Cactus case study – the story behind 13 courses in 8 years

Cactus talks to Naomi Sharp about her impressive history of 13 courses in 2 languages over 8 years with us

It’s not often that we get a client who has taken more than a handful of courses, so to find one who has taken 13 courses, in not just Spanish but also French, is an exciting rarity. I was keen to chat to Naomi to find out her motivation behind studying two languages and where it was all taking her.

The inspiration behind Spanish

For Naomi it all began after a holiday to Costa Rica back in 2004. Inspired to take up Spanish, she enrolled on an Open University course and decided to supplement this with immersion trips abroad through Cactus. Her first trip was to Alicante and since then there has been no stopping her, with Spanish courses now taken in Cuba, Ecuador, Chile, Argentina and even Bristol, to keep up the language on home soil.

In this time Naomi has progressed through the levels from elementary to intermediate and even thrown dancing into the mix, taking a Spanish & Salsa course in Havana, a Spanish & Salsa course in Malaga and a Spanish and Tango course in Cordoba, Argentina. She admits that this is what first attracted her to Cactus – the ability to learn a language and enjoy the local culture at the same time. She has thoroughly enjoyed her dance classes as many were on a one-to-one or small group basis with dance professionals – and of course they provide a perfect excuse to practise the language further.

A change of career paths with French

So where does French come in? Naomi’s long term goal is to teach English overseas with the voluntary service, and for this it is useful to have knowledge of French. Naomi used to be in the Air Force and as part of her resettlement package, in 2012, she enrolled on a 3-week French course with Cactus in La Rochelle. Subsequent courses in Antibes and Vichy last year took her up to intermediate level, equivalent B2 of the Common European Framework of Reference (CEFR).

Naomi has clearly had a wonderful few years visiting different parts of the world and working towards her long-term goal of teaching abroad. Language-wise, her sights are on the DELE and DELF diplomas in Spanish and French, while work-wise her next step is to teach English in Sri Lanka before heading to Spain or Latin America.

Tips for other language learners

Given all her experience learning languages over the years, I asked Naomi if she had any tips or advice for anyone else learning a language. First and foremost she recommended spending time in the country where your target language is spoken, and taking every opportunity you can to speak with the locals. People are always friendly and willing to chat, and it doesn’t matter if you make mistakes as this is all part of the learning process. Having said this, Naomi found her evening classes in Bristol to be a good complement to her overseas courses, as the class size was small and the teacher a native speaker, making it not too dissimilar to her overseas experience.

One other factor that is likely to have helped Naomi’s immersion into the many cultures she has experienced has been her preference to stay with local families where possible. For her, living with a host family gives an extra opportunity to chat in the language, coming together at mealtimes for example. Some people may shy away from this option, believing their language isn’t good enough to stay with a family, but Naomi pointed out that families are used to receiving students of all levels and as such they know how to speak to you.

If there was ever a way to combine your love of languages with work and travel then surely Naomi has found it. The great thing is that there is never really an end to language learning and there are many different ways to make it work for you, wherever you are – of which Naomi is a perfect example. Many thanks to Naomi for taking to time to talk to us and we wish her all the best with her future globetrotting and linguistic adventures!

Cactus offers language courses in over 20 languages in destinations all over the globe. We also offer 10-week evening language courses in London and across the UK which are great preparation for an overseas trip and ideal for long-term learning.

10 great European cities in which to learn a language

A little while ago we gave you our top locations in Europe for 2014, the places that you, our language learners, flock to year after year to attend some of our best partner schools and enjoy world class culture, entertainment and activities. Impossible to limit our pick to four, we’re now bringing you 10 more European cities that guarantee top quality language tuition and endless opportunities for leisure and entertainment outside class.

Jet off in the next few months and you won’t regret it: spring is in the air, flowers are starting to bloom, you can expect pleasant but not stifling temperatures and, above all, you’ll avoid the busy crowds and over-inflated prices of traditional holiday periods.

Let us get the ball rolling with our top locations in Spain, Germany, France and Italy…

1. Barcelona


Barcelona has earned itself the status of Spain’s most visited destination for reasons too long to list. Tourists and students flock here year after year to enjoy the city’s cosmopolitan vibe, Gothic architecture, surreal creations of Gaudí, passion for sport, world class nightlife, great beaches and sublime food. Come to learn Spanish in Barcelona and you can also savour the region’s distinct Catalan history and identity. No matter your age or level, you’re spoilt for choice with Spanish courses in Barcelona: from a standard General Spanish course to Business Spanish courses and activity courses combining Spanish and salsa or culture, there is something for everyone.

Spanish courses Barcelona

2. San Sebastian


Much lesser known than the popular hubs of Barcelona and Valencia, it’s exactly this that makes San Sebastian such a find. You will do without the crowds of Spain’s resorts yet be treated to a warm welcome, a magnificent golden beach – a mecca for surfers – and have no end of choice when it comes to going out, traditional tapas bars and first class restaurants at every turn. As a place to learn Spanish, San Sebastian offers a range of Spanish courses for adults as well as exhilarating Spanish and surfing courses and summer camps for Under 18s.

Spanish courses San Sebastian

3. Madrid


The beating heart of the hot-blooded country that is Spain, Madrid cannot fail to impress. Energetic, alive, brimming with culture and with no shortage of bars, cafés and clubs, this is an exciting and inspiring place to learn Spanish. Our partner Spanish school in Madrid is small and friendly and boasts a great location within walking distance of both Puerta del Sol and the famous Prado Museum. The size and set-up of the school make it really easy to meet new friends and feel at home, perfect for encouraging you to practise your Spanish whilst taking a Spanish course in Madrid.

Spanish courses Madrid

4. Munich


A city of contrasts, Munich offers all the culture and class of a European capital whilst remaining loyal to its traditions and centuries-old customs. Take your German course in Munich and you might visit a world class art gallery one day after class, dine on typical Bavarian sausage the next, and finish up in one of the city’s old beer halls by night. Students learning German in Munich are spoilt for choice with things to do – and the real icing on the cake is the stunning scenery that surrounds Munich, as a short journey out of the city will take you to some fantastic hiking and biking trails, and ski resorts in winter.

German courses Munich

5. Cologne


It’s a special place that inspires couples to fix padlocks to the railings of a bridge and, to ensure everlasting love, throw the key into the river below. Yet Cologne, with all its charm, does just this, and as the river Rhine collects keys of all sizes, so its visitors fall in love with the city too. Oozing with history, magnificent architecture, a stunning Cathedral, cobbled streets, boutique shops and traditional bierkellers, this is an unforgettable place to learn German. Why not immerse yourself in the culture fully by combining your German course in Cologne with accommodation in a local host family.

German courses Cologne

6. Lyon


One thing you can be sure of in Lyon is that you won’t go hungry. Hailed as ‘the stomach of France’, France’s second city is famed for its gastronomy. Obviously requiring energy to learn French in Lyon and navigate its attractive hilly streets, you can happily work your way through sweet, meringue-like ‘macarons’, mountains of cheese and a very un-salad-like but delicious ‘salade lyonnaise’, all in the name of education. Don’t forget to stop off in one of the city’s traditional ‘bouchons’, convivial and relaxed eateries for the seriously hungry and carnivorous. Real foodies, this is for you: French & Cooking Course in Lyon.

French courses Lyon

The top 5 places to eat in Lyon

7. Montpellier


Whether you’re a school or university student or one coming later in life to study French, you can’t go wrong with Montpellier. Home to a 12th century university, bubbling with a young and cosmopolitan vibe and less than half an hour from the glistening Mediterranean, this a place where it’s easy to stop and spend a while. French courses in Montpellier include A-Level Revision and Cookery courses, while teenagers can happily spend the summer attending one of Montpellier’s popular all-inclusive language and activity programmes.

French courses Montepellier

8. Nice


Easy to get to, basking in the sunshine of the Côte d’Azur and with the sparkling Mediterranean lapping at its shores, Nice has long been known as a playground for the rich and famous. Yet you’re just as likely to spot a celeb as you are all kinds of travellers and students who come to enjoy the city’s many charms. Away from the palm trees and the cocktail bars of the legendary Promenade des Anglais, Nice retains its French character and is home to a beautiful Old Town, fine museums, traditional markets, colourful festivals and world-class cuisine. As such this is a wonderful place to learn French, and Cactus works with two language schools in Nice to offer a number of French course and accommodation options to suit everyone.

French courses Nice

9. Rome


The beautiful thing about Italian is that most people learn it for the sheer love of the language and Italian lifestyle. If you fall into this category then learning Italian in Rome is a must. Italy’s historic, lively capital is Italian to the core, brimming with centuries-old art, buzzing with Vespas and bustling with cafe life and top class food at every corner. Cactus works with one of Italy’s most prestigious and long-established schools to offer a vast range of Italian courses in Rome, from Business and Academic Year programmes to culturally-themed Theatre and Cookery courses.

Italian courses Rome

10. Florence


People come from the world over to learn Italian in Florence and it’s easy to see why. An Aladdin’s cave of basilicas, frescoes and piazzas, it oozes history and artistic grandeur at every turn, almost unlike any other city on Earth. To take an Italian course in Florence is to tread in the footsteps of the great masters Dante, da Vinci and Donatello, their influence as alive now as it was back in the Renaissance. If you can tear yourself away from the breathtaking architecture you won’t regret venturing into the specatacular rolling countryside of Tuscany, just on Florence’s doorstep. There are few places more inspiring to learn a language, with our partner school in Florence overlooking the river Arno and boasting views of the stunning Ponte Vecchio.

Italian courses Florence

Cactus offers language courses in locations all over the world, for all ages and levels.

Easter in all its glory: Semana Santa in Seville

Holy Week, or Semana Santa, is one of the most important events on the Spanish calendar, and no celebrations are more famed than those that take place in the Andalucian city of Seville. Falling in the week leading up to Easter, Semana Santa draws in around a million spectators each year, who come to see the exceptional processions, floats and traditional dress that mark the largest religious event within Spain. Semana Santa takes place between 13th and 20th April 2014, starting as always on Palm Sunday and ending on Easter Sunday.

Given its religious significance, Semana Santa is traditionally a rather solemn affair. Those who want a more light-hearted Easter experience may come two weeks later for the famed Feria de Seville (5th-10th May), a 6-day fiesta that consists of flamenco and sevillanas dancing, parades, fairground rides, sherry drinking, dressing up in finery and generally partying in typical Spanish style. That said, Semana Santa is by no means ‘dull’: bars are full around the clock with friends and entire families getting together to enjoy the close sense of community and occasion.

As declared in the rule of the ordinances back in the 17th century, Semana Santa sees the religious (namely Catholic) brotherhoods of Seville, known as cofradias or hermandades, make their way through the streets of the city with floats, or pasos, representing scenes of the Passion, Death and Resurrection of Christ, or of the Virgin Mary, la Dolorosa, mourning her son. The cofradias walk in penitence in front of their pasos, dressed in robes and often quite sinister hoods, from their home church to the Cathedral of Seville (the third largest cathedral in the world) and back. Although they take the shortest possible route, this procession may take up to 15 hours. In total the streets of Seville will see an 57 brotherhoods, made up of 60,000 brothers, carry an impressive 116 floats down its wide tree-lined avenues and through its narrow, cobbled streets.

The most popular processions will be saved however until the night of Maundy Thursday, when they will set out in order to arrive at the Cathedral at dawn on Good Friday, known as the madrugá. Grandstands are built in the main plazas and seats sell out weeks in advance for the culmination of this unique and unforgettable week.

Semana Santa is a reminder of how Spain is inextricably linked to its past and its traditions; although many of the country’s other fiestas have a religious slant to them, involving much festivity and merriment, this is one celebration which gives us a deep insight into the Spanish psyche and which will no doubt be respected for years to come, by young and by old.

Cactus Language offer a range of Spanish language courses in the UK, New York, Spain, South America & Central America.

Cactus Worldwide Blog: March 2014 – Focus on Spanish Courses for Teens

Focus on: Spanish Summer Courses in Spain for Juniors & Teenagers


Hello, and welcome to the March 2014 edition of the Cactus Worldwide blog for our foreign language courses abroad! My name is Ollie, and I am the Product Manager for our agency – Cactus Worldwide. Our team of experienced course advisors are here every day to discuss options with you and help set up a varied range of unique language-learning experiences, all over the globe, throughout the year, for all of our wonderful students.

This month’s blog is giving you a quick look at some of the options available for juniors and teenagers this summer in Spain – so if you are or know anybody who is preparing for an important exam, or about to move onto an GCSE or A-Level course, or who is just interested in learning a very useful foreign language, then there might be something here for you! There are three fantastic options below for students aged 5-17, and in some locations parents can study as well, so there is always the option to involve the whole family.

If you have any questions about anything you read here, please feel free to contact me directly via and I’d be happy to answer any questions.

1.       Sevilla (June 15th – July 26th)

Spanish in Sevilla for Teenagers, aged 14-17, with Clic & Cactus Worldwide


This is a wonderful, specialised course for independent older teenagers, served as a package inclusive of 20 Spanish lessons, full board host family accommodation and a set package of excursions and activities, such as a visit to Isla Magica theme park and a trip to the beach of nearby Cadiz. Groups are kept as small as possible so every student remains an individual throughout their attendance at the school, and don’t get ‘lost in the crowd’ as can be the case at some larger schools. Accommodation is with host families, and twin rooms are available for anybody who would like to travel with a friend or as a small group. This is an ideal opportunity for committed students to attend a quality school, brush up their Spanish, and make some new friends from all over the world. 2 weeks on this course is priced at £945, fully inclusive of the course, board, and activities, and courses are available here for accompanying adults too – click here for the info!


2.       Denia (22nd June – 23rd August)

Spanish in Denia for Juniors & Teenagers, aged 5-17, with TLC & Cactus Worldwide


Denia is the ideal location for younger students and families with children of a wider range of ages, catering for adults and juniors from the ages of 5 to 13, and teenagers from 14-17. The town itself is right in the middle of Alicante and Valencia airports (about 1 hour from both), so it’s incredibly easy to access from the rest of Europe with many of the most popular budget airlines.

The school itself is independent, welcoming and friendly, and is located just 5 minutes’ walk from the city centre and is very near the bus station, bars, shops and cafes. It is also just 10 minutes by foot to the port and 20 minutes to the beach, so there is no need for public transport at all after you have arrived. The school is contained within two renovated buildings offering 6 comfortable and equipped classrooms, TV and video facilities, air conditioning and coffee machines, and students also enjoy free access to a Multimedia centre with 15 computers, internet and interactive language programmes, plus a library offering additional materials. Classes are kept to a maximum of 8 students (12 for some junior courses), which is ideal, and all teachers are specialists in teaching Spanish as a foreign language, with many years of experience.

The junior courses here run from June 22nd until August 23rd, and solo students or families can stay either with friendly local hosts in their home, or in one of the school’s apartments in the town (some in the city, some by the beach). The programmes for young students aged 5-13 provide 10 Spanish lessons per week and a choice of a programme of land-based activities or afternoons of sailing at Club Nautico in the marina (for students aged 8+). For the teenagers, 20 lessons per week are taken at the school, and a full programme of cookery lessons, workshops and beach sports. Every group overlaps in some way, so there is a unique mixture of student ages and nationalities every step of the way here, providing an ideal setting for solo travellers or the whole family, and ensuring loads of fun is had by all! Well worth booking early to avoid disappointment.


3.       Segovia (29th June – 23rd August)

Spanish in Segovia for Teenagers, aged 14-17, with OISE & Cactus Worldwide


This Spanish summer programme in the beautiful landscape of Segovia (just outside Madrid – only 30 minutes by train) is aimed at the most ambitious young learners aged 14-17 who want or need to learn Spanish very quickly and effectively. What this school provides is a premium option for those students who are looking for a full Spanish immersion experience and they design their programme in a way that helps them make the maximum possible progress in the time available. This is achieved through an intensive day of study in small groups with a high degree of personal attention (the course only caters for an average of 20-30 students at any one time), and the small class size of 8 as a maximum also ensures that all students’ individual learning needs are met.

Students attending this programme are expected to complete homework each evening with their host family, or with the monitor at the residence, so although there are activities and excursions provided during the weekends (visits to Madrid, for instance), the focus here is much more on academic progress, cultural integration and communication skills, so it’s an ideal choice for a committed student looking for a demanding programme.

Segovia itself is a quintessentially Spanish city, close enough to Madrid to make it logistically easy for arrivals but at the same time it is a small city with a population of 45,000. Ideal for younger students, this town is safe, family-oriented and also a UNESCO cultural destination. The Spanish spoken in Segovia is also very clear and precise, making it the perfect destination for a serious academic programme! Two-week programmes start from £1,805, completely inclusive of meals, accommodation, tuition, activities, excursions and transfers from Barajas airport in Madrid. Places are limited, so again it’s well worth booking early to avoid disappointment!

We hope this selection has been of interest, and may have given you some ideas for some study options for the year ahead. Any Qs at all, as always, please feel free to contact me directly and I’d be happy to help.

Happy planning 😉

Best Wishes,



Oliver Donovan

Agency Product Manager



Panoramic image at top: Segovia, Spain

Las Fallas: not your average fireworks display

If you’ve not heard of Las Fallas, let its meaning of ‘the fires’ in Valencian give you a clue. True to its name, Las Fallas is a spectacular pyrotechnic festival like none you have seen before; it is one of Spain’s most famous and certainly one of the world’s most unique. Taking place in the usually calm city of Valencia each March, be warned that this is a fiesta for those who like noise and little sleep.

Dates to note for this year are 15th – 19th March 2014, which mark five wild days of fireworks, fires, explosions, parades and, in true Spanish style, partying long into the night. All this is held in honour of St Joseph, which marks Father’s Day in Spain, and in celebration of the arrival of Spring as the long days of Winter draw to a close. Paella contests and beauty pageants even find their way into the celebrations.

Centre stage at Las Fallas, however, are the ninots, giant papier-mâché figures that are paraded through the streets and left to tower up to 20 feet over the crowds for the duration of the festival. Often exaggerated and ranging from playful to grotesque, these figures satirise political figures, bullfighters and all kinds of tv, sports and film personalities, who appear in colourful caricature across the city for all to see – at least, that is, until the final night.

Having been pain-stakingly created in the months leading up to the festival, the climax of Las Fallas is the burning of these monumental effigies in one fell swoop at the very end. Known as the cremà, this ritual sees some 300 firemen on standby and ambulances ready to whisk the faint-hearted off to hospital – a dramatic but necessary precaution, given the extent and exuberance of the fires.

It is a similar situation with the mascleta, which takes place in the Plaza del Ayuntamiento at 2pm each day of the festival. In this event different neighbourhoods of Valencia compete for the most impressive display of fireworks, firecrackers and rockets, culminating in the terremoto (literally, earthquake), as everything explodes simultaneously. It may come as no surprise that pregnant women are unable to attend the mascleta, for even regular healthy people have been known to succumb to the ‘heat’ of it all.

Valencians wouldn’t have it any other way though. This is their festival and they are rightly proud of it. Each year they channel energy, life and extravagance into Las Fallas, resulting in a 5-day-long fireworks party matched by no other. You could take your ear plugs, but then that would ruin half the fun…

Cactus offers Spanish courses in Valencia and in other locations across Spain.

A week in Barcelona: a vibrant city in which to soak up the Spanish language and culture

Executive PA at Cactus, Cecilia Harvey, tells us about her week in Barcelona enjoying the Mediterranean sunshine and indulging in local culinary delights…all whilst attending a local language school.

Butterflies fluttered in my stomach as I boarded the train headed for Gatwick airport. Drizzle on the windows made me smile, knowing I was heading for a 28 degree heat.  Since the birth of my children, I had never been away by myself, let alone do something “just for me”. Having not ever been to Barcelona either, I could hardly contain my excitement.

What a luxury to be in the airport alone, to sit and have a coffee and read my Lonely Planet guide. I carefully planned my itinerary for each day, knowing which sites I definitely wanted to see. I also knew that Friday was a holiday in Spain and there would be no classes that day. For that day, beach!

As I left behind the storm that was brewing in the south east, and that had been announced weeks before, I heard people talking on the plane about advice they left to their friends and families about “battening down the hatches”…. The plane did go through some very strong turbulence, and with my stomach in my throat, I just closed my eyes and couldn’t stop smiling.

Landing in Barcelona in the heat was brilliant, my skin immediately thirsty for that Vitamin D. I was in no rush, but knew exactly where I was headed. The Aerobus is fantastic; it leaves from both Terminals at Barcelona’s El Prat airport and takes you right to the centre of the city. I just soaked up the sites as the very easy 30 minute journey left me standing in the beautiful and buzzing Plaça de Catalunya. As I walked down toward my apartment, I purposely chose a quiet street (well, quiet doesn’t really exist in central Barcelona!) but not down one of the main ones, let’s say, as I wanted to leave the world famous “La Rambla” for when I had time to soak up everything around me.

Settling into my flat for the week

I got to my address, and a very sweet girl called Lisa from the school, International House, was there to greet me. She gave me the keys to my room, detailed some basic rules and instructions and left.  Wow…I had a real flashback to my student apartment at Uni. Very well equipped, the apartment gave onto a very noisy and echoey set of courtyards, all connected like a maze. My room was basic but incredibly clean. All I needed really, as I wasn’t planning on spending much time in it anyway!

I went out looking for somewhere to buy some basic essentials for breakfast the following day, but to no avail, as it was by then quite late on a Sunday afternoon. Instead, I stumbled across the wonderful “Cuines de Santa Caterina” – a well know eatery at the edges of a wonderful market, the Mercado de Santa Caterina. Unsure if I was hungry yet, I walked around, passed the Cathedral and through some streets, all buzzing with tourists and residents alike, going about their business.

Back at the flat, I was unpacking my case and heard the front door…it was Uli, one of my flatmates! From Bremen, Uli had a really interesting background.  I then met Katja, a Danish girl who was to be my other flat mate, although I didn’t see her very much at all. Uli and I chatted about our children and about why and how we were there. After deciding we were both hungry, we decided to go and grab something to eat. He had also arrived that day and like me, not managed to find anywhere to get any food. We went to the Cuines de Santa Caterina and I indulged in a local beer, grilled squid and fried artichoke hearts. What a culinary delight that was!

The following morning I turned up at International House, just 5 minutes round the corner from the flat having passed the visually stunning Palau de Música Catalana. I didn’t have opportunity then to spend more time, feasting my eyes on the intricate detail in the décor of the building….but it was on my list, so I knew I would return.

First day at the language school

At the school, all the new students were welcomed and had to take both written and oral tests after which we were all allocated our classes and teachers. In between tests, we were all sent upstairs for 20 mins to the school café, run by a woman whom I can only describe as a “force of nature”. The orders came in, thick and fast, both from us newbies and all the other students who by that time were taking their morning break. I sat on the outside terrace in full sun with my espresso. Fabulous!

My class was run by Marco, a born and bred Catalan guy who made it even more interesting, as he knew and understood the differences and could explain them to us as well as ensure we knew which was Castellano and which was Catalán. There were only five of us in the class which was fantastic, and I knew I would be challenged mentally as not only was the course labelled “intensive” but my level was Upper Intermediate III and my classmates had already been there for 2 or more weeks.  Most of the days following that, I came out of the school, my head buzzing and hurting from the bombardment of information. The verbs really challenged me as they differ so much from Italian ones (I am half Italian) and there are so many more tenses to remember and so many more subtleties. We had a lot of course work which most days I decided to do immediately after school, so I could then just relax and enjoy the free afternoons and evening. This didn’t always go to plan, as the Mercado de Santa Caterina lured me in on my second day and I found myself eating tapas in the Cuines again….

Excursions & wanderings…

The school organised some excursions which on a couple of occasions I joined. The first to the Barrio de Gracia, and the other to the museum of Catalan History. Both incredibly worthwhile going to with local people as your guide as they knew a lot more than any written guide will illustrate. The Barrio de Gracia is very trendy and has a multitude of small restaurants and cafés of different cuisines and wonderful little artisanal shops which are gems. My favourite site there was the Casa Vicens – architecturally mesmerizing. The residents of Gracia are very proud to be “from Gracia” and they have various parties and celebrations, which are different in each street! The museum of Catalan History was very interesting. Created with a multitude of interactive features, it was designed with all ages in mind. Incredibly interesting actually for a foreigner to see just how much Barcelona has contributed to many types of trades which not only still exist in Barcelona and to a wider extent, Spain, but how the city was a pioneer in a lot of them.

I achieved so much in six days: I walked down the Rambla, just with the intent of subjecting my ears to the local language and setting my brain into “Spanish mode” – and it worked. I shopped in the famous Mercado de la Boqueria, where my Lonely Planet didn’t fail me: an explosion of colours, sounds and smells, it became my daily favourite spot to be. I marvelled at Gaudi’s creations in all shapes and sizes; I met some lovely people and ate delicious food in tapas bars in little plaças where you know only the locals go. I walked along the beach and soaked up the rays and the warmth. I sat on grass verges by the marina and listened to a band playing and people dancing to the captivating rhythms and watched street dancers and breakdancers outside the Cathedral.

This experience has enriched me in so many ways. First and foremost I have really progressed in my Spanish and plan to keep it up with a Cactus Skype course. Secondly I have seen some amazing places, art, museums and eaten delicious local dishes and met interesting and friendly people. Last but not least, I visited a city which was welcoming and alive and was blessed to go to a well organised school where the staff was extremely competent and friendly. I will be going back with my family in the not too distant future.

Cecilia took a 1-week General Spanish language course of 20 lessons in Barcelona. Cactus offers Spanish courses in many other locations across Spain and Latin America. Those wishing to learn the basics or brush up before they go can also take a Spanish evening course in the UK or the US.

The tomato fight: top 10 phrases in Spanish to help you survive La Tomatina!

Ever year in a small village named Buñol, near Valencia in Spain, local Spaniards take to the streets, which become a battlefield for their weapon of choice…tomatoes! Check out our top ten ‘La Tomatina’ essential festival vocabulary and phrases!

La Tomatina‘ festival begins on the last Wednesday of August and is part of a week-long Spanish festival. It starts with the palo jamón – the “ham stick” – a greased pole with a piece of ham at the top. While the crowd wait impatiently for someone to try and climb the pole they sing and dance.

Once someone has climbed to the top of the pole and got the ham, a water cannon is fired into the air signalling the beginning of the tomato fight! Then several trucks filled with tomatoes are poured onto the gathered crowd and the locals start throwing them at each other!

If you would like to truly take part in this amazing tomato fight in Spain, then check out our essential vocabulary and phrases to ensure you survive the festival!

Our Top 10 La Tomatina phrases:

Did someone get the ham? ¿Alguien consiguió el jamón?
Let the battle begin! Que comience la batalla!
Watch out! ¡Cuidado!
Behind you! Detrás de usted/de ti!
Take cover! Ponerse a cubierto!
All I see is red Todo lo que veo es de color rojo
Has there been a signal yet? Han dado ya la señal?
Where can I wash my clothes? ¿Dónde puedo lavar mi ropa?
Stop! I’ve had enough! ¡Alto! Ya he tenido suficiente!
I need some rest! Necesito descansar un poco!

Our Top 10 La Tomatina Vocabulary:

the tomato el tomate
to squash aplastar
to hurl lanzar
the ham stick el palo jabón
safety glasses gafas de protección
the battle la batalla
the hose la manguera
projectile el proyectil
dirty sucio
to wash lavar

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.

The FIBA Basketball World Cup 2014

The next FIBA Basketball World Cup is taking place in Spain and we thought we would like to help basketball enthusiasts, around the world, with some essential vocabulary and phrases in Spanish!

This international event, which takes place every four years, will be hosted by several cities across Spain from the 30 August to 14th September 2014. The FIBA Basketball World Cup brings together 22 teams from across the world, including previous champions the United States. The tournament has been running for over 60 years!

How exciting would it be to watch this invigorating sport in Spain?! To ensure you can join in on all the fun, we have provided some essential Spanish vocabulary and phrases to make sure you are well and truly warmed-up for next year!

Basketball lingo that will even impress the likes of Michael Jordan and Kobe Bryant!

Slam dunk One of the most famous phrases. It is a high jump shot in which the ball is thrust down through the hoop. Mate
Bank shot A Shot that is aimed at the backboard so it “banks” into the Basket. This shot is used when close to the basket and usually when the player is face on and not to the sides of the court. Tiro a tablero
Player A member of the basketball team. El jugador / la jugadora / el/la baloncestista
Jump pass / shot A pass / shot made while the player is in the air. El pase / el tiro en suspensión
Free throw An unopposed attempt to score a point, usually awarded to a team after a foul by the shooter on the opposing team. El tiro libre
Dribble When a player bounces the ball. Driblar
Referee An official who enforces the rules in sports. Árbitro
Substitute A player who comes into the game to replace a player on the court. Sustituto
Dead ball When there’s a dead ball, the ball is not in play. Balón muerto
Pivot When a player is standing still with the ball he has to keep a foot on the floor, until he passes or shoots the ball. He can’t lift his foot but he can turn on it. This is called pivoting. Pivote

Top ten phrases translated into Spanish for when you’re cheering on your team in the Basketball World cup!

Coast to coast Costa a costa (from one end of the pitch to the other)
Take the shot Toma el tiro
He shoots, he scores! Tira y marca
Let’s go, let’s go! ¡Vamos vamos!
We are better than them! Somos mejores que ellos
Champions! Campeones
Pass the ball Pasa el balón
Ref, that was a foul! ¡Árbitro, que era una falta!
My grandma could throw better than that! Mi abuela podría tirar mejor que eso
Shoot it Tira

Check out the official FIBA website for more information:

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.