FP: There are seven members in IH España which means that not all International Houses in Spain are part of IH España. There are probably 30 centres in Spain that are International House but IH España is only an association for Spanish study abroad courses. We’re located in Barcelona, Madrid, San Sebastian, Valencia, Mallorca, Cadiz and Sevilla. We got together in 2005 only for the purposes of working together on inbound study.
People are familiar with International House and they still think International House is a chain but we always like to clarify that we’re not a chain. We are independent schools, with different owners. We implement our activities individually. We are only a consortia under the name International House because International House brings us a lot of knowledge and input in terms of teaching quality and development. That’s extremely important for us. So International House is a guide for us. We’re in touch with people who are very involved with Cambridge University and have been developing a lot of language methodology and material over the last 30 or 40 years.
The PIE: How do you work together?
FP: IH is big, but in our case it’s only the schools in Spain working together on two fields. One is the development of methodology and teacher training in Spanish. The other is marketing Spanish courses, but alway insisting on what we bring which is excellence in teacher development. We believe we have to show we’re good through the teacher training we organise.
There’s still work to be done to raise awareness of the economic value of Spanish in your career
The PIE: How many teachers have you taught?
FP: We train 800 annually. We create our own tools and the material around it. And we also create teaching material that they can use in the classroom and in our professional development courses.
In 2010 we launched formacionele.com. It’s the first online platform for teacher training in Spanish. It has 12 different modules and update it regularly. It has been very successful. We’ve already trained 1,000 teachers from all over the world on this platform.
The PIE: Is there a general secretariat?
FP: Yes and it changes every one or two years. We vote together which school will be coordinating the actions of the group. Currently it’s Sevilla, that’s why I’m the spokesperson. We also have staff coordinating the activities we do together- there are a series of marketing events that we do together.
The PIE: Is growing and adding new members part of your agenda?
FP: We’re more focussed on developing the quality of what we do than growing. We’re focussed on marketing our excellence rather than marketing as a window shop. The way we develop our teachers and provide career develop is our prized asset.
Everything we develop is focussed on Spanish as a second language. We use the same methods, we may use the same books, you can study at any IH España school at any moment of the year and go from one to the other. You may be doing a course in Valencia for two weeks, joining Sevilla then joining San Sebastian. You will be following the same books and methods.
The PIE: So is it common that students will travel between the schools on the same course?
FP: Yes, we do a lot of combined courses. We have students that might do two or three cities.
We’re focussed on marketing our excellence rather than marketing as a window shop
The PIE: How are things looking in the Spanish language market this year?
FP: I think it’s going much better this year. In 2014, it was a bit tougher, but it looks like 2015 was good and it looks like 2016 will be ok. All of us are doing quite well. We’ve gained students weeks among all of our members because we’re starting to get more Asian students. That automatically reflects on the weeks because the Aisan students are staying longer than any other European students. We’re talking about 48-50 or even more weeks.
The PIE: Which are your strong student markets in Asia?
FP: China has huge potential. Japan has always been a good client. Korea too. We believe that Vietnam will be a good market very soon. It’s also because students are coming to study at universities in Spain. Things are getting more difficult in the UK, so that might divert some of the students towards Spain because of the visa regulations now.
The PIE: Is a university preparation market, similar to pathway programmes for English, starting to emerge for Spanish learners?
FP: It already exists but it’s minor compared to the UK market. It will grow but it’s circumstantial. It will probably grow as the UK becomes more difficult and the rest of the Europe becomes saturated with Asian students. Then it will be our turn. So we do have pathway courses. We prepare lots of students to access university in language and culture.
The PIE: What are the advantages of studying a university preparation course in Spanish to students?
FP: Spanish universities are good quality and the cost of living in Spain is much cheaper than anywhere else in Europe still. The value for money is actually very good.
The PIE: What’s going on with the university entrance exam, Selectividad? Do international students have to take it?
We’ve gained students weeks among all of our members because we’re starting to get more Asian students.
FP: It’s bilateral so it depends on the country, not in the case of Europe, but then you have to go country by country. For example, for Chinese students, who have taken their own Selectividad, the Gaokao, if they have up to a certain number of points, they don’t need to do the Spanish exam because of a special agreement. So they can access university directly as soon as they learn the language. It’s a little bit complicated.
We are also one of the only schools right now in Spain that offer university credits for our Spanish courses as part of the European Credit Transfer System that are valued anywhere in Europe. So we’ve been able to achieve these things because we’ve been working together, especially on the quality of the courses and the content which make it equivalent to universities.
The PIE: For which courses are you seeing most demand?
FP: It depends on the city. In the case of Cadiz, Valencia and San Sebastian, obviously the high season is the summer. In the case of Sevilla it’s all the rest of the year. Low season is the summer in Sevilla and we have more students in the rest of the year. But the main products are still Spanish intensive, junior courses. Senior courses 50+ are developing quite well, and of course we have DELE preparation courses.
The PIE: Are you starting to see a shift away from Spanish interest being driven by sun and fun and more toward its professional value?
FP: To be honest, no not yet. It’s still a language that needs to have more awareness of its value. Lots of people still only come because they think it’s nice. It’s used by loads of people around the world, but there’s still work to be done to raise awareness of the economic value of Spanish in your career.
North America is a huge market, with a lot of potential, for example. Anyone wanting a career in the US should speak Spanish, especially in the media industry.
The PIE: What’s next for IH España?
FP: We’d like to gain more visibility among agents, especially in Asian markets. We’ll continue to develop the innovation and creativity our teacher training to cover more topics, like gamification. And we’d like to increase our influence among the Spanish teacher community through digital channels.