Language Barriers

Lab Coats Must Be Worn

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.


About Alexandria Lipka

Alexandria is the Lab Manager of a small biotechnology company based in Doha, Qatar. She was born and raised in the United States, where she received her undergraduate degree, before moving to the United Kingdom to work and further her studies. After 10 years in a rainy, grey London, she decided she might like living in the desert.

4 Responses to Language Barriers

  1. Tom Curran says:

    Hi Alexandria

    I like to practise this kind of ambiguity. For example, when asked: “Are you a Christian or a Muslim?” I reply: “That is correct. I am a Christian or a Muslim.”

    Regarding language problems, I remember once when I was teaching Qatari technicians in Doha, a student asked me for a “naughty” book. At least that’s how I interpreted his request. Having explained that I did not have any, the student to pointed to a stack of notebooks on a shelf behind me. Then the penny dropped: he wanted a not-e-book.

    I learned far more from my students than I ever taught them, adopting their mantra: “Do not rush.” In Gulf Arabic this is “Ma tasta’jal” ما تستعجل or in Modern Standard Arabic “La tata’jal لا تتعجل .

    Best wishes


    • Alexandria Lipka says:

      I also find that ‘choose’ and ‘shoes’ are common pronunciation mistakes here but it’s all a fun learing process! And, due to the fact that there is no letter ‘P’ in arabic, I’m still slightly amused when I hear ‘pizza’ called ‘bizza’.

  2. My experiences when I was teaching in Doha was that the vast majority of people their was able and willing to communicate in English, although not always in certain situations. With a large community of foreign workers an allowance for English language has been made by locals and visitors alike. Documents were regular translated into English, although on official documents Arabic was the only language. Teaching at an international school I came across both translated and Arabic only documents. Language barriers are their in Qatar, although only in certain situations, and can be avoided most of the time.

    • Alexandria Lipka says:

      Yes, very true, most language barriers arise in social situations or situations outside of work (the souk, taxis, smaller restaurants) and are really nothing to get worked up about. Certainly where I work, all official docs are in both Arabic and English and I think this is the norm now.
      Thanks for reading,

Leave a Reply

Your email address will not be published. Required fields are marked *