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.

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.

How to get past the language plateau

As I know to my chagrin, there is no end to learning a language, and even when you think you’ve made it and are ‘fluent’, there’s always more to go. Prior to my move to New York I was living in Mexico City for 5 years, and even though I say so myself I thought I had mastered the language pretty well. I was able to work in a bilingual office and speak Spanish without the locals wincing at everything I said. My writing was cohesive and accurate, and I even gave a speech in Spanish towards the end of my time there. Yippee – I’ve done it!!

But now, 2 years later, as I get comfortable in New York, speaking English all day and having less and less opportunity to speak Spanish, I can feel myself stagnate. I’m not going upwards with the language, and without a bit of effort I will definitely go backwards. It’s a natural stage to reach, where you can manage most things, and get around the rest, but the pleasure of speaking and getting better has gone, and I want it back. I’m also trying to be realistic about what I will actually do to keep my Spanish going. So here are some ideas I have had to keep myself moving towards that peak:

1. Set goals

What do you want to be able to do with the language? Find a new job in another country? Speak to your in-laws? Have a more rewarding vacation where you can actually speak to the locals, as opposed to gesturing when all else fails? Think about why you are learning the language, and set about finding ways to practise it in those areas.

2. Read in your chosen language

And read more and more – as much as possible. It doesn’t matter what you read really – currently I’m reading an Agatha Christie novel in Spanish – as everything will help you to recognize correct grammar, and will build your vocabulary. Of course reading something written by a native author will be much more rewarding – there’s a range in Spanish from Gabriel Garcia Marquez to Isabel Allende to suit all tastes. If newspapers and magazines are your thing then buy one in the language and read the news from a different perspective.

3. Ask friends to help

Whether you’re living in your home town or abroad, there will be people there who you know who speak your chosen language. Obviously if you have moved to the country where the language is spoken you will have many more opportunities of this sort for practice, as even a trip to the Boulangerie will give you a chance to speak a few words. However, in order to improve you need to have correction, which won’t often come from a stranger. Ask your friends to correct you when you speak or, better still, set up a conversation exchange, where you help your friend with English for an hour, followed by her helping you with her language for an hour.

4. Use flashcards

One of the best ways to build your vocabulary is with flashcards. I remember when I lived in Japan I used to travel to work on the train each morning, and would be surrounded by scores of schoolchildren all flipping through little stacks of flashcards all bound together on a ring, with the Japanese word written on one side and the English one on the other. It is a great idea, and easy to reproduce too. Reviewing vocabulary is essential for progress.

5. Podcasts

I have my favorites for Spanish and Italian, and living here in New York I have time on my daily commute to listen to them. There is a wide range available these days, from language-learning based ones which go through grammar and give you exercises, to radio show style commentaries, discussing the latest news and other more irreverent subjects. You just need to have a look at the ever-increasing selection on a site like i-tunes, and select the ones you like best. Many are free, so you can sample until you find something you really like.

6. Take a course

It’s never too late to learn, and you will find that however good you are at a foreign language, there’s always something more to learn. The ideal way, if you have the time, is to join a group at the right level and have a regular opportunity each week to focus on the language with a teacher to help you and point out all the little errors.

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.

Language opens door to new markets – the increase in Arabic, Russian and Mandarin

At a time of global economic downturn, tapping into new markets has never been so relevant to the success, indeed survival, of businesses worldwide.

As recession deals its harsh blows to flailing western economies, drawn deeper into a spiral of unemployment, inflation, negative home equity and soaring energy and fuel prices, it is becoming clear that we need to look further afield, on a global scale, to maximise our earning potential.

With a market in recession, as is now the case with the US and many countries in Western Europe, one of the best things a business can do is diversify – not necessarily product, but clientele. Forming strategic partnerships with emerging markets such as Russia, China and the Arabic world is one such critical step. These developing markets are less affected by the crises currently deflating confidence in western economies and, perhaps more importantly, are still doing well despite the economic decline that surrounds them. They have up to now received investment from developed countries, they have built financial reserves from recent growth, and they harbour newly affluent locals who, although not as brazen in their spending as their western counterparts, have money to spend and investments to sniff out. They are keen to be at the forefront of the global economy and this may be their time.

So, how best to get in on the act with the developing powerhouses of China, Russia and the like? One key factor that cannot be overlooked when it comes to gaining access to foreign markets is the importance of language. Long-term partnerships with any new market depend on relationship building; these relationships in turn are formed through linguistic and cultural awareness. English may be the accepted tongue when it comes to international communication, but there can be no underestimating the importance – if not supremacy – of other languages on a regional scale. Often the quickest way to open doors is to speak to someone in their own language and, in a world where English rules, where it’s the easy option, the effort to speak your target market’s language and understand its culture will not go unnoticed.

Let’s look at Russia. This is a country whose economy is thriving off oil exports and military manufacturing, fast emerging as the energy-producing superpower of Europe. Culturally and in business, Russian as a language is spoken by some 270 million native and non-native speakers, and it is used extensively across Eastern Europe, along with German and Polish.

Further east, China’s official language, Mandarin, is now spoken by a billion people worldwide. Although English is increasingly taught and spoken in this booming economy, anyone aspiring to do business in China will be at huge advantage with native knowledge or even proficiency in Mandarin – especially away from the big cities. Being able to communicate on a ‘personal’ level is valued no more than in Asian countries.

And finally, Arabic. Spoken by more than 250 million Arabs, this ancient language of the Qu’ran spans North Africa, from Morocco in the west as far east as Iraq. Finance, oil and intelligence depend on it, while, as with many foreign cultures, businesses with knowledge of the language have the edge when it comes to understanding nuances, customs and beliefs that often go unnoticed in English.

Any business aspiring to infiltrate these emerging markets would therefore do well to adopt a strategic approach to multi-lingual communication. Updating a website so it is accessible in multiple languages, recruiting native speakers and outsourcing translators are useful steps. Yet utilising the workforce that you already have is arguably the most effective way to embrace the new multi-lingual environment that lies ahead.

Linguistic and cross-cultural training will provide employees and businesses with language skills attuned to their particular markets and an appreciation of the cultures within which they want to work – an investment that will reap long-term rewards. Cultural awareness in particular may be easy to overlook, but it is key in building successful relationships, preventing costly misunderstandings, managing multi-cultural teams and reducing culture shock if employees are relocating.

Language in this sense really does help to open doors, and investing in an emerging market equipped with the appropriate knowledge is a step that could potentially both rescue and future-proof your business.