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FREE Language Learning Webinar – Fri 3rd July

Join the Journey: Learn a language with Cactus!

If you’ve ever wondered what it’s really like to take a language course, now is your chance to find out – from the comfort of your home or office!

Date: Wednesday 3rd July

Time: 1.00pm – 1.30pm BST

Registration: Google Hangouts

Cactus is hosting a free half-hour webinar via Google Hangouts to explain what a language course is all about. Answering common questions about our courses, listed below, this short webinar tells you everything you need to know about our evening courses, with the chance to ask your own questions in a Q&A session at the end.

  1. Who takes a language course?
  2. So I’ve booked my course. What happens next?
  3. What level am I?
  4. Who is my teacher?
  5. What will I learn on my course?
  6. What are the classes like?
  7. What progress will I make?
  8. What support will I get?
  9. Why should I book with Cactus?
  10. What happens at the end of the course?
  11. What other options are there for learning a language?

Whether you are interested in learning a language to improve your career prospects, travel the world or chat to foreign in-laws, an evening course will prepare you for any situation. You can take one course on its own or progress through the levels to achieve greater fluency in your chosen language.

Join us with no obligations – it’s all free. You’ll just get great advice and information on language learning and language courses. Join the webinar and you will also receive an exclusive discount off our evening language courses!

To register, sign up here via Google Hangouts.

Cactus offers 10-week evening courses in 15 locations and 21 languages across London and the UK. Courses are available at all levels and start in July, October, January and April.

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.

French evening course in Brighton: Cactus staff review

Salut, je suis Laura et j’apprends français à Brighton.

I have always loved the French language and studied it for numerous years at school. I had thought I had a reasonable grasp of it – that is until I visited Paris last year and stayed with some friends. I found the ability to repeatedly ask for the location of the toilets and to describe my love of swimming at the swimming pool only gets you so far. So when Cactus offered the Beginner 1 French class at their St Giles centre in Brighton, I jumped at the chance!

I am so pleased that I did now – going back to basics has proved so incredibly useful.  We were quite a large group, which was initially quite nerve-wracking (I am not a confident public speaker!). My classmates were of all ages and came from a variety of different backgrounds – some were learning French as they had family and friends in France whilst others took it up as a challenging way to occupy their Wednesday evenings. We were eased into the lesson with a couple of ice-breakers, which included greetings and a fun bingo-style number game. After a short space of time, I felt comfortable piecing together short sentences in French to my allocated partner and then onto the whole class.

We covered a lot of ground in the next few weeks, from learning nationalities to describing what we do at work. However, we eventually had to cover the most formidable subject matter for a native English speaker… le grammaire! It turns out that I had nothing to worry about – our teacher guided us through the different conjugations clearly and concisely, testing us on our new-found knowledge every so often. I can now proudly say that I have the ability to conjugate all (regular) verbs… magnifique!

Learning French with Cactus has been such an enriching experience. Yes, two hours of French on a Wednesday evening after a long day at work can be a little daunting, but the time flies by once you’re in the classroom. If you are thinking of joining an evening course, I would highly recommend committing to a couple of hours a week of self-study outside of the lessons.  It is very important to reinforce the information you take on in class.

I am now enrolled on the Beginner 2 course with the same teacher and I am greatly enjoying it. Although I struggle with certain aspects (such as gender – seriously, why is a table a woman…?!), I really feel like I am making great progress. So much so, I will be trying my luck communicating with others in Paris next month, where I have enrolled on a week-long intensive course.

Merci beaucoup, Cactus!

Laura is Corporate Client Liaison Officer at Cactus and she took a 10-week French evening course in Brighton. Cactus offers part-time and evening language courses in a variety of languages and at various levels across the UK and the US.

German course in Brighton: Cactus staff review

Language Course Advisor Alessia Ungari tells us how her German evening course has given her a real passion for the language

Since I was at primary school I’ve been learning foreign languages and over the years I’ve become a more and more dedicated learner. When I heard that Cactus was offering me the chance to take a language course I was really excited. I speak Italian and Spanish fluently and wasn’t sure whether to brush up my French knowledge or to start with a completely new language. I decided to enrol on a German course, although I was a bit worried that I wouldn’t be able to learn a word.

Why German then? Mainly because my relatives live in Switzerland and I’m used to hearing the language since I was a child. But I never learned more than a few words and expressions, such as “Danke”, “Auf Wiedersehen” and “Kartoffeln”. I wanted to surprise them, and the idea of being able to communicate with my little cousins made me very eager to begin lessons.

One of the advantages of Cactus courses: the timetable. As I’m a full time employee, I couldn’t really find time during the week, but studying one evening per week can definitely fit into everyone’s schedule.

The day of the first lesson arrived and I left my work place a bit anxious to meet my classmates and teacher. All I knew about my course was that the tutor was a native German speaker and that there were 6 students in total, including me. All students were in the room at 7pm and the teacher had already prepared the materials necessary to start. For the first hour we had to fill in a questionnaire and played a warm-up game to get to know each other and very soon the atmosphere became pleasant and enjoyable. The lesson went smoothly; Rebecca, our tutor, showed us the lesson plan and asked more about our preferences and expectations from the course. It was a nice feeling to know that we all could express our personal needs and that Rebecca was flexible regarding the course content.

After the first session passed I felt much more relaxed, and despite my tiredness, I was already looking forward to the second lesson.

I couldn’t expect to understand everything at beginner level, but I was really surprised to notice my quick progress over the 10 weeks. My understanding improved, I was much more confident with my speaking and I enjoyed the variety of activities and the great interaction with the group.

In short, my overall experience has been awesome and I haven’t stopped learning since: I’m currently attending the German Elementary 1 programme and all the concerns and the anxiety I had on first day have gone.

My Wednesdays are now exciting and I can’t wait to do my homework during the break to get prepared for the next lesson!

Alessia took a 10-week German evening course in Brighton. Cactus runs evening and part-time courses in a variety of languages and at many levels in locations across the UK and in the US.

Spanish Evening Course in Brighton: a first-hand account

Having put my languages on the back burner since having kids, I thought it was time to brush up my Spanish – and, at the same time, hopefully inspire my little ones. An evening course was the perfect way to do just that…

As a busy working mum, fitting a language course into what was already a frenzied week was slightly optimistic. But sometimes you need to stick your head out…this was something I wanted to do, and surely the kids could cope without me at bedtime once a week. So it was that I ran out the door, notebook in hand, one rainy Wednesday evening to my first Spanish Intermediate 3 class.

Week 1

Any doubts as to whether I should be doing a course were put to rest as soon as I walked through the door. Straight into Spanish, smiles all around, and a teacher who I warmed to immediately – a fun, bubbly Spanish señorita who seemed as mad about languages as I am. There were only five of us in the class – three of whom had progressed from previous courses – which was the perfect number to encourage class interaction and allow us individual attention from our teacher, Emma.

The next two hours flew by as we played language games to get to know each other, one of my questions focusing on why my classmates wanted to learn Spanish – a topic that always fascinates me. One girl, for love – of course. Think Spanish boyfriend, in-laws, future bilingual kids, etc. Another dreamed of moving to Spain. Nice. As for me? I just want to get back the Spanish I learnt years ago and which has laid dormant in my head for more years than I wish to calculate. I also want to inspire my kids, to have them grow up thinking languages are cool. I got home that night to find my poor husband frazzled after a chaotic bedtime. But as the little ones bundled into our bed at 6.30 the next morning, asking me to teach them phrases in Spanish (we got as far as “Hola! Me llamo Oliver” and important toy names such as “elefante” and “peluche”), I realised that perhaps this could be a great thing for all of us.

Weeks 2-9

The weeks proceed with us learning exactly what we had requested in our initial course questionnaires: to learn common Spanish expressions, to understand the real Spanish you hear in the streets, and to gain general confidence in speaking. Lessons cover a variety of exercises to ensure we are improving all language skills: listening to role plays, singing popular songs, reading articles from newspapers and media, writing short texts, discussing topical issues in Spain and the world, and so on.

Emma is quick to pick up on any mistakes and ensure that we all understand, in a fun and inclusive way. Intuitive, smiling and radiating enthusiasm, it’s impossible not to get caught up in her passion for teaching, and I think of the lucky school students who she teaches in her day job for having such a natural ‘profesora’. When I was at school it was rare to have a native language teacher, and I can’t think of better GCSE motivation than having someone like Emma at the front of the classroom.

As for us, back learning as adults, we progress quickly too. New vocabulary and phrases are always listed on the whiteboard and topics lead off onto fun and random tangents such as “We just found out the word for blueberry…let’s name 10 other fruits as quick as we can!”. We’re kept on our toes for the whole lesson and the classes fly by, week after week. For me, personally, it never matters how tired I might have felt beforehand…I always leave feeling exhilarated, with a spring in my step. I get home to find that bedtimes have become calm and tear-free, but can’t sleep because I’m excited by all this new Spanish in my head.

Week 10

We round off our final lesson listening to Spanish music and playing a Spanish word game, a glass of tinto de verano in hand (never mind that it’s November) and garlicky olives, chorizo and jamón serrano on the table before us. After all, it’s as much about soaking up the culture as it is about learning verb tables, right?

I feel sad that my brief window of Spanish each week has come to a close but, with the renewed confidence and motivation it has given me, I know this is just the beginning of my renewed love affair with Spanish. Phoning home to check on the kids and hearing a small voice say “Hola mama!” the other end tells me that it’s all worth it.

Sarah took a 10-week evening Spanish course in Brighton at Intermediate 3 level, with teacher Emma Punchard. Cactus offers more evening and part-time language courses in Brighton, London and other UK locations.

Snap a Seat competition: your chance to WIN a 10-week language course

Would you like your next evening course to be free? Simply take a picture of what the Cactus Language experience means to you and it might be…

The Cactus ‘Snap a Seat’ (previously Tweet for a Seat) competition was launched in January 2013 and runs each term of our UK evening and part-time courses.

The idea is for Cactus students to tell us about their language learning, by taking a picture of what the ‘Cactus Language experience’ means to them.

The winning entry receives a 10-week evening language course in the location of their choice!

Previously only open to Twitter users, entries can now be received in three ways:

1) By uploading your photo to our Facebook wall using #CactusLE,
2) By uploading your photo to Twitter using #CactusLE,
3) By sending it to us by e-mail: marketing@cactusworldwide.com.

Terms and Conditions apply.

To date we have received some wonderful entries: see Alice Dipper’s winning picture from the April-July term 2013 and Elena Giulia Venturini’s winning picture from the Jan-April term 2013.

The closing date for the current competition is Friday 13th December 2013.

Good luck! We look forward to viewing your pictures and to giving a free language course to our next winner – the perfect Christmas present!

Cactus Staff Review: French Language Course in Brighton

Sebastian Clemens, intern for Cactus Language, tells us about his 10-week French Language Course in Brighton.

I studied French for three years at school but never had the opportunity to put into practice what I had learned as I have never visited France. So a language course with Cactus seemed like the perfect opportunity to brush up on my knowledge and skills. I did not remember much from school so I decided to take a Beginner 2 French class, which turned out to be a good decision for me as the level was neither too high nor too low.

After revising some of the basics of the French language like the alphabet, personal pronouns and grammar structures, the whole class was surprisingly quick at forming sentences and because of this my confidence grew when speaking in just a few hours of the course.

I think one of the reasons for my quick progress was due to the full immersive teaching method used. I believe this is the best feature because instead of translating words into English, the teacher explains, illustrates and describes language structures and words in French, helping the class understand and remember more. It is a lot of fun once you get used to this method and feels much more effective when learning a language.

The lessons lasted for two hours and time usually flew by with speaking, listening and writing exercises. There were occasional games and the lessons never felt boring and every week was a mixture of gaining new knowledge and revising what we had learnt in our previous lessons.

The homework helped me to keep track of the content covered in the last lesson as I found that sometimes it was hard to keep track of my progress, particularly because I am working and found I did not have a lot of time to revise.

I find that I still struggle with understanding spoken French on the radio or TV, but definitely hope I can continue some studying the French language on my own in the future.

If you would like to follow in Sebastian’s footsteps and take a French language course, then Cactus offer a variety of courses throughout the UK, US and in France.

Cactus Staff Review: French Language Course in Brighton (in English / en français)

Christina Niedermeier, marketing intern for Cactus Language, tells us about taking a French language course in Brighton after not having studied French for several years.

Sometimes the hardest thing to do is to start again, especially when studying languages – or so I thought.

When I was at school in Germany, I took French lessons for three years and I really enjoyed them. But when I had to decide which A levels I wanted to take, I dropped French because I wanted to focus on other subjects such as English, History and Maths. With my focus on other subjects, I did not think about the French language for a very long time and thought that I would not have the opportunity to study it again.

However, this February I came to the UK to do an internship in the marketing department of Cactus Language and as a member of the Cactus team I have the opportunity to take a free 10-week language course here in Brighton. As I was surrounded by people speaking different languages every day, I felt inspired to take them up on the language course but I was not sure which language to take as there are many to choose from. For that reason, I had to ask myself whether I wanted to learn a completely new language or did I want to refresh my really rusty French.

After a while, I decided to take a French language course with Cactus because I had already spent some time learning the language and wanted to revive the bits of French I still had in my head. I did the on-line level test as I was not sure of my language level and began an elementary level French course.

Before my first lesson started, I was fairly worried because I felt like I had forgotten everything I ever knew about French. I think many people who stop speaking a language for some time will feel the same. At the beginning of my course I found I was hesitant and struggled with the easiest of sentences but I knew that the grammar and vocabulary had to be somewhere in my head. I just needed to find them again.

Our French teacher was great and covered basic French grammar in the first few lessons, so everything came back to me step by step. So far, I can use basic French grammar again but I know it will take a little bit longer and a lot more work until I reach my former level. However, now that I have taken the first steps to start learning French again, it’s easier to keep going. I also have the motivation to improve because I will be attending university in Rabat, Morocco’s capital, for a semester and their second official language is French.

Version française

Parfois la chose la plus difficile à faire est de recommencer, particulièrement lorsqu’il s’agit d’étudier les langues étrangères, ou du moins c’est ce que je pensais.

Quand j’étais à l’école en Allemagne, j’ai suivi des cours de français pendant trois ans et j’ai vraiment adoré. Mais quand j’ai dû décider quelles matières je voulais prendre pour mon test de fin d’année de lycée (A levels), j’ai laissé tomber le français parce que je souhaitais me concentrer sur d’autres matières telles que l’anglais, l’histoire et les mathématiques. Etant focalisée sur ces matières, j’ai arrêté de penser au français pendant longtemps et je ne pensais pas que j’aurais l’opportunité de pouvoir à nouveau l’étudier.

Cependant, au mois de février de cette année je suis arrivée au Royaume-Uni pour y faire un stage au sein du service marketing de Cactus Language et, en tant que membre de l’équipe Cactus j’ai eu l’opportunité de suivre gratuitement des cours de langues pendant dix semaines ici à Brighton. Etant entourée de personnes parlant différentes langues chaque jour, cela m’a donné envie de suivre un cours de langues, mais je ne savais pas lequel prendre car le choix était important. Pour cette raison, j’ai dû me demander si je voulais apprendre une langue complètement nouvelle pour moi ou si je voulais rafraichir mon français très rouillé.

Après un moment, j’ai décidé de prendre les cours de français avec Cactus parce que j’avais déjà passé quelque temps à apprendre cette langue et voulais faire revivre les petits fragments de français que j’avais encore dans ma tête. J’ai fait le test en ligne comme je n’étais pas sûre de mon niveau de langue et j’ai commencé au niveau élémentaire.

Notre professeur de français était génial et a couvert les points de grammaire de base pendant les premières leçons, ce qui fait que tout est revenu petit à petit. Maintenant, je peux de nouveau utiliser quelques points de base de grammaire française mais je sais que ça me prendra un peu de temps et beaucoup de travail avant que j’atteigne mon précédent niveau. Cependant, maintenant que j’ai repris les premiers pas pour apprendre de nouveau le français, c’est plus facile de continuer. J’ai également la motivation de m’améliorer car je vais aller à l’université de Rabat, la capitale du Maroc, pendant un semestre et que leur seconde langue officielle est le français.

If you would like to follow in Christina’s footsteps and take a French language course, then Cactus offer a variety of courses throughout the
UK, US and in France.

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.

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: www.sociallyacceptablegeek.com 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 www.evenfilms.com

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