English is the lingua franca of Qatar so if you don’t speak Arabic, this should in no way deter you from considering a move here. That is not to say, however, that issues with language don’t occur, in fact, I’d say a fair amount of information here gets lost in translation.
Meeting colleagues and doing business is not normally a problem, nor is driving, shopping or eating out because almost all signs and labels are in both Arabic and English. All of our official business documents are in both Arabic and English, the smaller ones were translated by people I work with while the more lengthy documents like Health and Safety Handbooks and our lab signs (above) were done by professional services in Doha. I’ve found that most sticky situations occur over the phone as this is the main form of communication in Qatar; people in this country are not big on emails or keeping websites up to date.
When miscommunications do occur, they tend to be more comical than annoying though. I have a lovely driver from Kerala that I use sometimes when I go out so that I don’t have to worry about driving. His English is a few levels above basic so I always try to keep my instructions to a minimum, like ‘my house, 7:15, tonight, 7-1-5’. If we have to pick up some friends on the way or go via an ATM, I always save that for when I’m in the car and can speak to him face to face (I cannot tell you how many conversations I’ve had with him where I don’t really understand the point that he’s trying to get across; I just nod my head and say, ‘oh, yes’).
Nothing disastrous has ever happened but I have been gifted with several quirky anecdotes, like the time I called to make a restaurant booking…..
Man on the Phone: Hello, Grand Regency Hotel.
Me: Yes, may I please be connected to the Chopsticks Restaurant?
MotP: Yes madam……(puts me on hold)….I’m sorry madam, they do not open until 6pm.
Me: Ok, so may I make a reservation with you or should I wait and call back when the restaurant is open?
MotP: Yes madam.
Me: Yes I can make the reservation with you, or I need to call back when the restaurant is open?
MotP: Yes madam.
Me: Ok, I’ll call back at 6pm.