By helping displaced Ukrainians learn a new language, Berlin's Babbel has taken its chance to make a difference

Soon after Ukrainians started arriving in Berlin, Babbel decided it had an opportunity to do something special.
By helping displaced Ukrainians learn a new language, Berlin's Babbel has taken its chance to make a difference

More than 500,000 Ukrainian users have registered for German, English and Polish language learning from Berlin-based Babbel, which put plans into action to create a free service for Ukrainians shortly after the war broke out.

Given the lack of a commercial incentive, it was a big decision to dedicate internal resources, but the company's pleased with the feedback and believes scaling might be in order to reach more Ukrainians starting lives overseas.

"The team said we want to create resources for Ukrainian refugees. Being in Berlin,  from day one we had 1,000s of Ukrainian refugees pouring into the city," said Christian Hillemeyer, Babbel director of communications.

"Of course, only very few of them spoke German. And we were aware because we were very active when the Syria war broke out in 2015. 

"We were very aware that a language barrier will keep these Ukrainians from building themselves a new life, or going about their day."

Babbel employs some 1,200 linguists, but despite its reputation in the language learning domain, there wasn't a Ukrainian language version of its app. Given the immediacy of refugee arrivals, that meant deploying its linguists on the new project for weeks, but Babbel concluded it was worth it.

"You can imagine, as a commercial company we have things to do. So to say, stop doing that, or do this instead without the economic ambition, it was quite a tough call.

"But in the end, it was the CEOs decision to say we want to stay true to our purpose, let's build these courses."

Hillemeyer said Ukrainian refugees were frequently getting in touch to say they'd found the free service useful. He's using the opportunity today to spread the word and says there's no reason Babbel couldn't help millions of displaced citizens.

"The refugees reach out pretty often to tell us their story," Hillemeyer said. "So it's a pretty great impact we're making there with people getting to us, saying 'I never learned a language. I'm in Poland with my daughter, and now I managed to find a job because of you."

Babbel can be accessed using a smartphone app, readily available for many Ukrainian refugees, and is capable of helping learners reach B1 language efficiency.

Aside from language learning, Babbel has also put together special resources for new Ukrainian arrivals in Germany, Poland and the UK, including vocab glossaries and in-app push notifications to volunteer at refugee welcome centres.

This article is part of's highlighting of remarkable Ukrainian startups on the one-year anniversary of the Russo-Ukrainian War. Read more ...

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