Pokemon Go

You’d be forgiven for thinking that recently, the world has been taken over by an insidious virus that makes children and adults alike stop dead in their tracks and start swiping at their smartphones madly while yelling “Gotcha!”. Some of you at this point will be nodding your heads in understanding, recognising what we’re describing. Others may be shaking their heads going: yes, I have seen everyone doing this but why on earth, why?

In July this year, the free-to-play (with in-app purchases) ‘Pokemon Go’ app was released and became a runaway success. The game involves going out into the real world (the game uses Google Maps data) to catch creatures called ‘Pokemon’ – the word being a combination of POKEt MONsters. Pokemon appear at random, some more often than others, and players ‘catch’ them using ‘pokeballs’. Caught Pokemon can then be viewed in the players’ inventory or traded for candy, which can be used to evolve or power up individual Pokemon.

Apart from being a great motivator to get out and do some exercise (the game rewards players for number of kilometres walked – take that, Fitbit!), the game has more opportunities for language growth and development than you’d think. Next time your child is talking about Pokemon, have a think about sneaking in some of these ideas into the conversation…

Talk about the Pokemon’s name – every Pokemon has a unique name and most Pokemon names are a combination of whole words or parts of words. For example, the Pokemon ‘Bulbasaur’ is a combination of ‘bulb’, as in the plant seed, and ‘saur’ as in ‘dinosaur’. Talking about what ‘real words’ have been used to create a Pokemon’s name is a great way to build phonological awareness skills. Phonological awareness is the ability to recognise that words are made of individual sounds or combinations of words and is an important skill for literacy development.

Talk about the name some more – you can also use the Pokemon’s name to work on spelling. Scrolling through the ‘Pokedex’ (the electronic record of all the Pokemon you’ve caught) you’ll notice that while some of the Pokemon’s names are combinations of other words, they’re not always spelled correctly. For example, the Pokemon ‘Likitung’ – try talking with your child about how the words ‘lick’ and ‘tongue’ would ACTUALLY be spelled. Other good ones to try – ‘Pinsir’, ‘Muk’, ‘Koffing’ and ‘Mankey’.

Keep talking about the name – sometimes the name of the Pokemon is not only related to its appearance. For example, the Pokemon ‘Doduo’ looks like a bird with two heads but is also a play on the word ‘Dodo’. This could provide an opportunity to talk about what bird the dodo was, and tap into the bigger theme of animal extinctions and other topics related to the environment. The Pokemon ‘Lapras’ is based on the Loch Ness monster story, which provides an opportunity to talk about geography (where the Loch Ness is) and encourages critical appraisal skills, if you talk about why some people believe in the monster’s existence and others don’t (a list of the hoaxes associated with the Loch Ness monster can be found on Wikipedia).

The mightiest Pokemon (and other qualities) – you might not know your Snorlax from your Sandslash (hats off to you if you do though!) but chances are your child does and is only too willing to tell you about it, given half the chance. This can be a great opportunity to model lots of comparative language – which Pokemon is the strongest, cutest, weakest etc. Ask your child why they think a particular Pokemon is the ‘-est’ to encourage them to practise their reasoning skills and being able to explain their reasoning to someone else. You can also use it as an opportunity to build descriptive vocabulary, for example, “I think Clefairy is the cutest because it has a fluffy pink tail” or “I think Aerodactyl is scarier than Ghastly because it has huge, sharp teeth”.

Try out the above ideas and not only will you have helped build your child’s language skills, you’ll be a Pokemon Master in no time!

Written by Rachel Pilowsky