Harry Potter for Language Learners

Aug 23, 2008

Posted by NickTLC

Hi everyone! This is Nick Rhein, Doris’ co-admin on the Leaky Lounge, filling in while Doris is busy getting her kids ready for school. She will be back here next week!

I’m currently a college student studying to be a high school Spanish teacher, and I plan on using Harry Potter in my future classroom as well, but not always in the ways you might think. I’ll explain some ways that a foreign language teacher or English as a Second Language (ESL) instructor could use the books in their classroom to enhance learning.

Using the Books

It helps immensely when reading texts in another language if the students have already been exposed to the text in their own language. This eliminates the need to explain the plot as you go and helps you focus on your real goal: the language. It also lets you examine English grammar before going into Spanish grammar, which sets up the schema that students will need in order to understand what is being said. A book that holds a student’s attention the whole time is, of course, very preferable, and Harry Potter is famous worldwide many would say for that very reason.

The new vocabulary in the Harry Potter books tends to stick around through the whole series, which is a great benefit. Lechuza (owl) and escoba (broom) are great examples. Many of the other new vocabulary words are more specific ways of describing words that students would already know, like vagar (to roam or wander) instead of andar (to walk) or enterarse (to find out about or become aware of something) instead of darse cuenta (to realize).

The Harry Potter books lend themselves very well to literature circles, as much in the foreign language classroom as in the language arts classroom. Chapters tend to be episodic, so groups can read each episode, digest it, and then express it in a new way before moving on to the next one. Since the first two books in the series are written with younger readers in mind, these are perfect for those learning a new language without making them feel like they are reading books meant for kindergarteners.

Going beyond the Books

While at Lumos2006, a Harry Potter conference held in Las Vegas two years ago this month, my co-admin and I both attended a presentation by a college professor who was discussing a problem she had in her ESL classes. Her students were smart, but they were book-smart: they knew very proper and correct English only. The problem is, nobody speaks like that in the real world. She had to find a way to expose her students to language that can’t be found in a textbook, that doesn’t always follow the rules, and that feels natural and normal instead of uptight, while still being able to present it in a variety of ways and tie it into something that interested the students.

In stepped PotterCast, Leaky’s Harry Potter podcast, and our team of transcription elves to her rescue! She described using the transcripts to show the students the written version of what they were hearing, and having them use it as a springboard for in-class discussions and writings on Harry Potter.

The opposite of this could easily be used for English-speakers learning other languages. Podcasts, vlogs (video blogs), and other media created by (reputable) normal people have great educational value, so long as they are only one tool among many in your bag of tricks.

These are just a few examples. Share in the comments any ideas or suggestions you have for using Harry Potter in the ESL and foreign language classroom!

8 Responses to Harry Potter for Language Learners

Avatar Image says:

Very cool. I had read the first book in french for fun and to become more comfortable with the french language as I was taking it in school at the time. It was a very enjoyable and different experience for me and I must agree with all that Nick has said above.

Also, the idea of podcasts to hear casual language in use is a very innovative and ingenious idea. Very cool.


Avatar Image says:

I learned English this way. I’m from Germany and I know each book by heart so that was just the next step. Then I started listening to Pottercast and meanwhile I’m best in my class. :-))

Avatar Image says:

I took German in college, and it is terrifying to be thrown in on a language when you don’t understand it, I took German because my husband speaks it and its annoying not knowing what he and/or his friends are saying. I purchased the first two Harry Potter books in order to help me keep up my German and get a better understanding and larger vocabulary. Thankfully since english is a germanic language the grammer is very similar. But its a great idea to do something fun in order to help people learn. I didn’t like the cheesy foreign language videos of “normal” people hanging out that we watched. And all the forgein films were all scheduled outside of class and were not required so seeing as I had other classes I skipped all of those.

Avatar Image says:

i’M also from Germany!! and i also – kind of- learned lots of my english from the books =)

Avatar Image says:

Saludos! Soy Enrique desde Argentina. Suponiendo que quien redactó la nota es Nick Rhein, calculo que es la persona que está estudiando para el profesorado de español? si es asi, saludos Nick :) Es muy interesante ver este tipo de notas y emociona saber que hay gente como vos que tiene mucho interés en nuestro idioma. Quisiera saber cuales de la gran cantidad de variantes del español estás estudiando, o cual español es el que se permite enseñar en Estados Unidos, el español de España? el de Mexico? No pongo a Argentina como opción porque difiere mucho del castellano neutro o el que se suele enseñar alrededor del mundo. En fin, principalmente tenia ganas de escribir en mi propio idioma en esta EXCELENTE pagina de HP, ya que generalmente lo hago en inglés. Suponiendo que el español no es tu idioma nativo, cualquier cosa que te interese saber, conocer, o solo por practicar, ahi está mi e-mail!

By the way I’ve studied English for some years now, and every time I put it on practice with a native speaker it just thrills me (like in this moment, for example!) Good luck!

Avatar Image says:


Avatar Image says:


Avatar Image says:

That so cool that a teacher would let his students listen to and read podcasts (via transcripts)! That’s a brilliant idea.

Good luck with your future Spanish classes!

Write a Reply or Comment

Finding Hogwarts

The Leaky Cauldron is not associated with J.K. Rowling, Warner Bros., or any of the individuals or companies associated with producing and publishing Harry Potter books and films.