”) that transforms a person’s whole demeanor and makes us feel sophisticated and chic. Without having to wear Yves Saint Laurent couture or smell like I’ve spent a day in the L’Occitane en Provence factory, I instantly became the leading lady in my own French film and, as I tried to emulate what my perception of being French was, I imagined Cyril Mourali and I on the Pont des Arts in Paris. As I arched my back, and lifted my right heel off the ground, he planted a kiss on my lips, whilst a tearful Bop the clown (Marcel Marceau) performed in the background with the Eiffel Towering over us.

Next term I plan to pick up the language where I left it, and who knows how the plot of my story will unfold. I might even take a language holiday to Paris and study French there.

“Pourquoi pas?”

Nadine studied French Level 1 on a 10-week evening course in Brighton.