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Italian Language Course in Florence: A great way to learn the language and understand the history

Giles Picciotto, a Hatha yoga teacher from London, tells us about his 26-week-long language holiday in Florence, Italy, and how it has given him a greater understanding of this fascinating country’s culture, history and language.

Giles’s passion for Florence is evident, with comments like: “The world without Florence and the Renaissance isn’t possible frankly – totally unimaginable.” This, combined with wanting to do something different to your average holiday abroad, led him to choose a language holiday in Florence. Cementing his decision to study in Florence as opposed to Rome was the fact that he lives in London and did not really want to study in another large city. He had also heard from friends that Florence was slightly cheaper and if he was going to be staying there and studying for six months, this was an important factor.

When Giles landed in Italy he knew nothing of the Italian language. Starting as a complete beginner, over the course of six months his Italian language skills and vocabulary grew immensely. Throughout his course he met many interesting people of all ages and backgrounds and, although he felt that the fully immersive teaching methods were great to develop his Italian, he also felt that in cities such as Florence and Rome many people speak English, offering him fewer opportunities to practise what he had learnt in class.

Giles really liked the language school in Florence, as it was local and in a fantastic area with great teaching staff. His favourite part of the course was learning something new each day, which would stay with him long after he departed Italy. Staying in a shared student apartment, Giles enjoyed the freedom that came with it and practising his Italian with the lady who owned the apartment who came to clean it every two weeks.

Learning Italian Giles felt that he was able to understand further Italy’s rich history and culture. This, teamed with his belief that Florence is the most important and influential city of the last 1000 years, and not to mention his passion for the food and the wine – which he thinks are awesome! – meant that a language holiday in Florence was the perfect choice for Giles.

I asked Giles if he had any language tips for future students looking to study abroad and he thought some basic knowledge of the language beforehand would help, suggesting at least a vocabulary of a 1000 words and 30 phrases. For him, studying in Italy as a complete beginner and with the fully immersive method used in class, it was sometimes a struggle to process everything. He would also encourage all future students who wish to study in Florence to walk the city every day, go and see something every day, and come to understand how a city so small became so great.

Giles strongly believes that Florence is the most important city in the world and that no city except ancient Athens ever produced so much greatness at one time. Florence’s list of important people includes: Michelangelo; Dante; Boccaccio; Botticelli; Machiavelli; Leonardo and Galileo, all native to the region of Tuscany and almost all from Florence itself. He believes every one of those influential people still resonates powerfully today, many are buried within the walls of the city and there are more current inspirational people such as Gucci and Ferragamo who come from Florence that Giles can identify with.

When asked what inspired Giles most about his trip, he replied that it was just an amazing all-round experience and he was grateful to have had the opportunity to call Florence his home for 6 months, speak Italian to a good standard after his course and meet interesting people during his language holiday in Italy.

Giles is very keen to return to Italy soon and continue his studies, but first he has booked a 2-week Mandarin course in Hong Kong with Cactus. Giles is a true language enthusiast who enjoys travelling the world and learning about a country’s art, culture and history. He loves the way in which society used to work and function both intellectually and physically, believing that practising yoga and learning languages are life skills and the modern world has lost touch with that, relying too much on comfort and technology. He believes the brain must continually be challenged as well as the body.

Many thanks to Giles for taking the time to tell me about his experience and to hopefully inspiring others to do the same.

Cactus Language Training offer Italian courses in Florence and in many locations across Italy. Evening courses in Italian are also available in the UK and we also offer private language training.

Italian Language Course in Florence: A great way to learn the language and discover a beautiful city

Shirley Critchley tells us about her week-long language holiday in Florence, Italy, and how it has given her even more of a passion for the language, culture and the beautiful country itself

Shirley Critchley is a private tutor of Spanish and French in the North West of England and has always had a flair and enthusiasm for languages since her school days. Shirley started studying Italian in 1999 after falling in love with the Italian language and after several holidays to the stunning Lake Garda. She took her Italian GCSE but did not feel confident enough to teach privately to adults.

As the requests for her language tuition were pouring in, she decided to take a language holiday abroad in Italy. This would be her first trip alone since sadly losing her husband the previous year. With so many recommendations for Florence as a fantastic destination to visit – with quality Italian tuition, free time to explore the beautiful sites and soak up the rich culture, and plenty of delicious Italian food and wine to enjoy! – this seemed the perfect opportunity for Shirley to improve her Italian and enjoy a relaxing holiday. Her mind was made up.

Shirley really liked the local Italian language school, as it was easy to find in a lovely building overlooking the Arno River, just up from Ponte Vecchio. The teachers and staff were very friendly and dedicated to improving their students’ Italian. Being a private tutor in Spanish and French and looking to tutor in Italian, Shirley really enjoyed the Italian language lessons as she was able to pick up many tips for her own lessons. She also liked the way the Italian lessons were structured and how they were pitched at the right level for the whole class.  Her class consisted of her and six other students – a  couple from the Ukraine, a man from Israel and three women, one from Belgium, one from Japan and one from South Africa.

The main focus of the lessons was on conversations and listening which made the language learning experience practical, with real life scenarios and Italian phrases that included language games and listening exorcises. Shirley really appreciated the full immersion teaching experience and thought it made a huge difference to her overall learning and language progression – not to mention her much increased confidence as the week progressed.

Shirley made the most of her language holiday by exploring Florence and the local area and speaking with native Italians at every possible opportunity, from ordering in restaurants to asking directions. The Italian people were so helpful that one gentleman even helped her with her homework!

Shirley particularly enjoyed travelling to Florence in February as the climate was cooler and allowed her to climb the 414 steps of The Duomo (Basilica di Santa Maria del Fiore), the main church in Florence, which offers stunning views of the city and the surrounding mountains.

Shirley particularly enjoys holidaying in Italy due to the friendly and welcoming nature of the Italian people and the laid back lifestyle and, when asked if she had any travel tips for future students wanting to study in Florence, she said ‘Use every possible opportunity to speak the language’. She also found staying in accommodation near to the train station allowed her to explore the surrounding area with ease.

Shirley felt most inspired by the way her native Italian teacher included everyone in the classroom; particularly being a teacher herself, she can understand how difficult this can be and is now using some of the teaching methods in her language lessons back home in the UK. She continues to study Italian at home and is hoping to take another language course next year as she learned so much in such a short space of time whilst on her language holiday abroad. All in all, she would highly recommend a language course abroad to anyone looking for an adventure!

Many thanks to Shirley for taking the time to tell me about her experience and to hopefully inspiring others to do the same.

If you would like to learn more about Shirley Critchley’s language holiday abroad in Florence then she has written a detailed blog of her experiences.

The photo at the beginning of this article was kindly contributed by Shirley; she took it whilst at the top of The Duomo, Florence, Italy.

Top 5 Spring festivals in Italy

Easter Week, Rome & Florence: 29th March-1st April

If you can be in Italy during Easter Week you will be treated to splendid traditions, poignant rituals and abundant food as Lent reaches its end. While Easter Mass is held across the country in every church, it’s the one led by the Pope at St Peter’s Basilica in Rome that tops the agenda. He also blesses the Via Crucis on Good Friday, where a huge cross is lit with burning torches near the Colosseum. Alternatively, head for Florence where the Scoppio del Carro, or explosion of the cart, provides a spectacular display of fireworks and parades in medieval costume on Easter morning. Wherever you are, Easter Monday, or La Pasquetta, is a day of festivity, fun and social gatherings – to say nothing of fine food and wine, which goes without saying.

Italian courses in Rome

Festa di San Marco, Venice: 11th-12th May

All you romantics out there, head for Venice on 25th April. As well as being Liberation Day in Italy, celebrating the anniversary of Italy’s liberation by the Allies in WWII, it is also the feast day of Venice’s patron saint, San Marco. And it is during this Festa de San Marco that Venetian men traditionally present the woman they love with a red rosebud, or bocolo. Enjoy the parades in St Mark’s Square and woo your beloved in one of Italy’s most beautiful cities – guys, this one will win you brownie points with your loved one.

Italian courses in Venice

Sagra del Pesce, Camogli: 12th May

It would be impossible to talk of festivals in Italy without bringing up food at some point. The Sagra del Pesce (Fish Feast) Festival in Camogli, just south of Genoa, is a must for anyone who likes fish as, every year on the second Sunday of May, this small and pretty fishing village perched on the Italian Riviera hosts a massive, jovial and free feast of freshly caught fish. And it really does have to be seen to be believed. For the entire day, fishermen swap their nets for aprons and devote the day to frying their produce in a giant saucepan that’s 5 metres wide (that’s over 16 feet) with a 7 metre handle – possibly even more impressive than the fish that comes out of it. Whatever the case, it’s fish for everyone – it’s delicious, and it’s free!

Italian courses in Genoa

Infiorata di Noto, Sicily: 12th May-20th June

Spring is a time for flowers, and there’s nowhere better to get your fill of colour and scent than in the picturesque Baroque town of Noto in southeast Sicily. On the third weekend in May the pavements of Noto are covered with intricate ‘carpets’ of flower petals that form stunning mosaic patterns and pictures. Local artists go to town with their designs which are all made out the most natural materials possible – in addition to flower petals, they use earth, wood cuttings, seeds and more. The artists begin their creations on Friday, for all to enjoy over the weekend, and then on Monday children are let loose with delight to run through the flowers and destroy the designs. But, at least for one weekend, locals and visitors to Noto look down rather than up, as usually it is the beautiful balconies overhead that catch the eye, not the pavement underfoot.

Italian courses in Taormina

Festival dei Due Mondi, Spoleto: 28th June-14th July

The pretty hill town of Spoleto in southern Umbria plays host to the Festival dei Due Mondi, one of Italy’s most famous performing arts festivals. So-called as its founder, composer Gian Carlo Menotti, hoped to bring together the old and new worlds of Europe and America, it is a packed programme of music, opera, theatre, art and sculpture, and each year draws in first-class artists from around the world. As can be expected, Spoleto gets very busy during the festival, but Orvieto is about 90 minutes away and makes a perfect place to escape the crowds whilst still staying within easy distance of the festivities.

Italian courses in Orvieto

What makes Orvieto a great Italian study destination?

1. Beautiful buildings and stunning views

Orvieto is a medieval town and as such still has an array of beautiful, cobbled streets and historic buildings for visitors to enjoy. Its location on top of a cliff amidst the rolling Umbrian countryside is simply stunning, and means that you can enjoy fantastic views that stretch for miles.

2. Good accessibility and affordable travel options

Although Orvieto doesn’t have its own airport, it is located close to Perugia, which has an airport with regular flights to and from the UK. It also enjoys good rail links to the cities of Rome and Florence – the journey from Rome takes just over an hour and from Florence around an hour and a half.

Orvieto is of course smaller and less well-known than Rome and Florence, but this gives it a laid-back atmosphere and a lower cost of living.

3. A fascinating history and lots of interesting sights

Orvieto’s origins date back to the Etruscan era, when the city was actually known as ‘Velzna’. It was a flourishing settlement, which based its economy on ceramics production and bronze manufacture.

In the third century BC the city was invaded by the Romans, who deported the inhabitants to the shores of Lake of Bolsena, where the city of Novi Volsinii was founded. After the fall of the Roman Empire, Orvieto was conquered by the Goths, then by the Byzantines and lastly by the Longobards of the Duchy of Spoleto. During this period Orvieto rivalled Rome in glory and military power but after a while civil and religious battles between the noble families of Orvieto broke out and this situation helped Cardinal Albornoz seize Orvieto in 1364. In 1449 Orvieto finally became part of the Church State and remained so until 1860, the year in which the Kingdom of Italy was created.

There are lots of sights to explore in your free time in Orvieto, including the medieval Duomo (cathedral), the Albornz fortress, a castle on the site of a former Etruscan temple and St Patrick’s Well, whose double spiral staircases date back to the 16th century and run along the sides of the well (62 metres deep) without meeting. Another must-see for any visitor is the underground passages that were dug into the tufa below the city and have been in use since Etruscan times.

4. A mild climate

Orvieto is blessed with a pleasant climate all year round. It enjoys warm, long summers and mild winters with plenty of sunshine – perfect for outdoor drinking and dining, and of course, for enjoying outdoor pursuits such as hiking and biking in the surrounding area.

5. A good range of courses and accommodation options

Course-wise, students can currently choose from General Italian, Individual Italian, Combined Italian and Intensive Italian in Orvieto. The school also offers an Italian and Pizza course or CILS Preparation Course (Certificazione di Italiano come Lingua Straniera) on request. The courses are available from beginner-advanced level, and for however long you wish. Accommodation is offered with local host families, in a shared apartment or in a student residence to cater for all tastes and requirements.

Cactus offers a wide range of Italian language courses in Italy and its islands. Please visit the Cactus Language website for full details and to book.