Junior French Course Feedback: Montpellier

Cactus recently sent a 13-year-old boy on a Junior French Course in Montpellier. Here, his father gives feedback from a parent’s perspective and describes the importance of giving a child the gift of another language.

“Caspar attended the school at Montpellier when he was 13 (he will return for a fortnight this year). It is, and was, a big step for him – his first taste of semi-independence and that within an foreign culture. He had doubts before going, but thoroughly enjoyed. His words to me were ‘At home I am Caspar with the shocking blond hair, and am treated according to what people think I am. In Montpellier, I could be what I wanted to be. It was freedom’. The cultural experience was / is as important to me as the linguistic experience – there were students there from several countries and continents.

He stayed with Mme Meson, an excellent guardian who took care of Caspar. He will return to her this coming Summer. She has little English; or rather she chooses to use little English, thereby offering a semi-immersive experience in a home environment.

Junior French course MontpellierRegarding Caspar’s French, he had only a very basic knowledge before last year’s course (and his French is still elementary). However, he came away with a nascent understanding of grammar and a basic ability to understand spoken French, but lacking the confidence to communicate in the language – this bridge obviously takes some time to cross. He said that those who had spent several weeks at Montpellier had indeed succeeded in crossing into fluency – a matter of time and money.

My son is not overly gregarious. However, I hope that returning for a fortnight, to a familiar regime and place will give him further confidence to open up and attempt to communicate. On the back of this year’s course he will fly straight from Montpellier to stay with a family in Nantes. They have little English and so he will be forced to use the skills he will acquire in Montpellier.

Would you recommend a Junior French Course?

Junior French course Montpellier - Montpellier schoolYes, I would recommend the course as it offers a young adult both a personal and socio-linguistic learning curve within a regulated environment. Caspar was not the youngest student last year: there were 12 year olds at Montepellier, some more confident than others. It’s all a question of maturity. Any 12 year old will be amongst 14 / 15 year olds and there is, as you know, a huge difference in slight age differences during the teenage years. To be honest, I was more nervous of letting him go last year, than he was of going – both vigilance and homesickness were issues. The same is true this year; he is only just 14. There are always risks. But, these, we felt, were minimised last year as we always had the assurance that a family friend lived in Beziers (a short drive away). I also had some email correspondence with Mme Meson prior to his visit and she seems a good sort (which through experience, was proved and she was a delight to meet).

This year, he will fly out alone and without a family friend in close proximity. However, he will be  returning to familiar territory. We also feel more confident as we have faith both in Cactus (Laura is always helpful) and Mme Meson. Plus, he’s truly looking forward to going – which is a motivational triumph for a 14 year old boy.

Obviously being a minor poses logistic problems as only certain airlines allow children to travel unaccompanied. Air France do and they have a buddy facility (for which you pay extra) which ensures their safety, easyJet also allow children but, correct me if I’m wrong, not if under 12 and unaccompanied. Last year, Caspar travelled out with our family friend and I picked him up – an opportunity to meet Mme Meson and practice the limited French I possess.

The gift of another language

Our hope, when sending Caspar to France, is that we are giving him the gift of another language. We in Britain are bullishly monolingual which, in our opinion is not a good thing (Caspar is also studying Japanese). I’m sure this is partly why you might be considering sending your child to Montpellier. Whatever you decide, I hope they will, one way or another, realise your linguistic ambition for them.”

Thank you to Ian for taking the time to give us his valuable feedback on Caspar’s Junior French Course. We look forward to sending Caspar to France again this year.

Caspar took a Junior French Course in Montpellier with host family accommodation. There is also the option to take a Junior French Course with residential accommodation. Both courses include 20 French lessons each week, an exciting programme of activities and excursions, all meals and full supervision. Contact us or visit our website to find out more about our Junior language courses and summer camps.

Cactus Corporate Case Study: Olswang

Cactus Editor Sarah Watkins talks to Loretta Bonanno, Training Coordinator at Olswang, about their corporate language training programme.

Cactus has been providing language training for international law firm Olswang since 2011. For staff at Olswang, language training is considered a benefit rather than a necessity, so I was keen to find out how the in-company language classes have been received and whether the business considered them to be a good use of training budget.

How language training works at Olswang

Loretta first explained to me the history behind language learning at Olswang. The company has always run ‘language clubs’ – 10-week courses of a minimum 4 students – in order to give staff access to other languages, be it for leisure, travel or personal reasons. During the recession these language courses were stopped but have now been re-instated, with Olswang contributing £50 towards each course and each delegate paying the rest.

When classes were re-instated the uptake was very good and courses are now running in French and Spanish, with one 1.5 hour lesson taking place on one evening each week, over a course of 10 weeks. Usually participants are beginners in the language and go into the course expecting to just learn the basics; as Loretta admits, however, having taken a course herself, she learnt quite a lot more and is now keen to take a refresher course.

The reality of taking a language course is such that some participants have found it difficult to fit in homework between classes – in fact, some are not even able to attend class due to the nature of their work as lawyers. These are natural considerations for any company offering external courses. Feedback has however been good and Loretta tells me that there is always a positive response when she gives her induction to new course participants.

The benefits of offering training & advice for the future

Loretta told me that she would recommend other companies consider offering language training as a staff incentive, as the benefits are wide-ranging. Within Olswang, and from her personal experience attending a course, she has seen the language courses as an ideal opportunity to network within the firm and to meet people you wouldn’t have otherwise, all in a fun environment. Corporate language tuition is also a stepping stone to international development and success, as staff become equipped to effectively communicate with non-English speaking colleagues in global offices.

I was interested to know whether, with all her experience in arranging corporate language training, Loretta had any advice for other companies considering offering the same. Loretta wisely pointed out the importance of communication between all parties involved – the supplier, the client and the teachers – to ensure that everything runs smoothly when it comes to issues such as missed lessons and feedback forms.

The implementation of the courses had been as smooth as hoped with Cactus and, when I asked about Olswang’s future plans, it was great to hear that they were keen to continue and that it was even on the cards to extend their language training programme to other areas. Our chat rounded off nicely with Loretta telling me that it had been a really good experience, and lots of fun too, so we’re certainly looking forward to fulfilling their language learning needs moving forwards.

Many thanks to Loretta for taking the time to talk to us.

Read further corporate case studies on the Cactus corporate website.

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. Our expertise in the field of face-to-face tuition is second-to-none. 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.

Cactus Corporate Case Study: Lloyds International Spain

Cactus Editor Sarah Watkins talks to Sandy Yunta Mesnier, Recruitment Development Coordinator at Lloyds Bank International Spain, about their corporate language training programme.

Cactus has been providing in-company language training for Lloyds Spain since November 2011. As an English bank located in Spain, tuition has been required in both English and Spanish in 11 locations across Spain, from the bank’s headquarters in Madrid to branches in Marbella, Puerto Banús, Fuengirola, Alicante, Mallorca, Murcia, Pamplona, Valencia and Barcelona. We are now on our fourth set of courses with Lloyds Spain and as such they were the perfect company to tell us how corporate language training has worked for them.

Language training requirements at Lloyds Spain

Sandy starts by explaining to me that language learning has been both a staff benefit and an indispensable requirement for their business. With English customers and English roots, communication between departments and development of the different sectors of the global Lloyds group is dependent on employees being able to speak English. The closed group language lessons have been effective in helping the business grow and succeed.

The minimum language level required for all employees is C1 (advanced level according to the Common European Framework), whilst those in direct contact with clients need to reach C2 (mastery or proficiency). Staff have achieved a solid grammatical base and good written skills, but most importance is placed on reaching fluency in the spoken language and gaining confidence to speak in any situation.

As for what employees think, the feedback has been very positive. Students feel very close to their allocated teachers and motivated by their passion with teaching. Each time they re-initiate a round of training, there are many voluntary requests for language training, over and above those that are required by the business, reflecting the desire as well as the need to continue learning.

The logistics of setting up language training

I asked Sandy whether language training had been a good use of funds for Lloyds Spain and she said that without a doubt, for them it had been.

She was quick to recommend direct contact with Cactus for any language training requirements, citing our efficiency, our ability to find the right teachers and our flexibility in dealing with a company such as theirs undergoing continual change. She also praised the friendliness of all our representatives, highlighting the huge work effort, dedication and professionalism of Ernesto Forner (Head of Corporate Language Training) and his team.

Advice for other companies

I was keen to know whether, with her experience of organising corporate language tuition across such a vast number of locations, Sandy had any advice to offer other companies considering offering the same. She said that Cactus had made it very easy to set up a language training programme across 11 locations, knowing how to adapt to the many different offices, locations and training requirements. For their part, Lloyds has always tried to provide clear and accurate information about each office and the particular staff involved, so collaboration on both sides has facilitated the smooth running of a large scale language training programme.

As for what the future holds, Lloyds Spain now forms part of the Banco Sabadell group, and Sandy tells me that they hope to still receive a solid training programme. Although English language training will not be as crucial as it has been at Lloyds, the banking world will always require a certain level of English language knowledge and, certainly as far as Cactus are concerned, we would happily continue to provide this for more years to come.

Many thanks to Sandy for taking the time to talk to us.

Read further corporate case studies on the Cactus corporate website.

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. Our expertise in the field of face-to-face tuition is second-to-none. 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.

Cactus Corporate Case Study: TripAdvisor

Cactus talks to TripAdvisor about the benefits and logistics of their in-company language training programme

TripAdvisor began their corporate language training with Cactus in 2012, establishing a programme that has expanded to now include eight languages taught across five offices worldwide.

TripAdvisor fully sponsors the cost of providing language classes for its staff, believing that it is beneficial to them both inside and outside the workplace, as indeed it has proven to be. The uptake has certainly been impressive, with over 50% of its staff enrolling on the first term of classes in the London office alone. As is the case with every client booking closed group language training, each term usually consists of 10 weeks of tuition and businesses can choose general language training or industry-specific language tuition.

TripAdvisor staff: The benefits of language training

Anna explains that the very nature of their global business means that staff are interested in travel and languages, many speaking one or more languages to a decent level – so for these people their in-company language classes are a useful refresher and of particular value when it comes to sales calls or travel to other countries. Others start at beginner level and each term progress up to the next level in their chosen language.

Either way, employees have benefited from their language training on both a work and personal level; morale is good and feedback extremely positive. Staff feel engaged and motivated, and look forward to the next course once one is over. In every way the business is experiencing the benefits of its language learning programme which paves the way to international development and success.

TripAdvisor HR: The logistics of implementing a language course

As for TripAdvisor, offering language training as a staff perk has been an excellent use of training budget and Anna tells me that she would recommend other companies consider doing the same. Setting up the course with Cactus was easy and straight-forward, TripAdvisor putting forward their language learning requirements and soon receiving confirmation that everything was in place. Anna cites Head of Corporate Language Training, Ernesto, and former Corporate Operations Manager, Estelliane, as being particularly helpful, their support most appreciated in the early stages of setting up the classes. Now everything is in place, each term flows easily into the next.

As for where we go from here, TripAdvisor’s language training programme looks set to continue and perhaps even expand into new international territories. With such positive feedback and enthusiasm amongst staff here’s hoping it does, for this is certainly a case where company investment in language training has reaped reward for both employer and employee.

Read further corporate case studies on the Cactus corporate website.

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. Our expertise in the field of face-to-face tuition is second-to-none. 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.

Gary Hogarth tells us his story of how he met his wife and how learning Spanish was for love

There are many reasons to start learning a new language – work, personal development, even just simple curiosity – but for me, a self confessed language phobic, there was only one thing that could get me learning again…love.

I come from a typical English family. We have visited the same resort on the Costa Del Sol many times, each time spending a sunny week in “England on Sea” with its Irish bars, English breakfasts and expats. The only Spanish I ever knew (and rarely used) was a few choice phrases enabling me to find the bathroom or order a beer.

Then, three and a half years ago, I met Thais through a mutual friend and was instantly smitten with this girl from Barcelona. At first I was lazy on the language front, relying solely on her amazing level of English, but after my first trip to visit her family it became clear that if I wanted to communicate with her family and friends, I would need to learn Spanish.

Decision made, I now had to figure out how best to go about studying. A quick Google search for Spanish classes in London brings up many different schools trying to get your business. However, time and time again I saw Cactus’ name popping up. When I investigated further, I was pleased that Cactus offered classes at times, levels and prices that suited me perfectly. I booked my first course starting in January 2011, a set of ten weekly two hour lessons at a London Bridge school.

I arrived for my first lesson far too early and a little nervous. The room was laid out like a classroom with desks in rows, so I chose mine and introduced myself to a few other early arrivals. A few minutes later, our teacher Conception (or Imma as we called her) arrived and immediately got us moving the desks into a much more relaxed semicircle. The group was a reasonable size which is normal for a Level 1 course and really good as you get to practise with many different people. Over the 10 week course I managed to become remarkably conversational in the areas/tenses I had learnt, helped by the excellent teaching, the reading materials and the podcasts provided. I also met lots of new and interesting people
(Nathan, Zoe, Will) and learnt a couple of important Spanish lessons that have stayed with me to today:

– Embarrassed in Spanish is not “embarazado” (that means pregnant)
– Coger doesn’t mean “to catch” in Argentina

I was so pleased with my level of Spanish after my first course I decided to go straight into Level 2 in March 2011. I was lucky enough to have the same teacher and many of the same people who were in my Level 1 class. The group was a lot smaller which was good as we had more one on one time with Imma and were able to ask more questions. The class, as with Level 1, was lively and conducted entirely in Spanish (English was only used to clarify if needed). I had a great time and again made lots of new friends, so much so that on the last evening we all went out for tapas (with the teacher as well).

I spent the summer using my new found Spanish skills on holiday in Florida after asking Thais to be my wife (¿Quieres casarte conmigo?). By September I was ready for a booster course before a Christmas/New Year holiday to Barcelona where I wanted to put my Spanish skills to the test with my future extended family. I registered for an intensive 5 week Level 3 course at the Picaddilly school with a new teacher Eduardo; this would be split into 2 evenings a week and the class was a lot smaller (4-5 people). I found that the intensiveness really suited me and helped me to focus on learning Spanish. Eduardo remains to this day one of the best Spanish teachers I have ever had.

I thought after these courses I would take a break from learning, as with a wedding in Spain to plan I wouldn’t have time for lessons, but it was early 2012 when I saw an interesting photo competition on Facebook from Cactus. I entered a photo and thought nothing of it, as I never win anything anyway. Much to my surprise I received an email a few months later telling me I had won a week’s intensive language course in Valencia. I was speechless and booked my flights the next day.

Cactus not only offers great courses here in the UK, but has partnered with some of the best language schools in other countries to offer residential intensive courses. Mine was in Valencia at the amazing Taronja school. I would be staying in a shared flat with eight other students (I got my own room) from around the globe, classes were either morning or afternoon and consisted of four hours a day with two different teachers. I had Ana and Maria Jose and really enjoyed the lively lessons and course content.

In addition to the classes, my study was supported by just being in Spain and speaking/hearing the Spanish language. So after a class, a new French friend and I went to Mercadona (a supermarket). It was really fun walking around a foreign supermarket speaking Spanish (and some English) and good practice for later.

What made the trip for me, though, was the total immersion of it all. Free afternoons and evenings were filled with activities and outings organised by the school (some at no extra cost). Activities included an “Intercambio” or language exchange, a Paella night, a Salsa night, a trip to a Bodega and a walking tour of Valencia. Throughout all these trips we were speaking as much Spanish as possible. This really made the trip feel like a holiday and not like going to school.

When I got back to the UK Thais was truly shocked at how fluent I had become, and I was ecstatic with my level of Spanish, so much so that I have returned for a further 2 week stay since then (I even got to see some of my old friends).

Now all of this was for a reason – love – more importantly, for my wedding speech. I got married on the 26th May 2013 on a beach south of Barcelona. I was so nervous – but not about getting married. I was nervous because I knew that both the guests at the wedding and the speech in my pocket were over 50% Spanish. I am pleased to say that I performed the speech without disaster and I think I rendered a few of my Spanish family speechless. My wedding was not only the happiest day of my life but the proudest as well. Thanks in part to Cactus.

Many thanks to Gary for taking the time to tell me about his experience and to hopefully inspiring others to learn a language.

If you would like to find out more about Gary Hogarth’s Spanish learning experiences, then check out his blog: or follow him on Twitter @garyhogarth

The photo at the beginning of this article was kindly contributed by Gary taken and taken at his wedding by Even Films

Cactus Language Training offers a variety of language courses in a range of languages throughout the UK, US and the world.

French course in Annecy: the perfect preparation for one client’s emigration to France

Cactus student Rob Mepham tells us about his 5-week French course in Annecy and how it has helped him immerse himself in French life.

When Rob Mepham’s feedback came in after his French course in Annecy I knew that I wanted to speak to him. Using words such as ‘my French vocabulary has exploded and grammar improved beyond expectation’, I wanted to find out what exactly had made his experience so good – and pass this on to others considering a similar venture. Now ensconced in his own little corner of France (or not so little, given his 17 acres of farmland), Rob kindly took the time to tell me what had motivated him to learn French and to pass on a few valuable tips about relocating overseas.

Retiring from the military, Rob’s course in Annecy was part of his resettlement training from the Ministry of Defense. An immersion course in France turned out to be considerably cheaper than the equivalent in London – and decidedly more effective, given that it’s in-country. It was also incredibly easy to book, Rob quoting Sandra at Cactus as being particularly efficient in organising his course and replying to every email personally. He chose the chic and pretty town of Annecy in the foothills of the Alps as the location for his studies, with the hope of indulging his passion for paragliding at the same time; the fact that he never actually got to do this became irrelevant as everything was, in his own words, better than he could have imagined.

Once at the school, where he was enrolled on a 5-week elementary French course, Rob could not have found the staff more helpful and patient. He was able to learn at his own pace, aided by the language being spoken slowly around him, and he picked up a vast amount of vocabulary by jotting down new words in class and reading French articles and magazines in his own time.

He was in a class with a mix of nationalities – Chinese, Taiwanese, Mexican, American and Swedish, to name a few – and, most importantly, had no opportunity whatsoever to speak English, meaning that he had to get by and make himself understood in French whichever way he could. The learning curve was steep and he improved dramatically. This was further enhanced by his stay in a host family, where he says he learnt just as much as at the school. His host gave him ample opportunity to practise the language, keeping her speech simple and clear, but she also gave him space to do his own thing – the best of both worlds.

I asked Rob what he thought about learning a language later in life (he is 53), as so many people think that they are too old to learn a language or that classes might be full of teenagers straight out of school. Rob’s class was a fascinating mix of 17-62 year olds and, although he conceded that it depends on the type of person you are, he felt that he had more self-confidence taking a course now. He clearly thrived during his time in Annecy and I found his story even more heart-warming as he claimed to be dreadful at languages at school. It just goes to show that taking a language holiday abroad bears no resemblance to childhood memories of sitting in a classroom at school, too embarrassed to say anything.

Moving on from his experience in Annecy, I was keen to find out more about Rob’s subsequent move to France. I asked him whether he thought knowledge of the language was important in immersing himself in another culture and got a resounding ‘yes’! His 5-week course was perfect as it gave him a good grounding; two or three weeks, he thought, was probably not enough. His French has been invaluable in tasks such as registering his car and sorting out its MOT. He has even found the locals more accepting of him because of his attempts to speak French – I say ‘attempts’ as Rob modestly keeps telling me that it’s far from perfect, but this is exactly the point. People don’t really care how good you are, or not – what they care about is your effort to respect and speak their language, and Rob is a shining example of this.

For others considering relocating abroad, Rob offers a useful piece of advice; it’s good to try to go somewhere where you already know someone. It can be invaluable to have someone who’s already done it answer your questions, especially when it comes to the ins and outs of French bureaucracy. For him, however, the move was extremely easy: he and his wife used a British-based estate agent, which paid for itself with all the hassle avoided. With so many Brits emigrating, they also found internet forums a great source of advice.

I have to admit that what I loved hearing most was how Rob’s course has given him confidence to speak in French to the coach from his local paragliding school, near Limoges where he now lives, and in local shops. Speaking some of the language has undoubtedly made a huge difference to his integration into French life, and I found his enthusiasm and determination utterly inspiring. He hopes to resume his French studies again soon – perhaps at the university in Limoges – and I wish him all the best for that and his future in his new home country.

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.

We offer French courses in Annecy and in many locations across France and Canada. Evening courses in French are also available in the UK and US. We also offer private and corporate language training for relocation.

The photo at the beginning of this article was kindly contributed by Rob; he took it whilst paragliding at Dune du Pilat, the highest sand dune in Europe, near Bordeaux.