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Why do the Metkayina Speak English in 'Avatar: The Way of Water'
Image via 20th Century Fox

How do the Metkayina clan know English in ‘Avatar: The Way of Water?’

Do they have Duolingo on Pandora or what?

Warning: The following article contains spoilers for Avatar: The Way of Water.

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After 13 long years in the making, James Cameron’s follow-up to the best-selling film of all time has finally landed on shores around the world for audiences to once again dive headfirst back into the world of Pandora.

Avatar: The Way of Water sees Jake, Neytiri, and their clan of rugrats leave their Omaticaya clan turf in order to keep themselves safe from the clutches of the returned sky people who are out for revenge on the human-turned-Na’vi. They seek asylum with the Metkayina people of the reef, where the majority of the film takes place, hence the title of the long-awaited sequel.

However, a somewhat glaring issue presents itself the moment that the Sully clan steps foot on their destination and the two parties open their mouths to speak. They converse in English. Given that the first film made sure audiences understood how a select few Na’vi came to learn English thanks to Grace Augustine’s school, it seems like a bit of an oversight on Cameron and the company’s part to leave out how exactly the Metkayina learned the language of the sky people.

Regardless, here are a few leading theories we have on the matter.

The Metkayina learned English after the events of the first film

Avatar's Ikran People
Credit: 20th Century Fox

We should consider for a moment that a significant amount of time has passed between Avatar and Avatar: The Way of Water. After all, Sully and Neytiri had three of their own kids, two of which were teenagers by the time the sequel’s opening credits rolled.

For now, let’s cast ourselves back to the third act of the first film – Grace dies, and Sully, who has been minted Toruk Makto, sends the Omaticaya out to rally other clans to the cause of driving the sky people back. In a montage, Sully recaps that they enlisted the help of the horse clans of the plain and the Ikran people of the eastern sea. 

In a situation report to his troops, Qualritch recounts that this bolstered the Na’vi numbers to 2000, with a potential for over 20,000 if left unchecked. There’s every chance the Metkayina were also involved in the conflict, considering that Sully and Tonowarki greeted each other like old friends when he came seeking asylum in the second film.

Perhaps in the years between films, important figureheads from all of the Pandoran clans learned English from Sully, Spider, and the other humans that remained on the planet, in the event that they would ever have to liaise with more of their kind when they made their inevitable return. 

Eywa taught the Na’vi the English language

Credit: 20th Century Fox

Another dominant theory that has been making the rounds online is a bit of a lazy workaround to explain this possible plot hole away, that being that the Na’vi were taught English by Eywa by connecting with the natural world around them. 

Of course, a potential issue with this theory is that The Way of Water shows that not every single Na’vi seen in the film can speak English, such as the village that Quaritch and his goons interrogate to ascertain Jake’s whereabouts, leading us to our third, final, and most simple explanation.

The Metkayina speak English for the sake of the audience

Credit: 20th Century Fox

Given that the bulk of the film takes place on Metkayina turf and human characters have a noticeably lesser involvement in the sequel, there’s every possibility that Cameron and his production team opted to have the water tribe speak English purely for the sake of not having 80 percent of the film’s dialogue be subtitled. 

While this explanation may cause a little bit of ire in the science fiction-loving community who appreciated the attention to language detail in the first film, Avatar is far from a small independent film that can get away with taking bold creative risks and have a big Hollywood blockbuster be predominantly spoken in a foreign language. 

They have the original film’s legacy to protect and can’t risk the bad press of the follow-up to the most successful film of all time being a box office flop because subtitle-averse viewers who only wanted to go to the cinema to switch their brains off and enjoy a stock-standard action/adventure film were deterred by the prospect of having to read for the better part of three hours. 

Whatever the explanation may be, as the film rolls out around the world over its opening weekend, we’re certain this will be a recurring question among fans that Cameron and his team will end up needing to address directly. We’ll keep you posted if they do. 

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Peter Kohnke
Peter is an Associate Editor at We Got This Covered, based in Australia. He loves sinking his time into grindy MMO's like Destiny 2, Final Fantasy XIV, and Old School RuneScape. Peter holds a Masters Degree in Media from Macquarie University in Sydney, AU, and dabbled with televised business/finance journalism in a past life.