Gap year options: the best courses for you

Those lucky enough to have a gap year stretching ahead of them – be it before or after university, as a career break, or in retirement – have a wealth of opportunities at their globe-trotting feet. Travel invariably comes into the equation, but the tricky part is working out what exactly you want to do and how to make the most of your precious time out.

Wherever you’re going, one of the best things you can do when setting foot on foreign soil is learn some of the language. Whether you’re backpacking across the globe, taking overland trips, participating in sports and adventure programmes, looking for paid work, or hoping to teach or volunteer, knowledge of the local language – even if just the basics – can make the world of difference to your gap year. It can get you out of many a sticky situation, to say nothing of enhancing your general experience and enabling you to ‘get under the skin’ of a place. And, when you get back – not that you want to think of this right now – the fact that you have learnt a language will impress future employers who will see that you have both gained a new skill and shown initiative and creativity.

With this in mind we’ve compiled a list of language programmes that combine particularly well with gap year experiences. This list is by no means exhaustive; Cactus organises courses for many ‘gappers’ and there are many options to choose from. These are just a few to whet the appetite…so take a look, be inspired, and see the world!

Language & Volunteer Programmes

Many people with a year off want to volunteer in some way. With Cactus, you can study Spanish for 4 weeks and then use your newfound language skills on an 8-week volunteer placement in social work, education, community development, health care or environmental care. Most volunteer organisations do not require you to learn any of the language before taking a placement, but by doing so you will get much more out of your volunteer experience and the volunteer organisation, in turn, will get much more out of you. Spanish & Volunteer programmes are available in Buenos Aires and Cordoba in Argentina, and in Antigua, Guatemala.

Language & Activity Courses

A big hit with Cactus clients, our Language & Activity programmes are the perfect way to combine language learning with a fun activity such as salsa, tango, diving, surfing, cookery, wine tasting, photography or yoga. Of particular appeal to gap year students is the coastal town of Jaco Beach in Costa Rica. This laid-back, surfy town is a great place to simply hang out, but with its warm climate, Pacific surf and golden beach, you’re likely to be tempted by the surfing, yoga and photography courses…

Alternatively, why not try your hand at Samba and Brazilian dance in Salvador, salsa in Barcelona, diving in La Ceiba, Honduras, or skiing in Chambery?

Long-term language courses in cheaper locations

If you just want to take a straight language course before embarking on your gap year adventure, you can enrol on a General Course in any of our locations. Available from 1 week upwards, at all ages and levels, these language courses are a great way to meet people from across the globe and take part in a range of cultural and sporting activities outside class. If you study for a few weeks or more, we recommend the following good value courses in locations which are great places to stop and spend some time: Mexico City, Buenos Aires and Valencia.

Language & TEFL Programmes

Teaching English abroad is a great way to experience a new culture whilst earning some pennies to fund your adventures overseas. Taking a TEFL (Teaching English as a Foreign Language) or TESOL (Teachers of English to Speakers of Other Languages) course at the beginning of your travels will give you all the skills necessary for a teaching job in your location of choice. And if you add a short language course to your TEFL course you really will be fully equipped for life in a foreign country!

Cactus TEFL offers combined language & TEFL courses in the following locations:

– Spanish & TEFL in Cusco, Peru

– Spanish & TEFL in Buenos Aires, Argentina

– Spanish, TEFL & Chill Out in Playa del Carmen, Mexico

– Spanish, TEFL & Chill Out in Barcelona, Spain

– Spanish & TEFL in Cadiz, Spain

– Portuguese & TEFL in Rio de Janeiro, Brazil

– Portuguese & TEFL in Lisbon, Portugal

– Thai & TEFL in Pattaya, Thailand

– Khmer & TEFL in Phnom Penh, Cambodia

– Vietnamese & TEFL in Ho Chi Minh, Vietnam

What’s the difference between 5 and 10-week evening courses?

Here are some of the most frequently asked questions about the two, including their differences and their benefits.

1. Do the 5 and 10-week courses have the same total amount of hours?

Yes, both courses comprise a total of 20 hours, just delivered in different formats. 10-week courses have one 2-hour session per week, and 5-week courses have two 2-hour sessions each week.

2. Is there any difference in syllabus between the two courses?

No – the syllabus is exactly the same. Because of this, the course levels are interchangeable – you could do a 5-week course and then choose the 10-week course when you take the next level up, or vice versa.

3. What are the benefits of doing a 5-week course?

Ultimately, whether you choose a 5-week or 10-week course will depend on your location, your weekly availability, how long you have to learn the skills that you require and what style of learning suits you best. 5-week courses are beneficial in that:

• You can learn a lot in a short amount of time, which means anyone planning a last-minute trip abroad can still learn what they need to before they go

• You learn more intensively, and have less time between lessons, which means it’s sometimes easier to retain what you have learnt

• It can be easier to ‘clear’ your diary of commitments for 5 weeks so that you are available for every lesson.

4. What are the advantages of doing a 10-week course?

10-week courses remain the standard format for evening lessons in a foreign language. They involve one 2-hour session per week, and are therefore less time-intensive in weekly terms. They also have the following benefits:

• They are offered in more locations and more languages than 5-week courses

• They offer a manageable study option for people who have little free time

• They give students lots of time to practise what they have learnt each week in their own time before moving on to the next lesson.

5. Which course type is the most popular format?

Our experience has shown us that more of our students want to attend class just one evening a week, which is why there are more 10-week than 5-week courses. Currently, 5-week courses are available in London (various locations), Brighton, Liverpool and Sheffield.

6. Do the 5 and 10-week courses cost the same?

Yes, the courses are priced the same. London–based courses start at £179, and regional courses at £159.

7. Are 5-week courses available in the same languages as the 10 week ones?

Currently, 5-week courses are offered in Arabic, Mandarin, French, German, Italian, Polish, Portuguese (Brazilian and European), Spanish and Turkish. We offer 10-week courses in all of these languages, and more – including Russian, Japanese, Swedish, Thai, Greek and Hindi, to name a few. For full language listings please visit the Language Courses UK website.

8. Do the 5-week courses have the same start dates as the 10-week ones?

No.10-week courses start at four different times of the year – in January, April, July and October. 5-week courses are usually offered in September, November, February and June*.

*Please note that start dates for 5-week courses can sometimes vary from year to year, please check our site to confirm specific dates.

Cactus offers a wide range of other language training options in addition to evening courses, including individual tuition, weekend ‘crash’ courses and immersion courses abroad. We encourage people to learn in whatever way suits them best, whether that’s with one course, or a mixture of formats and lengths. Please feel free to contact us for advice on what to choose, or visit our site to test your level.