From beginner to proficient in Italian: one client’s journey through 12 evening courses

After 12 language courses with Cactus, Mark Holden tells Sarah Watkins about his rather unplanned but highly satisfying journey from complete beginner to proficient in Italian.

As a language lover myself, it is always exciting to find a student who has taken not just a couple but an impressive TWELVE courses with us. To see that someone has progressed from basic to advanced knowledge over the course of a few years is the perfect story, and I couldn’t wait to chat to Mark to find out more about his language learning experience.

The beginning of the journey…

For Mark, there are several reasons for learning Italian, and it all started some four years ago at work. As a chartered engineer working for the European company Airbus, there were a number of Italians working in Mark’s office. What started as a few friendly exchanges of language tips – Mark lending some help with English and learning a few Italian phrases in return – led to dinner at an Italian colleague’s house and the opportunity to discover more about the language.

This, combined with the motivation of an upcoming trip to Ponza, a general love of art, culture and ancient history, and useful prior knowledge of Latin, sowed the seed for Mark and his wife Carren, who also works for Airbus, to take a local evening course in Italian with Cactus in Bristol. For them, learning Italian is pure recreation – just two hours each week to do something for themselves and a fun challenge at the 50-something mark.

Of course, what started out as a beginners’ Italian course ‘for fun’ back in 2010 has taken Mark and Carren much further than they ever expected. Seeing that they were making progress and enjoying the feeling of the language starting to make sense, they moved from one course to the next, taking the odd break here and there, but successfully moving up the levels until now, in 2014, they have 12 courses behind them and have reached the linguistic high of understanding and being understood. Mark is quick to say that he’s not ‘proficient’, as his course title might suggest, but that he no longer has to think about what to say in Italian. He tells me he still has a long way to go and we agree the great thing about learning a language is that it’s an ongoing process and one that can easily become a life-long passion.

Using his Italian in real life

Mark’s courses have been punctuated by a series of trips to Italy and further afield – a real chance to put his Italian to the test. He recalls a trip to Sardinia early on as something of a breakthrough, as it marked the moment when he realised he could actually go somewhere and speak Italian, feeling confident enough to travel around and chat to the locals. Another trip to the Sicilian town of Taormina last summer, where he and Carren took an Italian immersion course, proved just how far they had come with their Italian: they had the satisfaction of chatting to and becoming familiar with the locals, getting recommendations for where to visit, where to eat or what local produce to try and above all feeling like they were part of the community rather than just tourists.

I was particularly impressed to hear how Mark and Carren had managed to combine their passion for Italian with their love of scuba diving on a diving trip to the Maldives. By specifically choosing an Italian-based company, rather than one of the many English-speaking ones, they were guaranteed a good number of Italian guides and guests on board with whom to practise their ever-improving Italian. It goes to show that learning a language can be incorporated into daily life in all different kinds of ways, and it is no doubt this regular exposure to the language both inside and outside the classroom that has fuelled the couple’s progression and enthusiasm over the years.

Mark’s evening course & learning tips

You don’t always have to travel far to make a difference, however. If there is a secret to any of this, Mark tells me, for him it was committing himself to the homework outside class. He found that a 2-hour stint of homework in addition to a 2-hour class each week made the world of difference, being the perfect opportunity to gain a better grounding in grammar. It gave him the time to consolidate what he’d learnt and make sure that he had properly understood, enabling him to go back to class the following week ready to move on to the next topic.

It goes without saying that the success of any course is also down to the teacher, and Mark is quick to pay tribute to his teacher, Valentina, who he and Carren were lucky to have for all but a couple of their twelve courses. He has only positive things to say about Valentina, who he describes as extremely creative, enthusiastic and interesting, tailoring the classes to the students’ interests (even though these were quite varied) and maintaining a fun, relaxed environment. She has certainly been a significant factor in the group ‘gelling’ and in the overall enjoyment of the courses. Although the number of students has naturally fallen as they have progressed through the levels – going from 10 at beginners’ level to 4 at proficient – it is testament to Valentina to have kept such a strong group going.

As for what lies ahead, he feels that two hours each week is no longer sufficient for someone of his level, as he’s reached a natural plateau: he and Carren are hoping to spend more time in Italy to immerse themselves in the language and of course reap the benefit of all their hard work.

They might not have had any grand plan to begin with, but I think if there was ever proof that an evening course can change your life – even if unintentionally – here you have it.

Many thanks to Mark for taking the time to talk to me, and I wish him and Carren all the best for wherever their Italian might take them in the future.

Mark has been learning Italian in Bristol with Cactus. Cactus offers Italian courses in other locations across the UK as well as in Italy.

10 great European cities in which to learn a language

A little while ago we gave you our top locations in Europe for 2014, the places that you, our language learners, flock to year after year to attend some of our best partner schools and enjoy world class culture, entertainment and activities. Impossible to limit our pick to four, we’re now bringing you 10 more European cities that guarantee top quality language tuition and endless opportunities for leisure and entertainment outside class.

Jet off in the next few months and you won’t regret it: spring is in the air, flowers are starting to bloom, you can expect pleasant but not stifling temperatures and, above all, you’ll avoid the busy crowds and over-inflated prices of traditional holiday periods.

Let us get the ball rolling with our top locations in Spain, Germany, France and Italy…

1. Barcelona

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Barcelona has earned itself the status of Spain’s most visited destination for reasons too long to list. Tourists and students flock here year after year to enjoy the city’s cosmopolitan vibe, Gothic architecture, surreal creations of Gaudí, passion for sport, world class nightlife, great beaches and sublime food. Come to learn Spanish in Barcelona and you can also savour the region’s distinct Catalan history and identity. No matter your age or level, you’re spoilt for choice with Spanish courses in Barcelona: from a standard General Spanish course to Business Spanish courses and activity courses combining Spanish and salsa or culture, there is something for everyone.

Spanish courses Barcelona

2. San Sebastian

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Much lesser known than the popular hubs of Barcelona and Valencia, it’s exactly this that makes San Sebastian such a find. You will do without the crowds of Spain’s resorts yet be treated to a warm welcome, a magnificent golden beach – a mecca for surfers – and have no end of choice when it comes to going out, traditional tapas bars and first class restaurants at every turn. As a place to learn Spanish, San Sebastian offers a range of Spanish courses for adults as well as exhilarating Spanish and surfing courses and summer camps for Under 18s.

Spanish courses San Sebastian

3. Madrid

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The beating heart of the hot-blooded country that is Spain, Madrid cannot fail to impress. Energetic, alive, brimming with culture and with no shortage of bars, cafés and clubs, this is an exciting and inspiring place to learn Spanish. Our partner Spanish school in Madrid is small and friendly and boasts a great location within walking distance of both Puerta del Sol and the famous Prado Museum. The size and set-up of the school make it really easy to meet new friends and feel at home, perfect for encouraging you to practise your Spanish whilst taking a Spanish course in Madrid.

Spanish courses Madrid

4. Munich

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A city of contrasts, Munich offers all the culture and class of a European capital whilst remaining loyal to its traditions and centuries-old customs. Take your German course in Munich and you might visit a world class art gallery one day after class, dine on typical Bavarian sausage the next, and finish up in one of the city’s old beer halls by night. Students learning German in Munich are spoilt for choice with things to do – and the real icing on the cake is the stunning scenery that surrounds Munich, as a short journey out of the city will take you to some fantastic hiking and biking trails, and ski resorts in winter.

German courses Munich

5. Cologne

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It’s a special place that inspires couples to fix padlocks to the railings of a bridge and, to ensure everlasting love, throw the key into the river below. Yet Cologne, with all its charm, does just this, and as the river Rhine collects keys of all sizes, so its visitors fall in love with the city too. Oozing with history, magnificent architecture, a stunning Cathedral, cobbled streets, boutique shops and traditional bierkellers, this is an unforgettable place to learn German. Why not immerse yourself in the culture fully by combining your German course in Cologne with accommodation in a local host family.

German courses Cologne

6. Lyon

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One thing you can be sure of in Lyon is that you won’t go hungry. Hailed as ‘the stomach of France’, France’s second city is famed for its gastronomy. Obviously requiring energy to learn French in Lyon and navigate its attractive hilly streets, you can happily work your way through sweet, meringue-like ‘macarons’, mountains of cheese and a very un-salad-like but delicious ‘salade lyonnaise’, all in the name of education. Don’t forget to stop off in one of the city’s traditional ‘bouchons’, convivial and relaxed eateries for the seriously hungry and carnivorous. Real foodies, this is for you: French & Cooking Course in Lyon.

French courses Lyon

The top 5 places to eat in Lyon

7. Montpellier

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Whether you’re a school or university student or one coming later in life to study French, you can’t go wrong with Montpellier. Home to a 12th century university, bubbling with a young and cosmopolitan vibe and less than half an hour from the glistening Mediterranean, this a place where it’s easy to stop and spend a while. French courses in Montpellier include A-Level Revision and Cookery courses, while teenagers can happily spend the summer attending one of Montpellier’s popular all-inclusive language and activity programmes.

French courses Montepellier

8. Nice

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Easy to get to, basking in the sunshine of the Côte d’Azur and with the sparkling Mediterranean lapping at its shores, Nice has long been known as a playground for the rich and famous. Yet you’re just as likely to spot a celeb as you are all kinds of travellers and students who come to enjoy the city’s many charms. Away from the palm trees and the cocktail bars of the legendary Promenade des Anglais, Nice retains its French character and is home to a beautiful Old Town, fine museums, traditional markets, colourful festivals and world-class cuisine. As such this is a wonderful place to learn French, and Cactus works with two language schools in Nice to offer a number of French course and accommodation options to suit everyone.

French courses Nice

9. Rome

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The beautiful thing about Italian is that most people learn it for the sheer love of the language and Italian lifestyle. If you fall into this category then learning Italian in Rome is a must. Italy’s historic, lively capital is Italian to the core, brimming with centuries-old art, buzzing with Vespas and bustling with cafe life and top class food at every corner. Cactus works with one of Italy’s most prestigious and long-established schools to offer a vast range of Italian courses in Rome, from Business and Academic Year programmes to culturally-themed Theatre and Cookery courses.

Italian courses Rome

10. Florence

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People come from the world over to learn Italian in Florence and it’s easy to see why. An Aladdin’s cave of basilicas, frescoes and piazzas, it oozes history and artistic grandeur at every turn, almost unlike any other city on Earth. To take an Italian course in Florence is to tread in the footsteps of the great masters Dante, da Vinci and Donatello, their influence as alive now as it was back in the Renaissance. If you can tear yourself away from the breathtaking architecture you won’t regret venturing into the specatacular rolling countryside of Tuscany, just on Florence’s doorstep. There are few places more inspiring to learn a language, with our partner school in Florence overlooking the river Arno and boasting views of the stunning Ponte Vecchio.

Italian courses Florence

Cactus offers language courses in locations all over the world, for all ages and levels.

Don’t miss the Scoppio del Carro in Florence this Easter

The Scoppio del Carro, which literally translates as ‘the explosion of the cart’ is a tradition that dates back to the first Crusade in 1099. According to legend, a Florentine nobleman by the name of Pazzino de Pazzi was the first to climb the walls of Jerusalem carrying the flag of the crusaders. For his courage, the commander and chief of the crusade, Goffredo di Buglione, rewarded Pazzino with stone splinters from the Holy Sepulchre, which he donated to the city of Florence upon his return. The splinters were subsequently used to start an annual “holy fire” during Holy Week.

On Easter morning a thirty foot antique cart (over 500 years old) is dragged from Prato al Porto to Piazza Del Duomo by a team of beautifully decorated white oxen. Once it reaches the Piazza the oxen are unhooked, and the cart is loaded with fireworks while a wire, stretching to the high altar inside the cathedral, is fitted with a mechanical dove (the “colombina”). Shortly after, during Easter Mass, the fuse in the colombina is lit, with the same splinters that Pazzino donated to the city. This ignites the cart and sets off a spectacular explosion.

According to popular legend if all goes well and the cart is exploded it will mean a very prosperous year for the people of Florence.

The Scoppio del Carro is quite something to see, and will make your visit to Florence extra special!

Cactus Language offer a variety of Italian language courses in Florence, Italy, the UK and New York.

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?

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.

Cactus Worldwide Monthly Blog: September 2013

Welcome to the September edition of the Cactus Worldwide blog! This month we’re taking you behind the scenes to meet the people behind two of our most popular partner schools…

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Hello, and welcome to September’s edition of the Cactus Worldwide blog! My name is Ollie, and I am 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 take a look at some of the people behind two of our most popular partner schools in Europe – The Language Centre in Denia, on the east coast of Spain; and Centro Fiorenza on Via di Santo Spirito in the heart of Florence, Italy.

If you have any questions about anything you read here, please feel free to contact me directly via oliver.donovan@cactusworldwide.com and I’d be happy to answer any questions.

1. Spanish in Denia with Cactus Worldwide & The Language Centre

Firstly, please meet Mari Carmen Timor, the Principal of The Language Centre, situated in the historic part of Denia on Carrer de la Barbacana! TLC is a comfortable, modern and spacious school, fully equipped with wi-fi, audio-visual equipment, air-conditioning and drinks machines. It is an ideal location for families, individual adults or juniors all year-round, with a range of course and accommodation options to suit students of all shapes and sizes.

Denia is located half-way between Alicante and Valencia on the east coast of Spain. Still not sure? Click here to see its exact location on Google Maps.

Here is what Mari Carmen has to say about her school, and why it’s worth considering a visit to Denia this autumn/winter:

Who are you?

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My name is Mari Carmen Timor and I am currently the FEDELE president for the Valencian region of Spain, as well as school principal at TLC Dénia Spanish school (Dénia, Valencia). My personal philosophy is that it is important that students experience everything there is about a language, its people and their culture, as well as a receiving a high quality education.

How long has TLC Denia been in operation?

TLC Dénia first opened its doors in 1994 and since then I have strived to continuously stay at the forefront of teaching methods, along with keeping our accommodation satisfactory and our range of activities interesting. We specialise in offering families travelling with children the opportunity to learn the language together. For those students who want to experience a relaxed and friendly city, where they can integrate with the local people and their culture, TLC Dénia is the ideal place for studying Spanish.

What’s happening at TLC Denia this autumn, and why should students come to Denia and take a Spanish course?

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As autumn falls I think many of us consider taking on new challenges in our lives, and for those who wish to learn or improve a language it is a fantastic time to start. The summer heat wanes making way for that magical change of light that autumn brings. The streets that were before filled with tourists now have a nostalgic calm about them.

Far from looking like a shadow of summer, Dénia thrives with the sound of its kitchens. Its wide range of restaurants makes the low season months absolutely perfect for those of our students who wish to enrich their stay with the best quality food.

For students who are nature lovers, Dénia and the surrounding area in the autumn offers wonderful mountain scenery with extensive trails of varying difficulties through breathtaking terrain, suitable for hiking or cycling. 
Not forgetting, of course, that Dénia is dominated by the ‘Montgó’, a 750-metre mountain remarkably similar to ‘Table Mountain’ in Cape Town, South Africa. It is a truly spectacular sight.

Due to all of this and much, much more, studying in the autumn months is a fascinating experience both inside and outside the classroom. And thanks to a select set of activities, our students always have a broad view of authentic life and customs here in Dénia.

2. Italian in Florence with Cactus Worldwide & Centro Fiorenza

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And now, please meet Augusto Merlini, the owner and Director of Centro Fiorenza in Florence! Centro Fiorenza is a medium-sized school that hosts 120+ students during the high season, and a few more even at their sister school on the Isle of Elba (2014 dates and prices will be up soon!). The school prides itself on providing a welcoming, family atmosphere in an international environment, and attracts consistently excellent feedback from our students.

Centro Fiorenza is located on Via di Santo Spirito, slightly set back from the Arno in the centre of Florence. Still not sure? Click here to see its exact location on Google Maps.

Here is what Augusto has to say about his school, and why it’s worth considering taking a trip to Florence this autumn/winter:

Who are you?

I am Augusto Merlini, the owner and director of Centro Fiorenza – International House Florence. I have been running Centro Fiorenza since 1982, first as a teacher in Florence and then when we opened our summer school on Elba in 1984 I spent whole summers there teaching and entertaining our students. Now I am in charge of our marketing and promotion.

What’s happening in Florence this autumn/winter?

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Are you an art lover? If so, then don’t miss this exhibition! Forte Belvedere, the most beautiful exhibition space in Florence, has reopened after 5 years, with works by Zhang Huan. You can admire sculptures of enormous Buddhas and paintings with Huan’s particular technique in ashes. To finish the show enjoy an “Aperol Spritz” or “Hugo” at sunset on the terrace overlooking the city on one side, then turn round and take in the breathtaking view of the Tuscan countryside on the other side.

Also don’t miss a string of events in Florence and the Chianti region in September and October such as tasting Chianti Gallo Nero, Chianti Classico and Super Tuscans along with food of the region (Tagliatelle ai Funghi, Pappardelle al Cinghiale, the famous Peposo from Impruneta and many other specialties!).

And of course, you should also come and enjoy an Italian language course at Centro Fiorenza!

TI ASPETTIAMO A FIRENZE! – CIAO A PRESTO!

I hope this has been of interest, and may have given you some ideas for the colder months which are on their way! I’ve just had a peek at a few budget airline websites, and you can certainly still steal a return flight to Alicante, Valencia or Pisa in November or December for less than £100 – so it really is a great time to go. Happy planning 😉

Any questions, please feel free to contact me directly and I’d be happy to help.

Best wishes,

Ollie

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Oliver Donovan
Agency Product Manager
Email: oliver.donovan@cactusworldwide.com
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Cactus staff review: Italian 10-week evening course, Beginner 3

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Grazie Roberta!

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

Italian course in Rome: a first-hand account

Cactus Office Manager Claudia Ohde tells us why Italy’s historic capital was the perfect place for her Italian course…

I just came back from a one-week language holiday in Rome (from 31 degrees there to 13 degrees in Brighton!). Not only was the weather fantastic (it was hot but there was always a refreshing breeze – perfect summer weather in my eyes) but so was my language course! Each morning seemed to pass in no time which was mainly due to our fabulous teacher Marina who made learning fun and easy. She managed to keep the entire class in Italian at all times, including the breaks she spent with us on the terrace. Quite an achievement in a beginner level 2 class and despite the cheeky attempts of some students to sneak some English in.

The classroom activities included lots of group work with changing partners, playing memory to broaden our vocabulary, well planned role-play and even the creation of a short rap song! Would you have advertised the course like this to me beforehand I might have chickened out (I’m not the role play type!), but Marina managed to keep everyone engaged and motivated at all times and I really enjoyed myself.

The class was a great mixture of 12 people from 11 different countries – France, Sweden, Germany, Libya, USA, Venezuela, Japan, Korea, China, Netherlands and Russia. The school was in a very central location close to the main station and the building had everything a good school needs: good sized class rooms with interactive whiteboards, air conditioning, wifi for the students and a nice cafeteria with inexpensive food (home-made) and drinks. Staff were very welcoming and friendly and everything was very well organised. They also offer a very interesting programme of after-school activities. I particularly enjoyed a seminar about Italian wines which was held by one of the teachers and was very informative and easy to understand. It of course included a little wine testing and some nibbles (my favourite Taralli) too!

The rest of the time I enjoyed walking through Rome with its unique mixture of ancient historic sights that pop up between rather modern buildings just everywhere! I particularly enjoyed walking around in Trastevere, a quiet old town area shielded from noisy traffic and the 10,000 Harley Davidsons bikers that populated Rome that weekend to celebrate their 110th anniversary and to get their blessing from the Pope.

Cactus offers Italian courses in Rome and in many other locations across Italy. Italian evening and part time courses are also available in the UK and the US.

Cactus specialises in organising language courses for individuals and groups, having done so since 1999 for clients all over the globe and for diverse needs and budgets. With an extensive network of approved teachers and a strong in-house academic team, we are able to tailor a language course to suit your specific learning needs, anywhere in the world and whenever is convenient to you.

Italian Language Course in Florence: A great way to learn the language and understand the history

Giles Picciotto, a Hatha yoga teacher from London, tells us about his 26-week-long language holiday in Florence, Italy, and how it has given him a greater understanding of this fascinating country’s culture, history and language.

Giles’s passion for Florence is evident, with comments like: “The world without Florence and the Renaissance isn’t possible frankly – totally unimaginable.” This, combined with wanting to do something different to your average holiday abroad, led him to choose a language holiday in Florence. Cementing his decision to study in Florence as opposed to Rome was the fact that he lives in London and did not really want to study in another large city. He had also heard from friends that Florence was slightly cheaper and if he was going to be staying there and studying for six months, this was an important factor.

When Giles landed in Italy he knew nothing of the Italian language. Starting as a complete beginner, over the course of six months his Italian language skills and vocabulary grew immensely. Throughout his course he met many interesting people of all ages and backgrounds and, although he felt that the fully immersive teaching methods were great to develop his Italian, he also felt that in cities such as Florence and Rome many people speak English, offering him fewer opportunities to practise what he had learnt in class.

Giles really liked the language school in Florence, as it was local and in a fantastic area with great teaching staff. His favourite part of the course was learning something new each day, which would stay with him long after he departed Italy. Staying in a shared student apartment, Giles enjoyed the freedom that came with it and practising his Italian with the lady who owned the apartment who came to clean it every two weeks.

Learning Italian Giles felt that he was able to understand further Italy’s rich history and culture. This, teamed with his belief that Florence is the most important and influential city of the last 1000 years, and not to mention his passion for the food and the wine – which he thinks are awesome! – meant that a language holiday in Florence was the perfect choice for Giles.

I asked Giles if he had any language tips for future students looking to study abroad and he thought some basic knowledge of the language beforehand would help, suggesting at least a vocabulary of a 1000 words and 30 phrases. For him, studying in Italy as a complete beginner and with the fully immersive method used in class, it was sometimes a struggle to process everything. He would also encourage all future students who wish to study in Florence to walk the city every day, go and see something every day, and come to understand how a city so small became so great.

Giles strongly believes that Florence is the most important city in the world and that no city except ancient Athens ever produced so much greatness at one time. Florence’s list of important people includes: Michelangelo; Dante; Boccaccio; Botticelli; Machiavelli; Leonardo and Galileo, all native to the region of Tuscany and almost all from Florence itself. He believes every one of those influential people still resonates powerfully today, many are buried within the walls of the city and there are more current inspirational people such as Gucci and Ferragamo who come from Florence that Giles can identify with.

When asked what inspired Giles most about his trip, he replied that it was just an amazing all-round experience and he was grateful to have had the opportunity to call Florence his home for 6 months, speak Italian to a good standard after his course and meet interesting people during his language holiday in Italy.

Giles is very keen to return to Italy soon and continue his studies, but first he has booked a 2-week Mandarin course in Hong Kong with Cactus. Giles is a true language enthusiast who enjoys travelling the world and learning about a country’s art, culture and history. He loves the way in which society used to work and function both intellectually and physically, believing that practising yoga and learning languages are life skills and the modern world has lost touch with that, relying too much on comfort and technology. He believes the brain must continually be challenged as well as the body.

Many thanks to Giles for taking the time to tell me about his experience and to hopefully inspiring others to do the same.

Cactus Language Training offer Italian courses in Florence and in many locations across Italy. Evening courses in Italian are also available in the UK and we also offer private language training.

Italian Language Course in Florence: A great way to learn the language and discover a beautiful city

Shirley Critchley tells us about her week-long language holiday in Florence, Italy, and how it has given her even more of a passion for the language, culture and the beautiful country itself

Shirley Critchley is a private tutor of Spanish and French in the North West of England and has always had a flair and enthusiasm for languages since her school days. Shirley started studying Italian in 1999 after falling in love with the Italian language and after several holidays to the stunning Lake Garda. She took her Italian GCSE but did not feel confident enough to teach privately to adults.

As the requests for her language tuition were pouring in, she decided to take a language holiday abroad in Italy. This would be her first trip alone since sadly losing her husband the previous year. With so many recommendations for Florence as a fantastic destination to visit – with quality Italian tuition, free time to explore the beautiful sites and soak up the rich culture, and plenty of delicious Italian food and wine to enjoy! – this seemed the perfect opportunity for Shirley to improve her Italian and enjoy a relaxing holiday. Her mind was made up.

Shirley really liked the local Italian language school, as it was easy to find in a lovely building overlooking the Arno River, just up from Ponte Vecchio. The teachers and staff were very friendly and dedicated to improving their students’ Italian. Being a private tutor in Spanish and French and looking to tutor in Italian, Shirley really enjoyed the Italian language lessons as she was able to pick up many tips for her own lessons. She also liked the way the Italian lessons were structured and how they were pitched at the right level for the whole class.  Her class consisted of her and six other students – a  couple from the Ukraine, a man from Israel and three women, one from Belgium, one from Japan and one from South Africa.

The main focus of the lessons was on conversations and listening which made the language learning experience practical, with real life scenarios and Italian phrases that included language games and listening exorcises. Shirley really appreciated the full immersion teaching experience and thought it made a huge difference to her overall learning and language progression – not to mention her much increased confidence as the week progressed.

Shirley made the most of her language holiday by exploring Florence and the local area and speaking with native Italians at every possible opportunity, from ordering in restaurants to asking directions. The Italian people were so helpful that one gentleman even helped her with her homework!

Shirley particularly enjoyed travelling to Florence in February as the climate was cooler and allowed her to climb the 414 steps of The Duomo (Basilica di Santa Maria del Fiore), the main church in Florence, which offers stunning views of the city and the surrounding mountains.

Shirley particularly enjoys holidaying in Italy due to the friendly and welcoming nature of the Italian people and the laid back lifestyle and, when asked if she had any travel tips for future students wanting to study in Florence, she said ‘Use every possible opportunity to speak the language’. She also found staying in accommodation near to the train station allowed her to explore the surrounding area with ease.

Shirley felt most inspired by the way her native Italian teacher included everyone in the classroom; particularly being a teacher herself, she can understand how difficult this can be and is now using some of the teaching methods in her language lessons back home in the UK. She continues to study Italian at home and is hoping to take another language course next year as she learned so much in such a short space of time whilst on her language holiday abroad. All in all, she would highly recommend a language course abroad to anyone looking for an adventure!

Many thanks to Shirley for taking the time to tell me about her experience and to hopefully inspiring others to do the same.

If you would like to learn more about Shirley Critchley’s language holiday abroad in Florence then she has written a detailed blog of her experiences.

The photo at the beginning of this article was kindly contributed by Shirley; she took it whilst at the top of The Duomo, Florence, Italy.