In a Skype interview, Ákos Gerold talks to Dana Poklepovic, an ESP teacher and intercultural trainer, language school owner and BESIG Business Online Teammember from Buenos Aires.
Dana, when I fi rst met you at the 48th International IATEFL Conference in Harrogate last year, I was impressed by how many different things you are involved in. Could you tell us what you do?
First of all, thank you for interviewing me for MELTA News. It is a pleasure to share my experience with you.
I am a business English trainer and a translator. I started teaching English in 1990, a very long time ago (laughs), for a language school in Buenos Aires. I also taught Financial English at the Argentine Catholic University. In 1995, I set up my corporate language training company.
Since Argentina is a member of Mercosur, or Common Southern Market — a sub-regional bloc comprising Argentina, Brazil, Paraguay, Uruguay and Venezuela, we give courses in business English as well as Portuguese and Spanish as a Second Language. I design and coordinate corporate programs and business and interpersonal skills workshops and run teacher training courses.
I also like to design class activities based on our students’ authentic materials. Whenever I can, I try to present at local and international conferences, like Artesol, i.e. Argentina TESOL, or IATEFL. Now I am also a member of the IATEFL BESIG Business Online Team.
Your journey has seen you translate for an international organisation and a multinational, teach at a university, found your own training company, organise events, present at conferences, blog; the list is long. Tell us how you arrived at this point in your career.
It’s been a journey of discovery. I set out with an idea about teaching, with a functional view of language. But during these 20 years, I’ve learnt about corporate learners’ needs and have discovered a more interactional and dialogical view of language. I’m always learning and looking for ways to improve and innovate. I’m not a quiet person. I am very happy with my job. Basically, I feel very grateful for all the opportunities I’ve had in my professional life and I’m also grateful to the people I’ve met during this journey. They all helped me to grow. What is it that motivates you? What do you enjoy about your work?
I have two passions. First, languages. I love learning new languages. If I had more time I would certainly be studying more of them. My second passion is to interact with people. And teaching fits in very well in this mix of language and social interaction. I truly enjoy helping professionals improve their communication skills and developing cross-cultural awareness.
Do you have a personal motto, perhaps?
Yes, I do have one! And I always repeat it to my children: “if you seek, you will find”. When you know what you want, and work towards that goal, the opportunities will appear on your way. Whereas if you stay, just waiting, you may “miss the train”, as we say in Argentina. I know that there are difficulties in life... but if you seek, you always find the way out.
You have also been putting a lot of effort into professional development. How did you choose what direction to develop in?
Well, this is a long story. I got my first degree as an English and French translator. At that time, I used to teach Financial English and did a lot of translations for corporate clients. My first full-time job, in fact, was with PWCs, where I worked as a member of the translation team. We had to translate financial reports, financial statements, tax records and as a translator I learned a lot about accounting and financial vocabulary. It was very useful because I had access to the people who wrote these documents and if there was anything we didn’t know, we went directly to the source and they taught us. And each time I had a question, I would correct their English and I ended up teaching them English. Later, I also worked for the United Nations Development Program in New York and there I learnt a lot about global socio-economic issues. As I was also teaching in companies,
I used to recycle my students’ authentic materials into teaching materials. Therefore, I could say that my first professional development step was into the field of ESP. I became specialized in finance and banking. Then, I went for the Further Certificate in Teaching Business English from the London Chamber of Commerce and Industry (LCCI).
As I gained more experience, I began to observe that business people approach the learning process in different ways and this is related to the type of jobs they do. A lawyer and an engineer approach the learning process differently and we can obtain better results as trainers if we understand their communication dynamics. At that point I enrolled in a Neurolinguistic Programming course. And, when I was invited to pursue a PhD program in Modern Languages I carried out my doctoral research on the way corporate learners prefer to learn.
This research was an eye-opener because it led me to the world of communication styles and interpersonal skills and now to the world of coaching.
Coaching has been a hot topic in the last few years and more and more business English trainers wish to become coaches. What advantages do you see in adding coaching to your skills set?
In my case, I will gain insights into the role of communication both at a personal and at a corporate level. One of the most essential skills for any business person nowadays is to possess good interpersonal skills. Corporate people need to manage cross-cultural teams; they need effective communication skills to interact in this complex and globalized marketplace. And they need to do this in English. However, coaching in communication is different from teaching business English. As language teachers, we don’t have the techniques to develop empathy, to build trust, to teach how to work in teams, to tell stories, etc. Although these techniques are based on language, their focus is on the behavioral aspect of communicative competence. If we include these tools in our classes, we will be offering a lot of added value to our clients. A further advantage of using a coaching method is that we can help our students remove old patterns that prevent them from learning. For example, we can help a learner develop assertveness in English and boost his or her performance in international contexts.
The topic of this MELTA News is “change”. It seems that your life and career have involved a fair share of it. You have lived and worked in Argentina, Chile and the US. You have worked as a translator, teacher, business communications skills trainer, intercultural trainer and now you are training to become a coach. What spurs you on to all these changes in your career?
Yes, I’ve had a fair share of change but it has always been in the same direction. My driver for change is to become a better professional, to offer a competitive training service and enjoy the process. Change is part of life; in fact, change is the only constant reality in business. We need to face change and adapt to our clients’ needs. The point is – in my opinion, how we manage change in our professional life. If change is in line with your plan – if it is consistent – then it is positive because it contributes to your growth. But, if you change just because you’re following each and every trend on the market, then this change is negative, because you risk losing your professional identity.
What are your plans for the future?
Now, I plan to complete my coaching certificate by the end of the year. Meanwhile I will continue to give workshops on interpersonal skills and train teachers in Business English. I’m also working hard on our online learning platform. In April, I’ll be giving a workshop about business storytelling at the IATEFL Conference in Manchester.
What do you like doing when you are not working?
I like spending time outdoors. I love going to the sea, sailing and swimming.
How do you manage fi tting in all your work commitments with having a family?
That’s a good question. I think I’m very organized. And I have great support from my husband who helps me at home.
Dana, thank you very much for sharing your story, experiences and views. We hope to be able to welcome you at a MELTA event one day.