Screenshot from the Finnish-Language Pokémon Website.
Few cartoon series have been localized as widely as the journeys of Ash Ketchum and his many friends. In addition to the usual advantages of using TV series to learn languages (patterns and repetition are essential in creating a space for your target language in your brain), the Pokémon Anime also endows a number of unique quirks that are definitely worth mentioning.
If you came here to find a listicle, you’re absolutely right!
- The Cartoons are Available for Free Online
On The Pokémon Company’s official website, as of the time of writing, you can access the site in the following languages: English, Spanish (EU), French, Italian, German, Russian, Portuguese (Brazil), Dutch, Swedish, Norwegian, Danish and Finnish. (There is also the Japanese site as well but I can’t really access the site map aside from a Pokémon Go download link as of the time of writing).
You can use the versions of the site in order to access (from anywhere in the world, mind you) not only various episodes of the anime but also various flash games that are completely localized in all of these languages. There are other features on the site as well, and obviously in the bigger languages the site is more complete (with a Pokédex available in some of these languages).
Furthermore, the content and layout of the anime episodes will vary depending on language and sometimes they “rotate”, so when you access the site on different days or weeks you’ll get different episodes.
To access the website in these languages, just type in “pokemon.com/XX”, where XX is one of the letter codes: ES (Spanish), BR (Portuguese), DE (German), FR (French), IT (Italian), RU (Russian), NL (Dutch), SE (Swedish), NO (Norwegian), DK (Danish) and FI (Finnish). Pokemon.com takes you to the English version of the site.
Once you’re on the site, click on the TV icon and have fun! (Or you can fiddle around and browse all the while).
If you are not learning one of those languages, you can also access, via YouTube or other sites, the anime in the following languages (and probably many more, depending on where in the world you are): Polish, Hungarian, Bulgarian, Latin Spanish, Portuguese (EU), Czech and Romanian. (If I missed any, let me know in the comments. I know that the anime is sometimes localized into languages such as Greek, Hebrew, Cantonese, Mandarin and Japanese, but I can’t find any depositories of them online, although sometimes the Pokémon movies are available in all of the languages listed on this page with more ease. Sometimes these movies will be available on the websites).
- The Speed of the Dialogue is Perfect for a Beginner-to-Intermediate Learner
This was oddly consistent throughout a lot of the localizations of the anime, as well as the English Dub.
What’s also very odd about the speed is that speaking at the speed that many of the characters do in the Pokémon anime is actually completely natural for a native speaker.
While learning Hebrew, Russian and Spanish in high school and college, one extraordinary hurdle I had was that I was addressed in low-speed “Learnerese” a lot of the time. Then thrown into the real world of these languages, I really didn’t know how to speak like anything natural. The same was true with most of the teachers that addressed me as well (although there were noteworthy exceptions).
One thing I really liked about the Pokémon TV show in various languages was that it presented the perfect speed for a learner that was anywhere between beginner and intermediate. It wasn’t too slow, but it also was just the right speed that was suitable for a conversation.
Granted, there are some more challenging parts, primarily the Team Rocket Motto (which is probably the most difficult portion for learners to understand), but above all most of the dialogue should be at a manageable speed for you.
And even if you don’t understand it, the Pokémon anime can still be helpful for a learner because…
- The Pokémon Anime is Rich is Visual Context Clues
When Team Rocket talks about their plans to capture Pikachu, often you’ll notice that a significant amount of illustrations and animated visuals accompany their plan. You can actually use this in order to make out what is happening even if you really don’t have a clue what’s being said.
Keep in mind, kids learn their first languages with the aids of cartoons like these, and these visual cues help them…and that means they can also help you!
Another example in which visual cues are also used is when Ash and his friends encounter a landscape or a cityscape or a colony of Pokemon (among many other things). You’ll also notice that every member of Ash’s party often remarks on what is being said. Pay attention to these short phrases. They’ll be extremely useful throughout your language learning journey.
Also, during battles, note that some key words are also repeated at key actions, as well as various words and styles used depending on what emotions the characters are feeling. Anime is very rich in expressing people’s emotions across many different lines, so that should also help.
Speaking of battles…
- In Some Localizations and Seasons, the names of Pokémon and their Techniques will be in English. Use this for accent training.
In Japanese, Chinese, Korean, French and German, the Pokémon’s names will be localized. In all other languages they will use the English versions of the Pokémon names, and in the Nordic dubs in the later seasons the techniques will also be recited in English (although the names of the Pokémon types are NEVER localized).
You can use this to your advantage if you really want to train your accent in these languages if you pay attention to the quirks in how these English names and words are pronounced by the voice actors.
If you’re a native English speaker, pay attention to pronunciations that may sound strange to you. Even in the Nordic dubs I’ve caught a handful of complicated Latinate technique names being butchered, although examples escape me.
Interestingly, in comparison to casual speech in many of these languages, the dubs are significantly low on English loan words (the way that German or Dutch in particular tend to use them very often). You may be able to snag one once in a while, even in languages like Portuguese and Russian in which Anglicisms are rarer than in languages like Norwegian.
- The Pokemon Anime Provides a Plethora of Stimuli that Can Serve as Memory Techniques
If you hear a phrase or a word you need to remember, you’re going to forget it easily unless you find something to “connect” it with. It could be a funny incident involving the word, it could be a story involving the word, or you could associate it with your environment or feelings at the time.
(This is why learning the language in an immersive environment is so helpful.)
The Anime provides memorable characters in the Pokémon themselves, as well as a host of settings and music tracks that you can connect to the phrases you’re taking in.
And we haven’t even touched on the possibility that you can also connect various words and phrases to plot points in the story. Not also to mention you can do what kids do: re-watch your favorite episodes endlessly (again, this is how kids learn their first language!)
- Various Portions have No Dialogue at all (or Dialogue in Pokémon Speech). Use This Time to Reflect on What Words You’ve Heard and How to Internalize Them.
One thing that can be frustrating about watching Pokémon in a language you’re learning is that sometimes the action shifts to having the cute monsters hop around the screen or just looking at landscapes or, true to anime fashion, just having characters look at each other with menacing stares (in addition to many other down-time situations that I haven’t touched on!)
Use this time in order to develop memory techniques to fully internalize any words you’ve learned earlier on in the episode.
Also, if you’re having trouble picking up words, feel free to type something that sounds like it into Google Translate or another dictionary thing. It will usually correct you, especially if it is a phonetic language. Otherwise, if you don’t have a translator, you can use context clues. This is especially helpful if you’ve seen the episode before in a language you understand better.
One of the most successful animated cartoon shows in history can be used as a learning tool with surprising efficiency, given its ability to weave words with storylines and illustrations. The episodes themselves are perfect for a learner seeking to make his or her way out of the “language learner material ghetto” (as All Japanese All the Time refers to it as).
I should mention that I don’t have a lot of experience using this show with East Asian Languages given that my East Asian Languages that I’m working on ever-so-slightly (Burmese and Lao) don’t have localizations (as far as I know).
So if you’ve had experience doing that, let me know what I missed out on! Part of me thinks it may not all be that different!