Our commitments to helping refugees

Our commitments to helping refugees

Our commitments to helping refugees

On any given day, millions of Duolingo learners use our product to improve their language skills. Learners from around the world study to communicate with family members, prepare for an overseas trip, or even complement their classroom lessons.

However, many Duolingo learners are simply trying to learn how to survive in new countries. Refugees face numerous challenges, including adapting to entirely new languages. This World Refugee Day, we are honored to build upon our existing partnership with the International Rescue Committee and the United Nations High Commissioner for Refugees to support quality educational opportunities for refugees.

Our commitments to helping refugees

Improving educational equity for refugees

Since Duolingo’s mission is to develop the best education in the world and make it universally available, we know we can and should play a leading role in improving educational equity. This is especially true when it comes to learner communities who face the greatest need.

Language learning is critical in helping refugees, who are forced to escape their homes due to conflict. Language skills are crucial to improving communication with new host communities and for refugees' successful integration.

Reaching refugees through our partnerships

We have long believed that refugees are already using Duolingo, but the reality is it's difficult for us to know that for sure. Unexpected learning trends, like a large number of people learning Swedish in Sweden, sometimes signal activity from immigrants or refugees. In 2018 we traveled to Turkey and Jordan and made a documentary about the impact of language learning on Syrian refugees.

While Duolingo's reach is global, the real work of helping refugees is local and requires specialized expertise and dedication. Fortunately, there are organizations such as the International Rescue Committee (IRC) and the United Nations High Commissioner for Refugees (UNHCR) who work to serve refugee interests.

International Rescue Committee

The IRC currently works in over 40 countries and in over 20 cities in the United States, where they support refugees, asylum-seekers, and survivors of trafficking as they rebuild their lives and find stability in their new US communities.

Our partnership with the IRC began in mid-2020, when a group of Duolingo employees raised over $6000 in combined funds and in-kind donations to support the IRC’s US-based refugee education programs. Shortly after, we launched a pilot program where resettled refugees in the US received access to Duolingo Plus, our premium subscription, at no cost.

Based on the success of this pilot, we are expanding our partnership in two ways. First, we are pledging thousands of additional Duolingo Plus subscriptions to the IRC and the communities they work with -- including those from the Northern Triangle. Second, we are funding a grant to assist the IRC in distributing these Plus subscriptions and to measure the impact of our partnership. English-language literacy is a critical component in the IRC’s services to help families navigate their new communities, find employment, pursue education, and make ties with new neighbors. Our vision is that our partnership with the IRC will complement the formal education that resettled refugees currently receive and result in the relevant skills, knowledge, and competencies that improve integration into their local host communities.

Additionally, we are expanding our Duolingo English Test Access program to hundreds of the IRC’s clients. Through this program, Duolingo will waive the $49 exam fee for refugees who are on their path to higher education.

UNHCR - The UN Refugee Agency

The Duolingo English Test endeavors to change the narrative for refugee students and their prospects for higher education. We will hire a university counselor to support UNHCR and work with refugees to advise them through the university admissions and financial aid process. Applying to a university is a complex and stressful process for everyone -- but for refugees, it is almost impossible. Only 3% of all refugees worldwide ever enroll at a university. We recognize that refugees are particularly underserved and underrepresented in higher education in part because they lack university counseling support.

An experienced university counselor is a game changer for refugees enrolling in university study. Refugees must navigate an already complicated application process -- made significantly more complex due to incomplete documentation. In addition, they must receive a full scholarship from that university, which requires a lot of knowledge about financial aid and the schools and organizations that provide it.

Duolingo English Test is proud and honored to support UNHCR’s 15by30 initiative, which aims to increase refugee enrollment in higher education to 15% by 2030, by establishing this program which we hope will be transformative in creating a framework for refugees’ access to higher education.

We’re just getting started

We’re honored to partner alongside the IRC and UNHCR and help improve educational opportunities for refugees, and we know our commitments are just the first steps toward our end goal of improving educational equity for refugees.

We are sincerely grateful to the IRC and UNHCR for their partnership, and to the millions of Duolingo Plus subscribers whose contributions help support our mission and provide educational opportunities to refugees and other underserved communities around the world.

Back to blog