There’s an underexploited, rich seam of fun, bite-sized authentic materials out there. Especially if you find yourself reminiscing wistfully on your childhood television memories. Bring on the cartoon themes – in translation!
Now, I’m not talking about the big, blockbusting Disney feature animations. Those are, of course, a different subtype of this genre (and no less handy for language learning).
Instead, this is about pure nostalgia of the small-time kids’ shows of yesteryear as an engine for language learning. It’s about reliving those half-forgotten, often very modest-budget productions with some of the catchiest tunes composed for TV. Many a bored moment I’ve spent idly browsing YouTube, wondering along the lines of “what did ‘Dogtanian and the Muskahounds’ sound like in Polish?”. And yes, YouTube really does have almost everything in its cartoon themes annals. As obscure as you care you conjure up, it’s probably there.
And go on then… While we’re at it, let’s throw Disney back into the mix. Just not the big cinema headliners, but the cartoon series of decades past with some of the biggest earworms of all.
Ah, the soundtracks to our childhoods.
It’s not just a trip down memory lane, of course. It’s the geekiest (and most satisfying) of language learning party tricks to memorise the lyrics to these wee jingles, ready to reel off and impress friends and family at the slightest cue. And, like all automatic, rote memorisation tasks (like the mass sentence technique), it’s a brilliant exercise for phonetic finessing of pronunciation, accent and prosody. That’s not to mention the extra vocab you’ll pick up along the way.
Remarkably for non-pop songs, some lyrics sites even include entries for these childhood gems, like this entry for Spanish Duck Tales (or Patolandia!). Failing that, some helpful native speakers have occasionally added them in the video comments themselves, as with this upload of Gummi Bears in Greek.
That’s not to say you shouldn’t try to transcribe them as you hear them first, of course. They just help with some of the more magical vocabulary. No way was I going to get that “περιπέτεια συγκλονιστική” meant “astounding adventure” without help!
Remember, too, that these shows touched the hearts of so many around the world. As such, they make a lovely way to make a native speaker smile. And probably think you quite odd, too, but there’s no shame in that!
Which cartoon theme tunes are you particularly fond of? And do they exist in your target languages? Let us know in the comments!