Learning Arabic in Morocco and the UK: Cactus staff review

Why are you learning Arabic? This is a question I have been asked quite often since I started studying Arabic in Brighton last July. What are the reasons for someone to want to learn a foreign language? As a foreign language teacher, I have come across many different reasons as to why people want to learn to speak in a different language to theirs. I have learnt several languages before and this time I have been given the chance to learn one more. I have learnt English, German, a bit of Italian and French. This time I wanted to go for something that made my brain work in a complete different way and that’s how I ended up taking an Arabic course with Cactus.

I started at Level 1 on a 10-week Arabic evening course in Brighton, and I was one of those “complete beginners” with no previous knowledge at all. The only words I knew were those that are used in Spanish such as Insh’Allah (in Spanish “ojalá”), “almohada”, “aljibe” and a few more.

The first lessons were a bit of a challenge as I found myself in a class with a few students that had some sort of knowledge as they had relatives or friends or knew people from Arabic-speaking countries. I have to say this was a bit demotivating as I felt I really knew nothing. It was hard to guess meanings as I could have done with German, being similar to English, French or Italian. I was absolutely lost and I did not take it very seriously. I did, however, enrol on the Level 2 course and it was then when my love for this language started. I bought different books to the one used in class and also did a bit of self-study a couple of days per week to really learn the alphabet and get familiar with the writing.

The lessons then became more and more interesting, not only the language aspects but also the cultural ones. My teacher is very familiar with the different dialects and different cultural issues all across the Arab world.image

Arabic is a fascinating language and the writing has some sort of magical effect; it feels more like painting than writing. No wonder it´s one of the main decorative components in the Arab world.

In Level 3 we moved away from the alphabet, writing, basic vocabulary and conversations, and we started to go deeper into different grammatical structures. Arabic is not so complicated when it comes to verb tenses; it´s complicated when you want to speak and write properly and use the cases and different ways of building plurals. Let´s keep in mind I am talking about Modern Standard Arabic – I won’t even start talking about the many differences when it comes to colloquial Arabic. It was during this term in Level 3 that all the revolutionary movements started and this made me want to learn more and more about this language and culture.

Although many people kept telling me that the Arabic I was learning was not useful, because no one speaks like that if you travel to any Arabic-speaking country, I still wanted to go somewhere to learn a bit more and put into practice what I had learnt – and so I did.

imageThis Easter I decided to do a 1-week intensive course in one of Cactus schools. My destination was Rabat, in Morocco. I could have chosen Egypt but I had already been to Morocco and found it a fascinating country. I have to say it has been one of the most amazing experiences I have had when it comes to learning a language. The learning environment at the school was excellent, my teacher was highly qualified and very motivating, and we were encouraged to speak Arabic at all times, even at a very basic level. This course gave me the confidence to speak and made me realise it is absolutely necessary to go to the country where the language is spoken to really make an improvement.

imageEven though I had learnt quite a lot during these 3 terms in the UK, it was all stored in my head but never used. In Morocco in a matter of a few days I was having short conversations to taxi drivers, waiters and people at the “souks” and this made me feel really good. They could understand me and I could understand them; even if I wasn’t saying everything properly or using the right verb form, I made myself understood. Isn´t that what the aim of learning a language is after all? COMMUNICATION.

I cannot describe how grateful people were that I was making the effort to speak to them in Arabic and it made such a big difference to the way they treated me everywhere I went. Although I have to say hospitality is part of their everyday life.

I can´t say that in a week I learnt a lot more than I knew already but I definitely learnt to put things together and to actually use them. Now is time to move on to the next level and keep on learning more and maybe next year I can go back and do a more advanced course.

Rabat is such a good place to spend some time. It´s probably the best place in Morocco to live if you come from a western country. It is the perfect combination of tradition and modernity; people are very laid back and time seems not to matter much. Days actually seem longer when you are in Morocco.

imageThere are beautiful places to visit such as the Kasbah of the Oudaya, the Hassan Mosque and its Tower, the Mohammed V Mausoleum, the Royal Palace the remarkable Andalusian Gardens in the new city quarters. The ruins of Chellah are not to be missed either.

Cactus runs part-time and evening language courses in 24 languages and 41 locations across the UK, and in 6 locations across the US and Canada. These are the ideal way to brush up on a language before you travel abroad, whether for work or pleasure.

Cactus also offers language immersion holidays in more than 30 languages, in 60 countries and 500 destinations worldwide. 

What kind of people teach EFL?

The reasons why and when people choose to teach EFL can be loosely categorised, but not really the people themselves. They come from far and wide, from a variety of age groups and from a huge assortment of professional and academic backgrounds.

Perhaps this is due to the fact that every native, or near native, English speaker possesses a proficiency in the main skill that needs to be imparted – English. Granted, this doesn’t mean that everyone will be a great teacher, but the basic skill that they will be required to teach is there, and the rest can be improved.

There are lots of reasons why people choose to teach EFL, but there tend to be four main groups of people: people taking a gap year, people taking a career break, people who want a retirement or second career option and people who want a full-blown career in TEFL.

A gap year activity

So-called ‘gappers’ tend to be in the 18-25 bracket, and are normally taking a year out just before or after they have finished their studies. Sometimes the main impetus for them to train in TEFL is so that they can spend a year abroad in a specific country in order to hone or learn foreign language skills.  For others, it is simply a way for them to see new parts of the world and learn more about different cultures. Other gap year TEFLers may be teaching as part of wider volunteering type-projects, normally in developing countries around the world. TEFL can certainly be a ‘worthwhile’ project to undertake in this type of year off from work or study, and skills that are learnt through teaching will be a welcome addition to the CV of anyone trying to get onto the career ladder.

A career break option

Teaching TEFL as part of a career break is similar to teaching on a gap year in terms of its length and appeal -many people who take gap years or careers breaks have the same reasons for wanting to do so and are only looking to be away for a year or two at the most. Career breakers tend normally to be a little older – between 25 and 35 in general. Although sometimes both career breakers and ‘gappers’ train in TEFL with a specific goal in mind – to find a job in a certain area of the world and stay there for a set amount of time – others train in TEFL more as a ‘back up’ option. There is usually casual work available on the travelling route, and having a TEFL certificate in your back pocket will certainly come in handy if you come across informal teaching work and want to top up your funds along the way.

A second career, or retirement project

It’s interesting to note that one of the first questions asked by the majority of potential TEFL course applicants over the age of 45 is ‘am i too old’? This must mean, I suppose, that TEFL is still largely associated with this kind of gap-year/career break travel. The answer to the question of course though, is no. Trends over the last 10 years or so (admittedly before the recession struck) have been that people retire from their main profession earlier, and consider relocating to the likes of France and Spain to enjoy their retirement in warmer climates. Both of this things have encouraged far more people within this stage of life to consider TEFL, either as a way to ‘give something back’ via voluntary work in the UK, to make a bit of extra money via private tutoring, or for those who relocate abroad, as a way to integrate into the local community.

A long-term career

Often people who start off teaching TEFL as a gap year or career break option enjoy it so much that they end up making a career out of it. Other people, although less abundant in number, know right from the start that TEFL is the career path they want to follow and train for this accordingly. They may also choose to study for an MA in TESOL. It could be that they have permanent plans to relocate to a country and set up a school, or simply that they want to remain in the UK and teach or train within language schools, or the lifelong learning sector.

In short, there really is no one type of person who teaches TEFL, and one reason for why people choose to do so. The industry comprises a mix of short-term teachers and long-term teachers, those who are doing it for money and those who teach on a voluntary basis, those who teach in the UK and those who teach abroad. The good thing about TEFL is that there are opportunities and suitable courses for everyone, irrespective of what capacity they hope to teach in.

More about TEFL courses worldwide

More about TEFL in different countries around the world

What are university foundation courses and who are they designed for?

What do the foundation programmes involve?

The exact format of these courses can vary from centre to centre, but they tend to be a year in length, and usually include English language tuition, classes in core study skills and specialist modules depending on what you want to go on to study at university.

Who is eligible to apply?

Foundation year programmes are usually open to students over the age of 16, and an entrance requirement is that they have satisfactorily completed secondary or high school in their home country. Students are also normally required to have an IELTS level of English of around 4.5 (TOEFL – 477).

What are the benefits to students?

Aside from expert tuition and great preparation in study skills, university foundation courses also offer students an all-important opportunity to familiarise themselves with the British way of life prior to starting independent study at university. Being integrated into the culture can prove priceless when it comes to settling into university life and starting your degree.

Without a doubt one of the most beneficial aspects of university foundation courses though, is the fact that usually they offer students a guaranteed place at a UK university. Securing a place at a UK university can be both competitive and lengthy if you’re applying independently from another country, but the long-standing relationships that many foundation course providers have with UK universities, and the support that they can offer you in terms of submitting an application, makes the process much more straight-forward.

Can students who take a foundation course apply to do a degree at any university?

Usually, foundation course providers will have specific university partners where their foundation students can go on to do a degree course. Some providers may only work with one or two, whereas other providers, such as Cactus’ partner schools in Brighton, Cambridge and London, have established relationships with dozens of universities, including several of those listed amongst the top 20 in the UK.

For more information on university foundation courses with Cactus, please visit the Cactus Language website.

Types of language courses that you can do abroad

Most people assume that the only decisions you have to make when it comes to booking a language course abroad are where you want to go, and how long you want to go for. In actual fact, there is another consideration on top of those – what type of course you want to do.

Amongst the options to choose from are ‘general’ courses, ‘intensive’ courses, ‘combined’ courses and ‘mini- group’ courses …whilst some of these are fairly self-explanatory, it is difficult to understand exactly what others mean!

Here is a run down of what the different course classifications normally denote.

‘General’ course

This is the most common type of course, and tends to involve around 15-20 hours of study per week, depending on the school. The lessons will normally just take place in the morning – they won’t be spread over an entire day. Larger, busier schools can sometimes offer students the choice as to whether they want their lessons in either morning or afternoon ‘slots’.

‘Intensive’ course

Intensive courses are designed for students who are only able to go abroad for a short amount of time and therefore may want more intensive language tuition each week. This type of course tends to involve all-day study, although morning and afternoon sessions may focus on different skills, and are normally taught by different teachers.

‘Combined’ course

If a language school abroad offers a ‘combined’ course, this is most likely to be a course that involves both individual tuition and group sessions. The group classes normally take place in the morning and encourage student interaction and practical communication skills. The individual classes are usually in the afternoon, and are designed to allow you to work on areas you need to practise, or which are of particular interest to you.

‘Mini group’ course

‘Mini group’ courses are available as both ‘general’ and ‘intensive’ courses. As you would expect, the term just describes courses that are made up of smaller groups. The reduced number of students means that students can have more direct contact with the teacher as well as more personal attention within class.

‘Individual’ course

This type of course is another with a fairly obvious meaning. Anyone who takes an ‘individual’ course will have one-to-one tuition with a teacher for the duration. These courses obviously give students the opportunity to focus specifically on the areas they want to work on, and often result in swift progress.

‘Exam preparation’ course

Exam preparation courses are designed for people who want to study a language for a certain amount of time with the aim of gaining a specific qualification to prove their ability at the end. In terms of European languages like French and German this will usually be a GCSE or A Level course. Exam preparation courses tend to be much more popular amongst students of English though, who have a range of exams available to them, including the Cambridge exams, IELTS and TOEFL.

More about language courses abroad.

What will I achieve with a 1-week intensive language course in New York?

Attending 3 hours of classes every day for a week is great for anyone who needs to learn the basics of a foreign language very intensively. Available at beginner level, they are ideal for anyone who needs a refresher course in a foreign language they have learnt a long time ago, or for those starting from scratch.

Currently, Chinese (Mandarin), French, German, Italian and Spanish are all available in this format.

These courses are not intended to provide in-depth coverage of complicated grammar and vocabulary; they are designed to simply cover all the basics that you need in order to get by. They aim to fulfill the same kind of purpose as CD–based or online vacation preparation type-courses but, being face-to-face, are much more beneficial and enjoyable.

One of the main attractions of the week-long courses is that students benefit from a face-to-face tutor who they can go to with any specific questions or queries, rather than being left to their own devices. Students also get to meet new, like-minded people. Class sizes are small, which ensures that your tutor always has enough time to dedicate to you and your learning. In addition, tutors are all qualified and either native speakers or native-speaker level.

Classes are intended to be fun, interactive and stimulating to ensure the maximum possible gain in terms of language acquisition.

For full listings of our week-long courses, information on how to book and to test your level, please visit the Language Courses North America website.

Exam revision courses at Easter: the best way to prepare

For some students, the upcoming Easter holiday is the last break before their GCSE and A-Level examinations. Those wanting to consolidate their language skills and gain real confidence in the language might want to consider an exam revision course abroad.

GCSE and A-Level revision courses are available both in France and Spain, and offer a unique opportunity to study the language and prepare for the exam whilst mixing with others of the same age and enjoying the local culture too. There’s nothing like being surrounded by the language to tune your ear and practise speaking it when out and about; even simple activities like ordering a drink, going to the cinema or taking part in social events organised by the school provide a valuable chance to practise the language outside class, in a fun environment, with others of the same age.

Whether you need a little boost before the final hurdle or simply want to make sure you’re on top form when exam time comes, these exam revision courses will make sure you’re as ready as can be and, in many cases, ensure better results! 


Course: French GCSE revision course in Chambery

Start dates: 11th & 18th April 2011

Includes: 16 lessons of general French + 6 lessons of specific GCSE preparation

Course: French A Level revision course in Chambery

Start dates: 11th & 18th April 2011

Includes: 16 lessons of general French + 6 lessons of specific A-Level preparation

Course: French A Level revision course in Bordeaux

Start date: 28th March 2011

Includes: 24 French lessons + 3 cultural activities

Course: French A-Level revision course in Montpellier

Start date: 11th April 2011

Includes: 26 French lessons per week


Course: Spanish A-Level revision course in Madrid (Premium School))

Start date: any Monday

Includes: 30 Spanish lessons

Course: Spanish A-Level revision course in Madrid (Premium School)

Start date: any Monday

Includes: 25 Spanish lessons

Course: Spanish A-Level revision course in Madrid (Premium School)

Start date: any Monday

Includes: 20 Spanish lessons

Course: Spanish A-Level revision course in Madrid (Premium School)

Start date: any Monday

Includes: 15 Spanish lessons

All that remains to say is good luck – or bonne chance / ¡buena suerte! – in your exams this summer.

Cactus offers language courses in over 30 languages, in 60 countries and 500 destinations worldwide, including specialist courses such as exam preparation, academic year, language & activity and volunteering programmes.

Evening courses in the UK: what’s new for 2011

As of January 2011, Cactus students can now benefit from the following additions to our range of language course options:

New locations

This year, for the first time, we are offering courses at a new centre in Sheffield. Languages available at the centre include Arabic, Mandarin, French, German, Hindi, Italian and Spanish, which will be offered at a variety of levels. Sheffield is one of two centres outside of London that will now offer both 5 and 10 week course formats in 2011 – the other being Brighton.

In 2011, we are also offering 10-week courses at new premises in Canary Wharf. Classes will now be held in modern facilities within the up-market Britannia Hotel – just a 5 minute walk from Canary Wharf tube station. Languages offered at this centre are Arabic, English, French, German, Italian, Japanese and Spanish.

New languages

In an exciting addition to the range of languages that we teach, Farsi lessons are now also being offered. These will initially be available at beginner level, and will take place in our Tottenham Court Road school. Farsi is the main language spoken in Iran, although it also widely spoken in Afghanistan and Tajikistan too, and amongst minority communities in other Middle Eastern countries such as Oman, Bahrain and the UAE.

New course formats

Our ‘general’ 5 and 10 week evening courses have long proved popular with students, but this year we will also be offering the more specialist options of:

• Exam preparation courses (English – IELTS, Spanish – DELE)

• Business language courses

Our IELTS preparation courses will be held at the London Notting Hill centre at Level 5 and 6 and the DELE preparation courses at London Holborn-Russell Square.

Our Business courses are back by popular demand, and will be available in both 5 and 10 week format. Initially, the courses will be offered in Business English (London Bridge and Notting Hill centres), Business German (London Cannon Street centre) and Business French (London Cannon Street centre) at level 6.

Where’s the best place to learn Spanish in Latin America?

Every day the Cactus Language Team receives many phone calls from our clients and potential clients. Most already know where they would like to take a language course because of a particular affection for a city, the desire to visit a specific place and combine it with language learning, because it’s cheaper to fly to or because of a romantic interest! However, the phone calls we enjoy most are from clients who know they want to take a language course but don’t necessarily know where. They seek our advice as to what’s best for them, and this is where we really get to show off our excellent product knowledge and recount stories of our own language courses and travels.

As the Latin America specialist I’ve been asked several times, “Where is the best place for me to take a Spanish language course?”. Read more

Spanish course in Brighton: Cactus staff review

Cactus intern Anne Blank tells us about her Spanish evening course in Brighton

I had just started my internship at Cactus and was really happy to hear that we offer Spanish part-time courses in Brighton. As I really love languages, I decided to take a 10 week part-time course in Brighton.

I had already learned Spanish for more than two years at school, but I didn’t feel very confident in using the language. I booked to start at Spanish level two, but I realised after my first lesson that the level was too low. Thankfully it is possible to change your level, and after talking to my colleagues I decided to go in at level four.

It was a really good decision to change level, because I changed to a course where I could practise the pronunciation rather than just grammar. After just a few lessons I already felt more confident using the language. It was a class in which I could learn to express myself and talk to native speakers. We also practised the grammar which was more of a revision for all us students, but it was really helpful.

Amaia, my teacher, was an amazing person who is passionate about teaching Spanish and giving her students an insight of the Spanish culture. She was very kind and helpful. We had a lot of fun, but we also worked really hard to improve our Spanish. In each lesson we played a game in order to learn new vocabulary or we just talked about our daily lives. We discussed different topics from our book but Amaia also prepared her own texts. To learn more about the Spanish culture we sometimes met in a Spanish bar, to have some Sangria or Spanish red wine. YUM!

As we were just a small group of students, our teacher had more time to look after each individual student, which was very helpful. It was sometimes a bit hard because Amaia tried to avoid speaking in English; on the other hand was it really good, because it can be exactly like this if you go to Spain.

All in all I can say, it was muy bien and I enjoyed learning more about the Spanish culture and language.

Cactus runs evening and part-time language courses in schools across London and in cities nationwide. Courses are available in over 20 languages and on regular start dates throughout the year.

Chinese course in Brighton: Cactus staff review

Cactus intern Anne Blank tells us how she got on with her beginner’s Mandarin evening course in Brighton…

After taking a Spanish course in summer, I wasn’t really sure which course should be next. As I really love different languages and cultures, I thought I should learn something completely new. So I had a look on the Cactus website and the decision was easy: Mandarin!

I’d already heard different stories about the Chinese language and I was a bit scared, but mostly excited. It is such an unknown language for me (and I guess also for most European people).

As I didn’t want to go to my first lesson unprepared, I decided to do a little bit of research. After doing some research I was even more excited.

When I arrived at St.Giles College in Brighton, my teacher welcomed me with a friendly “Ni hao” (hello). At first we talked about the reasons why we decided to take this course and it was really interesting to hear other students’ answers. There were reasons like moving to China, travelling to China, having Chinese relatives or just being curious, as I was.

We were given an overview of the four different tones in Chinese, which constitute the most important part of the language. In the first two lessons, we learned to introduce ourselves. Finally I was able to say: “Níhăo. Wõ jiào Anne. Wõ laizi Dé gué. Hên gāo xing rénshi nin.” (Hello, my name is Anne. I’m from Germany. Nice to meet you!). I could also ask people what their name is and where they come from.

My teacher Jieshang is in one word: AMAZING! She really likes teaching and giving us an insight into her culture. She was always well prepared and made sure that we felt comfortable.

As I’ve already mentioned, pronunciation is a very important part of the Mandarin language, so we were given lots of speaking exercises to help us feel more confident with the different tones. We also watched different clips online and tried to understand as much as possible.

We also talked about the different customs in China. I learned about the meaning of the different colours, numbers and animals:

– Number 2 is a good number in Chinese culture. There is a Chinese saying “good things come in pairs”. It is common to use double symbols in product brand names, such as double happiness, double coin and double elephants.

– Red, corresponding with fire, symbolises good fortune and joy. Red is found everywhere during Chinese New Year and other holidays and family gatherings. Red is strictly forbidden at funerals as it is a traditionally symbolic coluor of happiness.

We went on step by step with our book (which is a very good book) and learned more and more. I was really surprised that there is also a chapter where you start learning how to write the Chinese letters. It is more like painting, because you have to make sure that each line is “painted” correctly.

All in all I can say that the course was “hên hăo” (very good) and I really enjoyed it. I have the feeling that I learned a lot and I’m looking forward to learning more Mandarin.

Cactus runs evening and part-time language courses in schools across London and in cities nationwide. Courses are available in over 20 languages and on regular start dates throughout the year.