Honestly, don’t you guys read? A story of how Harry Potter taught me English

Herr og fru Dumling i Hekkveien 4 var heldigvis fullstendig normale, takk. De var de siste en skulle vente seg innblandet i noe som helst merkelig eller mystisk. Den slags vrøvl holdt de seg for gode til. 

Mr. and Mrs. Dursley, of number four, Privet Drive, were proud to say that they were perfectly normal, thank you very much. They were the last people you’d expect to be involved in anything strange or mysterious, because they just didn’t hold with such nonsense.


I remember how after dinner, when my mother was finally done with her chores for the day, my brothers and I would run to the couch. One of us would get the book, and the other two would fight over who got to sit on her lap. She’d read us a chapter, and we would beg her to read another one. It was a joyous occasion every time we were all home at the same time, not off playing soccer or handball or visiting friends. I remember running home from school to check the mail to see if the newest book had arrived yet. I remember our heated discussion over whether to buy the first VCR film in English or in Norwegian. I remember copying all the tracks from the audio books I had borrowed from the library onto my computer and listening to them again, and again, and again.

I grew up in a house full of books, so I was not one of those unfortunate kids who never discovered the magical world of Harry Potter. I was only three years old when the first book was published, and my mother began to read them to us when two or three of the books were out. By the time Harry Potter og Føniksordenen (The Order of the Phoenix) was published I was nine years old, and I began to read ahead on my own. I was too immersed, too in love, too impatient to wait for my mother to come home from work, and for my little brother to be in the mood so we could all sit down to read it together. We played Harry Potter characters in the yard. Ron was my boyfriend, only because my friend claimed Harry first. (She also got to play Hermione – it wasn’t fair.) We bounced around on the trampoline yelling Petrificus Totalus! and Expelliarmous! at each other using sticks, and Dumbledore was our grandfather. For my birthday one year, my oldest brother wrote a letter on faded paper and whittled me a wand that he left outside on the porch pretending Hedwig had just delivered it to me from Harry. I am a proud Ravenclaw. I am still waiting for my letter.

In Norway we begin learning basic English when we start school. This is a table, this is a mouse, this colour is yellow. I was always a good student, so I did well in class, but I was not the best. There was a girl who was great, and whenever we had assignments we would always ask her: How do I say this? Is this right? What’s this word? I wanted to be better, but I lacked the confidence one needs to be able to dive into an unfamiliar language, knowing all too well that syntax, grammar and vocabulary were still very much a mystery to me.

I also developed a fascination with English culture, and this motivated me to learn English. Perhaps my anglophile phase began to develop as early as when I read The Philosopher’s Stone, dreaming about boarding schools and magic. The year I turned fourteen, I became enthralled by the British accents, I drank so much tea, I was in love with Orlando Bloom and Jude Law, and I started dreaming about going to university in England. However, the deciding factor that made me leap fully into the English language was my obsession with the Twilight series; the final book was just coming out, but only in English.

How could I possibly wait to learn what happened between Bella and Edward? How could I stand to wait for someone to go through and translate it all? It was time to get serious about this mysterious language. My next step was obvious – what do you read in order to learn a language you are not totally confident you can read? You read what you know, and if there is anything I know it is Harry Potter.

So, at fourteen I began to buy the books as I read my way through the series. I collected the black pocket-book editions with pictures of props from the movies on the cover: the red Philosopher’s Stone, the Goblet of Fire or the Slytherin locket. I cannot remember exactly how far along my English skills were when I began to read these books in English, but I do recall feeling like there were no other books that could have given me enough confidence to think that I could, in fact, read a whole book in English. When I started to read the first one, I already knew that Mr and Mrs Dursley of number four Privet Drive were proud to say that they were perfectly normal, thank you very much. I just knew it in a different language. So, each time I came over a word or passage that would normally trip me up, I instinctively knew what it said because I could anticipate what was coming up next in the plot. Everyone knows that after Harry tells McGonagall that he openly defied Umbridge, she asks him to have a biscuit.

After reading the seven books I knew so well, I felt like I was prepared to take on other stuff as well. I may have been a little too ambitious as I dived straight into books such as Antonement by Ian McEwan and classics like Wuthering Heights by Emily Brontë. I often didn’t get these books, I would miss key information and get a bit lost. In fact, after watching the film adaptation of Antonement, I was shocked at the ending, and explained to my friend that the book had ended very differently. My friend said I was wrong, and that the film was very truthful to the book. I went back to reread the ending, and found that my friend was right – I had misunderstood the entire point of the book in my first reading.

I persevered in my goal to learn English through reading, and about a year after I first picked up Harry Potter and the Philosopher’s Stone, something seemed to click. After that I was told to sit in a corner during English class and do my own thing, which usually meant to keep reading through whatever book I was working on at the time, while everyone else was taught (once again) the difference between his and he’s. In fact, reading Harry Potter to learn English was such a success that I decided to replicate the process in order to teach myself Spanish. Despite having taken six years of Spanish in school, I’m still at a much lower reading level in Spanish compared with English when I first began reading it. I struggle with confusing conjugations, articles that seem illogical to me and the sheer amount of unknown words in Harry Potter y el prisionero de Azkaban. But even so, I almost always know what is going on. Regardless of what language I read in, Harry, Ron and Hermione’s adventures continue on in the same ways.


El señor y la señora Dursley, que vivían en el número 4 de Privet Drive, estaban orgullosos de decir que eran muy normales, afortunadamente. Eran las últimas personas que se esperaría encontrar relacionadas con algo extraño o misterioso, porque no estaban para tales tonterías.



Sunniva Midtskogen is part of the Grattan Street Press team in Semester 1, 2018. She’s a writer and editor who spends all of her money on chocolate and plane tickets.


Image posted by inspiredbythemuse

One response to “Honestly, don’t you guys read? A story of how Harry Potter taught me English”

  1. […] Sunniva Midtskogen is part of the Grattan Street Press team in Semester 1, 2018. She’s a writer and editor who spends all of her money on chocolate and plane tickets. You can read another piece by Sunni here. […]

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