Simon Manley, the British ambassador in Spain since 2013, visited International House Madrid facilities last Thursday. During the morning he spent with us he was able to personally meet our academies’ team, exchange impressions with many of his fellow citizens settled in Madrid and get to know the work carried out by IH in the dissemination of English language and British culture.
Before taking up his duties as ambassador, Manley was the Director for Europe at the Foreign & Commonwealth Office (FCO), as well as FCO’s Director of Defence and Strategic Threats. Married to a Spaniard since 1996, he knew Spanish before settling in our country, although is currently improving his mastery of that language; he also fluently speaks French, thanks to his previous position as ambassador in Bruselas and the long periods of time during which he lived in Switzerland. Mr. Manley is a friendly and approachable man, and he offered proof of that during the breakfast he had with us, during which he shared some anecdotes about his travels around Spain and his appreciation of Spanish gastronomy –he has a reputation of being a kitchen wizard-, his experience in learning several languages or his duties as an ambassador; not for nothing, after our meeting with him he had to take an urgent trip to London so he could discuss about the Scottish independence referendum with the Prime Minister. Given that, we were glad to realise that, although it was a day of historical transcendence for the UK, all his attention was focused on IH during the visit.
After a friendly talk while having breakfast in IH Alonso Martinez’s cafeteria, the ambassador followed us in order to know the center facilities, a tour during which he was introduced to the different departments and classrooms of the academy, from English classes to Spanish courses or Teacher Training program. The final part of the visit took place in IH Sagasta center, where Frédéric Borne, CEO at International House Madrid, exposed the history and current work of the International House World Organisation, founded in 1953, and its presence in our country as the main institution devoted to language learning, with 29 centers in 22 cities. He also pointed out the role IH plays in spreading British culture in Spain, something that Mr. Manley regarded as a crucial bridge for cultural exchange between the two countries.
He was amazed at the reach of IH schools worldwide and their presence in the five continents, as well as at the amount of British born personnel our centers employ in Spain. When he was asked about which Spanish-based company employs more Britons, he cheerfully replied: “I guess I should say it’s you, right?”, and, thinking about it, finally got to the conclusion that he couldn’t think of any other institution or company which surpasses IH’s achievements in that field -467 British employees, teachers and academic directors.
Talking about bilingualism due to his recent meeting with Ignacio González, President of the Comunidad of Madrid, he highlighted the huge difference between what teaching English and teaching in English means, and the paramount importance of not limiting language learning to just a set of grammar or linguistic rules, but also to also include the cultural elements associated to them. It was a fruitful and enriching meeting for both parts; in International House Madrid we trust that it will serve to reinforce the already solid educational and cultural relationship between Spain and UK, and we appreciate his deference and the trust he has placed in our institution.