Head of Language Development and Intercultural Communication, Elena Korenko: “My division is like my baby”

To understand and be understood – this is one of the key points of any successful communication. At Godel, the Language Development and Intercultural Communication Division delivers to make the interaction between all our locations as easy and effective as possible. How do the teams manage to achieve this? We set down with Elena Korenko, Head of the division to discuss these challenges.

Elena, let’s start from the very beginning. Why was this division founded in Godel?

I joined Godel in September 2007: I can’t believe myself it was so long ago. As soon as I started running the English classes at Godel, I felt a friendly and family-like atmosphere and realised straight away that Godel is a family!

Over the years, the company began growing and I couldn’t run the English classes for all the employees myself, so I started interviewing for English teachers for the Minsk office, the other Belarus offices, and eventually all the new European locations. It was then the Language Development and Intercultural Communication division was created. I’ve run countless interviews! Thanks to the TA specialists who helped me to pick up the best of the best!

At Godel, huge importance has always been placed on our employees’ ability to understand English in all its forms and I hope I managed to build a strong team of English teachers to support the growth of the company and an increasing number of students. Right now, there are 14 professional, enthusiastic and creative English teachers who are helping Godelers to communicate with their colleagues in Manchester and with clients around the UK better and more efficiently! Besides, my dream has come true: a native speaker of English, an English teacher from Kent, has recently joined our team!

What is it like to teach English at Godel?

To be honest, teaching English at Godel is challenging and fascinating at the same time as we have to tailor our classes to the specific needs of our employees. We teach not only everyday English, but we also discuss some business-oriented topics that help our employees interact with their UK colleagues more effectively: writing e-mails, giving demos/presentations, speaking in meetings and stand-ups, etc.

The cultural aspects are also included in our English classes: we teach our employees how to be more polite and less straightforward while communicating with their UK colleagues, how to have small talk and keep the conversation going and how to give negative feedback without offending anyone, etc. During the classes we use some captivating activities to practice problem-solving, brainstorming and thinking outside the box skills.

To make our English classes not only beneficial and interesting but also closer to reality, I get some Manchester team involved in the English classes from time to time. I film them so that our employees can listen to Mancunian and some other UK accents during the classes. Thanks a lot for your help, Manchester office!

In 2020, I organised a quick and effective transition to online training due to the start of remote work, implementing modern online tools and involving more English teachers in online teaching because of increasing demand for e-learning. Most of the English classes are run online so we are using different online tools and platforms to make them more interactive and less boring (Kahoot, Quizlet, Quizziz, Wordwall, etc.).

What’s more, every year I organise and run the Godel English Teachers’ Conference: I will be organising the fourth one this year! Our English teachers from all the locations gather together to participate in the conference, share their experience and look for new ideas, inspiration and professional development. We always discuss lots of interesting and thought-provoking topics: for example, a flipped approach and how to apply it in the classroom, a suggestopedia method, some ways of using tech effectively in the classroom and the role of motivation in ESL learning, etc.

There are also Polish classes at Godel, aren’t there?

Yes, there are! When Godel employees started working in Poland, my strong desire was to help them learn the Polish language and Polish culture so that they could integrate into the new culture quickly as I know myself how important it is to know the language and culture to feel more confident in another country.

To be honest, it’s a bit more complicated to teach Polish because I think some of our employees don’t realise how hard it is to learn a foreign language from scratch and underestimate the complexity of the Polish language. As a result, they skip the Polish classes, which makes us split up the groups and enrol the employees in the other Polish groups of the corresponding level. And it is hard work that takes time and effort.

I am happy that 8 professional and passionate Polish teachers have joined Godel and the number is constantly growing.

In what way do the Polish teachers communicate with the Belarusian team?

The classes are held in Polish and if something more complicated should be explained, the Polish teacher can switch to English.

I think relationships improve within the international team when our Polish employees see that their Belarusian colleagues make an effort to speak their mother tongue in Poland, they do appreciate it a lot. I was so happy when I heard our Belarus employees speaking Polish in the Lodz and Wroclaw offices. This is the best reward for us all! I would personally love the Godel employees to assimilate into a new culture as quickly as possible and I think our language classes do help.

How could the guys join the Polish classes?

I regularly send e-mails with updates and links to the forms for employees to fill in. I’m creating more Polish groups (both offline and online) now and the Survival Crash Course for true beginners will kick off next week. Most of the employees have never learned Polish, which means we teach them Polish from the very beginning, though I’m really happy there are quite a few A2 and a B1 level Polish groups at Godel now.

The Polish classes are set up for those employees who already live and work in Poland because from the language point of view, it’s more reasonable to start learning Polish in the Polish environment after the guys have settled down in Poland, which will let them learn Polish more quickly without skipping the classes.

I know that at Godel you have organised and regularly run the English Club sessions. Could you talk more about the initiative?

When I joined Godel, I always tried to organise some extra activities apart from giving the English classes: I would bring my UK/Irish friends over to the office when they were visiting me so that Godelers could speak with a native speaker of English face to face, or I would organise a movie night in English! Then I inspired some employees to perform a pantomime before Christmas and they loved it so much that it became a fantastic tradition.

Our employees gave quite a lot of performances in English: ‘Cinderella’, ‘Snow White and the Seven Dwarfs’, ‘Alice in Wonderland’ (the mad tea party), etc. Once they even were performing the scene from the play ‘The Importance of Being Earnest’ by Oscar Wilde. Another time, the UK colleague participated in the performance with some of his Belarus teammates. It was great fun!

I think those performances including the rehearsals in English helped employees not only to improve their English skills, but also to develop their creativity, increased their imagination, and made them step out of their comfort zone. Everyone was happy: both the performers and the audience!

I then came up with another idea: I thought it would be lovely to create an English Club for those employees who can’t attend the English classes regularly but who would love to improve their English. I think the concept of the English Club is amazing: any employee, no matter what their level of English is, can join the English Club session to practice English by speaking it in a very relaxed and friendly atmosphere. It helps the employees to overcome any language barrier and to open up. Every time we do different activities, we play various games, sing English songs, organise different competitions in English, go out and speak English, talk about the UK, its culture/customs/traditions… The English club is a brilliant place for our employees to express their inner English side.

I’m grateful to all the English teachers for supporting my idea and concept of the English Club, running the English Club sessions in all the locations and coming up with some new amazing ideas. The great news is that we are going to organise the first big online English Cub session in September.

Are you going to organise the Polish Club?

Yes, I’d love to! The Polish teacher who is running the offline classes in the Lodz office has already invited the team out for a pint of beer several times. So, it was a kind of the Polish Club session: our employees were speaking Polish in a friendly atmosphere all the time. Another Polish teacher suggested joining the Polish session in Warsaw and some of the employees did! I hope we’ll organise more Polish Club sessions for Godelers in the future.

Which classes are more effective – offline or online?

It is quite a difficult question, a lot depends on a person, it’s very individual. There are people who are against the online format, they prefer only the offline one. Even some English teachers were not psychologically ready to give the online classes at Godel when COVID started and now all of them are running the online classes, so we shouldn’t be afraid to try something new, something different! I personally think we should be more flexible as adaptability and flexibility are very important skills in today’s fast-changing world.

As for me, I prefer to run offline sessions because seeing each other face to face and maintaining eye contact certainly helps to create a friendlier atmosphere. It helps me to feel the audience and their vibes. However, I think that it doesn’t matter which format of the classes you choose, if you are eager to learn the language and are determined and self-motivated.

Why are the cross-cultural sessions you run at Godel important for the UK clients and our employees from different locations?

I’ve always been fascinated by cultural differences and by the fact how much they impact our work, communication and interaction. Culture is a very sensitive topic. Raymond Williams, one of the early contributors to British cultural studies, declared: ‘Culture is one of the two or three most complicated words in the English language’. I think it’s impossible to know any language well without knowing the culture.

A mutual understanding is necessary when it comes to language and culture, and I consider it vitally important to help the Godel teams and our clients understand one another better and ultimately work together more effectively. To ensure this, I run cross-cultural and intercultural sessions whereby I outline the key features and elements of each culture.

Godel is growing in different locations across Europe and being aware of the cultural differences can make a huge difference to communication and relationships within the engagement. For example, if one of our developers can make a conscious effort to be more polite and less straightforward, not only will our UK client appreciate the effort, but it will help to build a more positive relationship, which in turn creates a favourable environment for our best, most innovative work to be produced.

A few years ago, I was really delighted to run some cross-cultural sessions with the UK colleagues for the teams in the UK offices: it was such a great experience for me.

Afterwards, I started creating different presentations and running the cross-cultural and intercultural sessions myself! I’m really happy to get all the positive feedback and kind words from both the UK and our international teams, which proves once again how important, insightful, and useful the intercultural sessions are and how essential it is to be aware of the culture of the people you are communicating with to prevent any misunderstanding. When you see the value, when you see that something is beneficial – sleepless nights are worth it!

Do you have any assistant to help you?

I wish I had one as there are more responsibilities and more activities.

I’m trying to get the language teachers involved in some activities too. For example, when I went to the Lodz and the Wroclaw offices to run some cultural sessions for the Godel employees, I asked some Polish teachers to prepare mini-presentations on some interesting topics like Polish holidays, food and music so that our employees could get some more insights in Polish culture.

What are your future plans?

Godel is growing in multiple locations now, so I’m getting more and more excited about future challenges! All in all, there are 22 language teachers at Godel now: 14 English and 8 Polish teachers. There will be more language teachers and more language groups. We’ve been looking for a Lithuanian teacher for a while so hoping to find one and set up the Lithuanian classes in the near future. Some of our employees work in Dubai also so I will set up the Arabic classes if necessary.

I’ll continue working on the cultures and the cultural differences as Godel becomes more international and more intercultural. My dream is to run the intercultural session about the different cultures and communication styles between all those cultures we work with, which will help to avoid some painful situations.

I always come up with new ideas and new suggestions and I am grateful to the company for all the support and trust. Godel, thanks a lot for all the challenges and opportunities! I’ve even participated in the Instagram Live Stream ‘What is it like to deal with the British?’

It’s well known that teamwork makes the dream work! I’m blessed to be working with the Godel brilliant and professional language teachers who are on the same wavelength with me. My division is like my baby, because I created it from scratch, and I picked up every single teacher myself. I hope there will be more great challenges, more novelties and more achievements in the future!