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Learning languages from Harry Potter

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November 24, 2011

On November 25, the University of Calgary’s Language Research Centre will launch a one-of-a-kind online collection of audio readings from all 70 translations of Harry Potter and the Philosopher’s Stone, the first novel in J.K. Rowling’s Harry Potter series. The multilingual collection of readings was created as a resource for students and teachers of language, but is expected to appeal to anyone who is interested in language or is a Harry Potter enthusiast.

“It is difficult to find any single book that is translated into so many languages,” says Mary O’Brien, director of the University of Calgary’s Language Research Centre. “Since Harry Potter is one of the most translated books ever and has world-wide appeal, it was a perfect choice. The readings let people hear what different languages sound like and compare the same words and phrases across languages. The site also creates an opportunity to make children aware of the multi-lingual environment in which we live.”

O’Brien and colleague Rahat Naqvi, professor in the Faculty of Education, along with German graduate students Isabell Woelfel and Mike Ryszka spent a full year searching for native speakers in all 70 languages, which include everything from Hindi and Afrikaans to Ancient Greek and Latin. Almost all of the readers are Calgarians. The idea for the project came from Nicholas Žekulin, professor of Russian and former director of the Language Research Centre. The books belong to Žekulin, who began collecting the translations while travelling through Europe and after receiving the first as a Christmas gift.

“The most difficult to source were speakers of Albanian and Asturian” says O’Brien. “We received assistance from the Southern Alberta Heritage Language Association and community associations who helped us recruit native speakers of some of the lesser known languages.”

The Language Research Centre will host a launch event for the project on November 25 at 3 pm in Craigie Hall D 420 at the University of Calgary. The event will include an exhibition of all 70 translated versions of Harry Potter and the Philosopher’s Stone, live readings from the novel by native speakers of five languages, a short talk about the cultural significance of the Harry Potter series, and a presentation on a study making use of Harry Potter in translation in Calgary’s heritage language schools. The event is free and open to the public, but people should rsvp to

The online collection of readings is available to download at