The impact of English on workplace efficiency in Qatar

by  — 30 June 2013

Speaking with The Edge, Ryan Peden, managing consultant at Peden Consulting, shares his insights on workplace language usage in Qatar.

Ryan Peden, managing consultant at Peden Consulting, believes that the response of Qatari organisations towards English language training has improved over time.

With many nationalities in its workforce, the need for a lingua franca in Qatar cannot be underestimated. What comes along with cultural diversity are the challenges of clear communication among the employees, something identified in the second language survey on workplace communication conducted by Peden Consulting, specialised in the areas of learning and development, education, language and business development across Europe and the Gulf.

To see some of the results of the survey click here.

What were some of the major findings of the language survey done this year?

Firstly, the vast majority of respondents confirmed the significant language diversity that exists in Qatar’s workplaces. Only two percent of respondents identified that they had one common native language among all staff at their workplace, while nearly half said they had five or more different native languages spoken in their workplace. 

Secondly, over half of the organisations participating in the survey believed that language and communication challenges impacted workplace performance. When specifically asked about sales, marketing and customer service activities, nearly 40 percent believed that language difficulties had negatively impacted their results.

“Effective language training often requires a large time investment of several months.”

Finally, in this year’s survey we explored the perceived English language abilities of staff based on region of origin. These questions were asked because depending on where staff come from, there may be different standards of English education and knowledge, and correspondingly a need for further language training to work effectively in English-speaking working environments. The results indicated that those from MENA, South Asia and local Qatari staff could benefit most from improvements in English language ability.

What are some of the changes you have seen in the survey results of this year compared to the last one? 

Two areas of note were the perceived English language ability of local Qatari staff and how organisations rate their language training courses. 

The percentage of respondents saying their Qatari staff had a high proficiency in English increased from 40 to 59 percent. The 2013 survey had significantly more respondents, which may explain some of this variance, but also a possible reason for this change could be the high investment organisations recently made in training their Qatari staff connected to Qatarisation programmes.

The second major change is the number of respondents rating their workplace English courses as highly effective. The past few years have seen new arrivals to the language training market in Qatar, and as new international organisations set up operations locally, and those already established providers continue to improve their services to remain competitive, more high quality language training options are available to companies in Qatar.

How willing are the companies in Qatar to train their employees in English language?

In general, I believe most organisations have a willingness to invest in English language training, but a number of factors influence this decision, including the budget allocated towards staff training and perceived urgency of language training. Unfortunately, seeking language training is often triggered when a communication issue already exists, and unlike some other forms of training which can be quickly delivered in a single workshop, effective language training often requires a large time investment of several months.

“Effective language training often requires a large time investment of several months.”

In addition to the above, although many companies are willing to invest in training for local Qatari staff, fewer organisations allocate training investment for staff of other nationalities. Eventually, language training is something that can have a significant impact on workplace performance regardless of
staff nationality. 

What are the challenges when convincing the companies in Qatar to arrange English training programmes for their employees?

One of the main challenges I have observed is convincing companies to choose programmes that are relevant to their business needs. Although some organisations are quite advanced in their vendor selection procedures, others are still developing in this area.

Customised courses offered in the companies’ own premises offer them the chance to receive training specifically tailored to their own business needs and can significantly reduce the per head training cost over time.

Another key challenge is convincing companies of training course quality from local providers. There are a number of low cost options, but with variable trainer quality. Negative experiences with local providers have led some companies who can afford it to invest in overseas training options. Local vendors need to ensure they are conforming to the highest professional standards, to overcome this challenge.

What is the weakest area of language you see in employees in Qatar? 

The weakest area of English language I have observed in Qatar is writing, and unfortunately this is often the hardest area to train for. Many organisations I have worked with find that although conversational English ability means verbally most things can be conveyed easily, with so much of business relying on written communication like e-mails and reports, writing skills can lead to misunderstandings that impact workplace performance. This is a common problem for most non-native speakers of English regardless of where they come from, and training options to overcome this need to focus on practice and feedback over a period of time and not just a single workshop or other quick-fix solutions.

“Negative experiences with local providers have led some companies who can afford it to invest in overseas training options.”

Some companies in Qatar have in-house English training programmes. How effective are they?

Although investing in such a programme is beyond the financial capacity of some organisations, these programmes tend to be very effective as they can be tailored specifically to the companies’ needs. However, many of these programmes still rely on outside providers to deliver course content when further training capacity is needed or when speciality language areas need to be covered.

Most English training programmes are designed for managers and middle managers, what about the lower staff of the organisation?

Training for lower levels of staff is also important for some organisations, particularly those who have a large number of lower level staff in client-facing positions, for example in service-based industries. What is important for such organisations is to identify the level of language needed in different positions, as where some positions may require a high level of proficiency to ensure effective workplace communication, others may only require a moderate level of proficiency focussed on the specific tasks they need to perform.

When it comes to conducting surveys, the responses are highly subjective. How then do you ensure the results are reliable?

Unfortunately, one of the biggest challenges in a survey of this nature is that it is based on the perceptions of individuals filling in the survey. However, these general perceptions do provide interesting insights that need to be accompanied with more scientific assessment of language ability for companies that are considering investing in workplace language training.

Are the surveys supported by secondary research tools such as interviews or case studies?

Over the coming months, we will be following up with survey respondents to develop case studies on how organisations have addressed communication and language challenges in their workplaces. We hope the experiences of these organisations will help others in addressing their own workplace communication challenges.

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