My daughter’s language learning adventure: a parent’s perspective

An American mother shares her thoughts with us as her daughter goes to learn Japanese in Tokyo

“It is with delight that I write this blog for Cactus. Right from the beginning Cactus helped us embark on my daughter’s journey to Japan with confidence, enthusiasm, and trust that all would be well. And so it has been…

I can’t say that I was not a bit anxious sending Dana across the world on her own to learn Japanese in Tokyo. And, I can’t say that as each day successfully passes I don’t enter the next with some trepidation. That being said, having reached the midpoint of Dana’s stay I am pleased to share this parent’s point of view.

Dana is 19 years old and has always had a passion for Japanese. So when she suggested that she take a leave of absence from college to “find herself” and explore her passion, I was not surprised. In fact, I was impressed that she knew herself well enough to know that she was not feeling passionate at college and needed to explore. The hardest part for me was letting go and having the trust to let her do this exploration on her own.

tokyo-japaneseDana is accomplishing her objective. Through the impressive curriculum and faculty at the language school, Dana’s command of the Japanese language is developing every day. Her classes consist of students from all over the world and so she has expanded her social network with friends from places like Spain and Sweden.

Given the diversity of the students it has been inspiring to hear how friendly, helpful, compassionate, and tolerant everyone has been. This is a snapshot of what I hope for the world.

From what I can tell the school is located in the midst of fun and interesting places for the kids to explore. Having the freedom to get to these places easily has not only added to the “fun factor” but has given Dana the opportunity to practise her Japanese skills with the “locals.”

Do I miss her? Yes, a lot. However technology has softened the blow for both of us. We video-chat just about every day. In fact, we spend more time seeing each other and talking now than we do when we are living under the same roof. And, video- chat gives Dana the opportunity to stay connected to her dogs.

There are 25 days left of Dana’s adventure. I look forward to sharing the rest of the story.”

Dana studied Japanese in Tokyo with Cactus. Cactus offers language courses in over 120 destinations worldwide.

Dana wrote about her initial impressions of Tokyo when she first arrived and about her experiences mid-way through her course. For anyone thinking about taking a language course abroad, Dana’s articles offer a unique insight into life in a foreign country, including the fears and excitement that come with a long-term course. Thank you both to Dana and her mother Robin for contributing to our website, and we hope that future students (and parents of) will find their comments reassuring and useful.

If you have a language learning or language teaching query, please visit our blog or get in contact with us either by Facebook or by Twitter. Alternatively, feel free to contact us here or call to speak to one of our advisors on  .

10 ways to help your children learn a language

Our top tips for encouraging language learning at home

It’s well known that learning something when you’re young is the secret to learning it well, and for life. No more so is this relevant than in learning a foreign language, which – as any adult learner will testify – is more difficult later in life.

A child, on the other hand, their brain growing and eager to absorb new things, will soak up new language quickly. Expose them to a second language at an early age (before 10 is good; before 5 is great) and they show an innate ability to learn new words and develop natural pronunciation, without the inhibition that hinders us later in life.

Whether you have a toddler or a teen, there is plenty you can do, and you don’t even have to be good at languages yourself – take this as an opportunity to learn a language alongside your child!

Here are our top 10 ways to help your kids learn a language:

1. Nursery rhymes and songs

Younger children react positively to the repetition and melody of nursery rhymes and songs. Even if they don’t understand the words at first, this is a fun and effective way to absorb a foreign language. Go beyond Frère Jacques by buying a CD of French songs such as French Playground or 60 Comptines pour Crèche; alternatively, the BBC website offers fun, basic songs for primary school-aged children. Grab a few instruments and have a morning of music and fun!

2. Story tapes

Search for your child’s favourite story in another language. Bob the Builder becomes Bob le Bricoleur, Little Red Riding Hood becomes Le Petit Chaperon Rouge, and Snow White and the Seven Dwarfs becomes Blancanieve y los 7 enanitos. Even Sesame Street and Dora the Explorer have been translated. Read the foreign language version along with your child, or play the CD that narrates the story for you both.

3. Word & picture cards

A basic idea, but a great way to learn and remember vocabulary, as it’s much easier to remember a word when associated with a colourful image. Simply write the name of an object, in the target language, next to a picture of that object. Then stick these cards around the house, for constant exposure, or bring them out as a game to name objects in the house and garden.

4. Indulge in the local culture!
french-croissantIf it takes a chocolat chaud and a croissant, then so be it. Pretend that you are living in France for the day and surround yourselves at home with French-related goodies. Play some French music or French radio in the background, draw a French flag, make a necklace with red, white and blue beads, serve baguette and French cheeses for lunch, play boules in the garden, and end the day with a trip to the local crêperie. It’s the next best thing to being in France.


5. Find a pen pal

children-learning-languages-smallOnce you child is a bit older and knows the basics in a foreign language, a pen pal is a great way to practise the language and exert some independence. There’s nothing like the excitement of an air mail letter dropping on the doormat (who receives hand-written letters these days?), or an email into the Inbox, to encourage a flurry of letter-writing back. Having a pen pal abroad is also a great way to learn about culture in another country and appreciate the differences in lifestyle, eg. school, food, holidays, hobbies, etc. – proving how language exposure can help your child to increase perspective.

6. Interactive learning

Like it or not, your child is growing up in a technically advanced world. Put aside Minecraft and use the tablet to hook up to some excellent interactive and educational programmes online. For younger children, the BBC’s Muzzy series is a fun language course led by a cuddly, green character and comprising DVDs, audio, songs and written work. Older children familiar with Wii and Nintendo will like their My French Coach (and My Spanish Coach) language software. An easy compromise if they like computer games, these games are fun and interactive whilst providing the basics of grammar, vocabulary and pronunciation.

7. Podcasts

Older children will love the technology and independence of downloading their own free language podcasts from iTunes. Le Journal en Français Facile is a daily and easily-understood podcast delivering the nightly news from Radio France Internationale, and likewise Langsam gesprochene Nachrichten does so in German. Follow with the transcript to catch those words you’re not sure of.

8. Talk about them in another language

A cunning ploy if you and your partner both speak another language. A colleague at work revealed that the most successful way to get his girls to learn French was to chat to his wife, about them, in French. Frustrated at not understanding the conversation, the girls had immediate impetus to up their game and catch their parents out. Sure enough, as dad told mum one night that he thought “Elle est fatiguée”, the oldest daughter responded quite indignantly, “Je ne suis PAS fatiguée!”.

9. Speak the language yourself

Practise what you preach! If your kids hear you speaking a language at home they will be more likely to speak it themselves. Drop in key words around the house, such as when you want them to pass you something, at meal times or bathtime. Even if at first they don’t understand, repetition will help their little brains to absorb the language and one day say it back to you.

10. Go abroad

barcelona_parc_guellMoney permitting, a trip to the country of the language your child is learning can really boost motivation and progress. In the exciting run-up to your holiday you can all practise the language together, and once there your child will absorb all the sights and sounds, be able to practise the basics, and get a real feel for another culture. Being able to travel and speak to people of other nationalities and cultures is, after all, what learning a language is all about.


Cactus runs after-school language courses for juniors aged 7-15 years in London and in Brighton. Courses start in September 2015 and run for 10 weeks. Available in French, Spanish or Mandarin Chinese, the emphasis is on learning through games, songs and other fun age-appropriate activities to make language learning educational and enjoyable.

Parents wishing to send their children abroad to learn a language can book one of our popular summer language camps for 5-18 year olds.


How your child will gain perspective through language exposure

If you want to help your child gain empathy, introducing a second language is easy, effective and fun.

A recent study in Psychological Science has shown that children who are exposed to a second language have greater understanding and perspective than those who are not.

Interestingly, children do not necessarily need to speak another language in order to benefit from it. Mere exposure to another language is sufficient to understand a different perspective better. However, children who are bilingual or who are learning a second language have a natural advantage because they not only gain the social benefits of language exposure, but also the many cognitive advantages of speaking more than one language.

Research consistently proves that speakers of a second language have a distinct intellectual advantage over monolinguals: they are better able to focus, retain information, manage complex tasks, solve problems and make decisions. As a result, students who study foreign languages will score better on standardised tests in other subjects, particularly mathematics and reading.

The stimulating mental activity that language learning provides is also effective in delaying the onset of symptoms of dementia – so if we give our younger learners the gift of a language at an early age, the benefits will be both immediate and long-term.

Cactus runs after-school language courses for juniors aged 7-15 years in London and in Brighton. Courses start in September and run for 10 weeks excluding half term. Children can learn French, Spanish or Mandarin Chinese, and the emphasis is on learning through games, songs and other fun age-appropriate activities to make language learning educational and enjoyable.

Full information and booking of Cactus Junior Courses.

Junior language camps – a wise choice for the summer

Learn a language, make friends of the same age, enjoy fun activities and excursions – and pass those exams!

If your child is learning a language, a summer language camp will give them the holiday of a lifetime and put them one step ahead when they return to school in September.

These camps  offer a fantastic opportunity for students aged 5-18 years to learn their chosen language in a safe and fun environment, where small group language classes are accompanied by exciting activities and excursions, comfortable accommodation in a host family or residence and 24-hour supervision.

Why book a language camp?


  • Hand-picked selection of locations to study French, Spanish, Italian, German and English
  • Stimulating programme of social, sporting and cultural activities
  • Courses geared to different ages between 5-18 years
  • International environment guaranteeing new friends of the same age from all over the world
  • Great way to boost confidence and improve language skills naturally
  • Excellent preparation for GCSE and A Level exams
  • Increased employability and opportunities upon leaving school (see how studying abroad can make you smarter)
  • Courses for parents available in the same location

Where do we offer language camps?


Spanish language camps:

Spain: Seville / Denia / San Sebastian / Segovia

Costa Rica: Heredia

French language camps:

France: Montpellier / Cannes / Antibes

Canada: Quebec City

German language camps:

Germany: Berlin / Lindenberg / Augsburg

* Summer programmes for young adults aged 16-20 years are also available in Berlin and Vienna.

Italian language camps:

Italy: Salerno

English language camps:


England: London / Cambridge / Canterbury / Nottingham / Southampton / Brighton / Manchester / Liverpool / Cheltenham / Bournemouth / Ascot

Ireland: Dublin

Scotland: Edinburgh

USA: Long Island, New York / Brooklyn, New York


Most courses are available from one week upwards during the summer months. We are also experienced in arranging school trips abroad, in these and other locations.

Contact us or call us on 00 44 (0) 1273 830 960 for further information and a quote.

For full information on junior language camps please visit the Cactus Language website.

NEW Junior language courses after school – starting Jan 2015

Let’s inspire the next generation of language learners!

In response to demand, Cactus is excited to launch new language courses for children in January 2015.

Available in 3 prime locations across London – Clapham, Fulham and Islington – these courses give students aged 7-15 the chance to develop their language skills after school in small, interactive groups.

Languages: French, Spanish, Mandarin Chinese
Level: Beginner and elementary
Start date: w/c 12th January 2015
Duration: 10 weeks, excluding half term

Why should your child learn a second language?

The reasons are plentiful!

  • Children soak up languages quickly and easily, developing a natural pronunciation and understanding sentence structure early on
  • Languages provide a fun means to discover other countries and cultures
  • At this age they can enjoy learning through games, songs and other age-appropriate activities
  • Introducing a second or third language while they are young will give them valuable skills for life
  • Language skills are increasingly valued in today’s competitive job market
  • Children who speak more than one language are proven to have enhanced cognitive abilities, better problem-solving and decision-making abilities, and improved results in maths and English
  • The ability to speak another language gives confidence and feels good

Our teachers

With our 15 years of experience teaching languages, Cactus knows that a good teacher can make all the difference, and it’s especially important with children to engage them from the start. This is why we have carefully chosen teachers who have experience teaching languages to children for our junior courses in London – teachers with warm personalities who know how to relate to children and who we know will make classes fun, friendly and inspiring.

Please visit our website for full details and booking of our Junior after-school classes.