Refugees from Ukraine and the language barrier

Ukrainian refugees arriving in Spain learn to use emoji,

Ukrainian refugees set foot on Spanish soil. Far from their war-torn homeland, they can finally feel safe. The long and arduous journey is over, but adaptation lies ahead. And there the main barrier is the language.

Antonio Jerez, a Spaniard who has adopted a Ukrainian family:
“I went to Budapest to pick up a Ukrainian family who needed a shelter. We all flew to Spain together. It was difficult. I speak very little English, and so do they… The only way to communicate was through a Spanish translator on the phone.

Ukraine, where Ukrainian and Russian are the most widely spoken languages, doesn’t have strong cultural or economic ties with Spain. So it’s not easy to find Spanish-speakers among Ukrainians.

Jaime Velasquez, Euronews correspondent:
“Many Ukrainians use translation software on their phones to communicate with locals in their host countries. But interest in Ukrainian is growing there too. The number of people worldwide learning it with the help of applications such as Duolingo has increased by more than 500%.

Lack of language skills can isolate newcomers and prevent them from integrating. The Spanish Communications Agency has developed a free guide to using emoji to help Ukrainians not get lost in their everyday lives.

Mario Tascon, director of the Prodigioso volcan comms agency, said:
“We start from the premise that everyone has the right to be understood. And in this situation, it’s even more important. And not only for refugees, but also for locals.

Similar tools are used by various foundations and organizations that help refugees at the outset and with the most urgent issues, such as medical care.


Mario Tascon:
“This toolkit is like a life vest – most needed by those in the first line of refugee assistance_ – when they first arrive. Here’s an example: a woman with two children, she doesn’t even know where she is, but she can point to an emoji and thus indicate what she needs.”_

A visual guide for children is now in development so that they can continue their education in schools. There are also free Spanish courses so that even Ukrainians far from their native country can feel at home here.