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Should you Read Harry Potter and Lord of the Rings in Japanese? — 13 Comments

  1. While Harry Potter and the Philosopher’s Stone in Japanese was not hugely difficult for me (and gave me a lot of fun sentences to add to my flashcards) I could barely get through the first chapter or so of The Hobbit. Even though I’m a massive fan of LoTR, I can’t even imagine what it must be like reading the trilogy in Japanese.

    • Harry Potter will definitely provide some fun vocabulary. LOTR made me wonder sometimes hmm… will I need to ever know this specific type of axe?

  2. I listen to Harry Potter and study the text along side (I haven’t got very far). There are a lot of words that Mr dursley uses that are strange to me and my Japanese tutor warned me that his speech is quite vulgar (which is different from the English Mr Dursley). So there’s a trap for the unwary too.

    • You bring up a good point though that using Harry Potter as a listening resource (instead of reading the novel) is another possible alternative.

      Hagrid is also given a very different dialect.

  3. I’m extremely familiar with Harry Potter in English from my growing up years, and I began reading Harry Potter and the Sorcerer’s Stone in Japanese basically upon finishing RTK. I didn’t understand very much, but I understood enough from kanji meanings and known backing context from previous familiarity to be entertained for a while. I read a few chapters but eventually got kinda lost/bored and moved to other things. I definitely recommend attempting it early and often to any Japanese learner who has kanji knowledge and an understanding of the HP universe; even though I didn’t finish, it gave me a lot of good exposure I almost certainly wouldn’t have gotten so early otherwise, and I enjoyed it in the moment. I expect it’d be a slog for anyone who isn’t familiar at least until mid-intermediate though.

    I attempted reading The Hobbit and LotR in English when I was a teen; I finished The Hobbit, but thought it was totally boring, and I didn’t survive a chapter of LotR (especially after how bored I was reading The Hobbit). Given that experience, I can’t say I’ve ever had any urge to give them a shot in Japanese.

  4. I have thought about doing this but my series is/was The Wheel of Time. I thought about it a little differently though. I really wanted to find the audiobook and use it for semi-background or in-car immersion. I wonder if that changes the equation at all to make it more accessible.

    P.S. I don’t think there is an Japanese audiobook for The Wheel of Time (though of course there is for HP & LOTR). If anyone knows otherwise let me know!

  5. I guess people give Harry Potter in particular a try because it’s “for kids” but when I tried to read Philosopher’s Stone in Korean at a lower intermediate level I couldn’t get past the first page, even without the issue of having to look up Kanji. I would definitely agree an upper intermediate would be more suited to the series and even then you’ll probably regularly have to look up words. After all, some of the most used words in the books like wizard, sorcery, magical spells, etc are hardly common words in English either.

    And as previous mentioned, the language you are studying will make the series more or less accessible. I could probably stumble through the book with my mid-range beginner Spanish easier than I could with my much higher level (when compared to Spanish)Korean or Japanese.

    • Yeah, trying to read books because they are “for kids” can lead to disappointment and increasing self-doubt (I can’t even read a book for kids?!)

  6. I found a blog a while ago from a guy who would search for the best foreign language books that seemed to have fallen off the radar, and his method of learning languages was to sit there with a book and learn it word by word, sentence by sentence and then read the book 3 times over. Personally I could never do that, but it seemed to work well for him as he could read fluently in at least 6 or 7 languages.

    However, when I was learning Russian a couple years ago, I spoke with a professor who told me how Tolstoy was great for people learning Russian as Tolstoy wrote descriptions of places and people in a “fairy tale” way, using the same descriptions every single time he mentioned them. Tolkien is celebrated for his intricate and visceral descriptions, but I think part of that is breaking from the traditional fairy tale format of reusing descriptions. Iirc that sort of style came about because it was easier to remember the descriptions in that way (ancient srs?) so it may be worth looking for translated fairy tales since those should both be easy reads and designed to be easily remembered.

    • Yeah, I also don’t think I could ever do a method like that. But that’s cool that it works for him. I do think it may be harder with a language like Japanese though.

      Very interesting about Tolstoy being a great source for learning Russian.

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