I’m not exactly a fan of the Harry Potter (HP) series of books, but they do provide a useful and fun tool for learning Turkish. I first read HP 1 when I was teaching high school English back in South Dakota. I wanted to know what all the buzz was about and after reading, I still wanted to know what all the buzz was about. But Harry Potter can be a great resource for language learners and as I have read the first and now am finishing up the second in Turkish, I have made a number of observations that I want to pass on in hopes that they will help you as language learners understand the importance that reading can play on this journey.
Here is how my Harry Potter journey has progressed:
In 2007 I read HP for the first time in English.
April 2011 I read HP in Turkish.
After reading HP 1 in Turkish, I purchase the movie, watch it first in English and then four times in Turkish.
May 2011 I begin reading HP 2.
Half way through HP 2, I buy the movie and watch it in English.
June 2011 I finish HP 2 and watch the movie in Turkish.
Having read the first book, when I began reading the story in Turkish, I had a basic understanding of the story, insight into the personalities of the characters, and I know what the ultimate climax and resolution were in the story. In other words I had a significant amount of background knowledge. I did not know the Turkish words for all the ‘magic’ words like wand, cloak, spell, wizard, troll or potion, but I did know that they would come up in the story and so I was able to anticipate them. Most of the ‘magic’ words I was able to figure out from the context and my background knowledge.
The great thing about reading books from a series is that the new knowledge gained in the first book often carries into the next book. For example, when I began reading book two, I knew Harry and Dumbledore and and the others from book one. As well, many of the new words I had learned in the first book were no longer barriers to understanding. I already knew all of the ‘magic’ words. Seeing them in book two acted as a form of integrated review causing them to became more deeply ingrained in my understanding. But of course it wasn’t just the ‘magic’ words, it was also a whole group of new verbs, nouns, adjectives and a handful of new expressions – parts of the Turkish language that are used in everyday speech.
One problem I encountered with book two however was that new characters were introduced as was a new problem that Harry, Ron and Hermione had to figure out and defeat. While I knew the carry over characters and a lot of the story specific language, the new people – especially Professor Lockhart. I knew that Professor Snape was a bit mean, but was good. Lockhart however, I couldn’t figure out. I wasn’t tracking his character and was unable to figure out if he was good or bad or just really proud and into himself. I also was really having a hard time knowing what the problem was and who the bad guy was. I was a bit lost so after seven chapters I decided to do something about it.
I bought the movie and watched it in English. The story suddenly became clear. Lockhart is a comical character – I wasn’t getting that before. I understood the When I returned to read chapter eight, the story took on new meaning and I felt like I was understanding 10 – 20% more than before. The background knowledge the movie provided opened up the story to me in new ways. I was feeling more confident, understanding more and enjoying reading the story more and more. All of this conspired to keep me reading so that not only was I getting more comprehensible input, I was also spending more time reading and subsequently, more time with the language.
Harry Potter and other books in a series can be a great light reading and a great resource for language learning. Check out one today.