sexta-feira, 30 de março de 2012

English with Harry Potter

Lessons from Harry Potter

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.

For language learners, Harry Potter has a few advantage over a lot of other youth literature. The first is that it is immensely popular and so has been translated into a ton of languages. If you’re learning a language, HP has probably been translated into it. A second advantage that HP offers is that it is a series. A third advantage is that the books have all been made into movies that stay fairly close to the original story line.

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.


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