At What CEFR Level Did You Start Reading Harry Potter?

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At What CEFR Level Did You Start Reading Harry Potter?

Postby Xenops » Thu Oct 14, 2021 2:57 pm

I searched for similar topics, but most of them seemed to be about HP and specific languages.

So I'm curious: at what level did you start reading HP? And how was/is that experience? Is it true that the HP series acts as "graded readers"? Did you still have to look up tons of words?

The fall weather has put me in the mood to read the books again, but I think it's still too early to read them in Norwegian--I know I need to front-load more vocabulary.

What are your experiences? :)
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Re: At What CEFR Level Did You Start Reading Harry Potter?

Postby QueenBee » Thu Oct 14, 2021 4:19 pm

I started reading "Harry Potter and the Prisoner of Azkaban" in Hebrew when I was probably at a strong A2 level.

I only knew 55-60% of the words and would occasionally skip an entire paragraph that I knew would be particular hard. But I know the series extremely well (having read most of the books at least 12 times) and think that helped a lot. Like... I don't have it memorized word-for-word, but when I'm reading one paragraph, I always know what the next paragraph will be about.

I would not advise most people to go for an entire HP book at that low of a level, unless they're very patient.

On a related note: while I was reading PoA, I realized just how much some of the sentences vary in complexity. It got me thinking that it would be cool to have a website/app where a person could pick a level, and then be able to scroll through the text, with sentences appropriate to their level (or simpler) highlighted, so that they could just read what is access to them. But I have no coding knowledge, and don't know what the copyright issues around this idea would be like.
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Re: At What CEFR Level Did You Start Reading Harry Potter?

Postby AllSubNoDub » Thu Oct 14, 2021 4:56 pm

I tried reading it in German at around a B1 and I felt it was a terrible waste of time. I'm not sure what my vocabulary coverage was, but probably around 90% based on Dr. Arguelles's examples. Maybe slightly below that in the "Reading Pain" level at times. I quit after a few of chapters and went back to graded readers, where I made much quicker and more satisfying progress. I never returned to the series.

In Spanish, Dialang tested me at B2 for reading (probably a low B2), and I'm having a much better time. I never read it as a kid, so this is my first time through the series. This means it's actually interesting, but it also means I can't rely on inferences. Based on vocabulary coverage, I feel I could benefit from extensively or intensively reading it (I'm currently intensively reading Harry Potter y la cámara secreta). My vocabulary coverage for HP1 started at ~95%, quickly went to ~98%, and reached 99%+ in the second half of the book, at which time I began to extensively read (with some occasional lookups by choice, not for comprehension).

The second book seems much harder. I dropped back down to 95%+ at the beginning of the book. About 1/4 of the way in of intensive reading and Anki'ing most of the unknowns I reached 98%. Overall, it has helped me tremendously and I feel like I'm closer to a B2.3 in reading now (out of B2.1-B2.4). The vast majority of the unknowns are literary synonyms or low frequency words. I'd love to hear what others have to say.

I feel it's much easier to make inferences in Romance languages compared to other IE languages, given the huge number of easily guessed cognates for lower frequency words, so you can start at a lower level and still benefit a lot.

Check out this guy's progress throughout the series for Japanese. He also "stalled" on the second book, or rather, since the situations and locations seem to steadily change throughout the book, you run into new unknown vocabulary at a steady pace with less repeating (my guess).

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Re: At What CEFR Level Did You Start Reading Harry Potter?

Postby Gordafarin2 » Fri Oct 15, 2021 9:30 am

I feel it's much easier to make inferences in Romance languages compared to other IE languages, given the huge number of easily guessed cognates for lower frequency words, so you can start at a lower level and still benefit a lot.

Seconding this, which language you're reading in matters quite a lot. In Spanish I never studied words like fotosíntesis, or geopolítico, or (taking examples straight from the first pages of Harry Potter y la piedra filosofal) ilusión óptica or petrificado, but I don't have to look them up, which lets me read content that would otherwise be above my level if there weren't transparent cognates.

In theory, B1 is B1 no matter the language, but in practice, a vocabulary discount is really valuable for the passive skills. So I'd try reading a few random pages and see how comfortable you feel.

The first time I tried a HP audiobook in Persian, it wasn't pretty. I was probably high B1 at that time. I persevered - re-listened to chapters, followed along with the text, etc. - and eventually it got easier. Some of it was learning vocabulary, and some of it was just accepting situations where I didn't understand the details, so long as I could follow the plot. Later on I did the first book a second time, and then the second book. I got partway into the third book before I got bored of it and moved on to material that I enjoyed more. (HP gets recommended because it's widely translated, it's long, and a lot of people like it. But you can change the 'needs to be translated into 100+ languages' requirement to 'needs to be translated into your language' and find lots of other options if HP is not your jam)

Is it true that the HP series acts as "graded readers"?

I'm interested in hearing what other people think about this question! My instinct is not really, maybe a little bit, but the fact that it has several thousand pages with the same characters and settings is more important. But I don't have firsthand experience of that.
I do like sticking to one series, or one very narrow genre, to gain reading fluency and build up your confidence.
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Re: At What CEFR Level Did You Start Reading Harry Potter?

Postby jackb » Fri Oct 15, 2021 12:11 pm

...at what level did you start reading HP? And how was/is that experience?


I started the series when I was an advanced beginner. I haven't taken a CEFR test (formal or informal), so I can't give you the actual level.

Is it true that the HP series acts as "graded readers"?


I don't think so. The subject matter gets darker and more adult as the series goes on, which may lead parents to believe it is. My kids' schools use something called the lexile rank to match books with students. You might want to check out how the HP books rank. FYI, this is only for English.

Did you still have to look up tons of words?


Yes. I don't think there is a way around this. When books are long, writers (and readers) don't want to use the same word over again so they use less frequent synonyms to say the same thing.

If I had to do it all over again I wouldn't choose to read Harry Potter. The first few books take a lot of effort. You have to spend a ton of time in the world the author creates. The 'wizarding world' simply isn't a world I want to be immersed in.
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Re: At What CEFR Level Did You Start Reading Harry Potter?

Postby lusan » Fri Oct 15, 2021 12:53 pm

When I could open the book and find no more than 6 unknown words/page.

Polish - I read and listened vol 1
French - Read all the volumes
Italian - I will never read it! Too easy.
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Re: At What CEFR Level Did You Start Reading Harry Potter?

Postby einzelne » Fri Oct 15, 2021 1:27 pm

The problem with CEFR is that it doesn't quantify the vocabulary size for each level, so it's hard to tell.

Assuming that grammar is not an issue for you, the only thing that counts is vocabulary. You can easily find statistical analysis of HP online. For instance: "The findings showed that 4,000 (95% text coverage) or preferably 7,000 (98% text coverage) word families are necessary to understand Harry Potter book series, and learners should know." Other article says that 98% is around 6k words: https://files.eric.ed.gov/fulltext/EJ1276827.pdf

It's a rough estimate, of course (knowing basic meanings of lemmas 'up' and 'give' doesn't guarantee that you understand the phrasal verb 'to give up'). But it gives you some sense of the vocabulary size.

Another problem is that it's hard to generalize. Thanks to cognates, an English speaker who learns French can jump into reading HP pretty early. But imagine that you learn Russian or Japanese. I doubt you will be comfortable with HP even at the B2 level.
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Re: At What CEFR Level Did You Start Reading Harry Potter?

Postby aaleks » Fri Oct 15, 2021 5:26 pm

I read the first HP book after about four months or so of learning English. I have never read the books in any other language besides English. I had watched the movie adaptations of the first three books though so I knew what the books were about. It's hard to tell now at what level I was at the time of reading the first book. Even though I had not learned English in school I didn't start from zero either. Maybe A2? I don't know. But I remember that I had around 7-10 new/unknown words on each page. Back then I was kind of obsessed with understanding every single word so I looked up every word I didn't know or couldn't remember, or wasn't sure about, in the dictionary. For some reason I didn't find it too annoying or difficult at that time.

I didn't read the books one after one in a row. Normally I would take a pause and read something else in between. The first three books were relatively easy but I couldn't make it through the fourth book. I don't know if it was the vocabulary, or the size of the book, or maybe I just never liked the Quidditch game, and just got bored with reading about the World Quidditch cap. Either way I stopped reading somewhere around 200 pages in. At the time I'd been learning English for 1.5-2 years, I guess. I finished the series two years later but I still think that the fourth book is the most boring one of the series :mrgreen: .
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Re: At What CEFR Level Did You Start Reading Harry Potter?

Postby rpg » Fri Oct 15, 2021 7:29 pm

I read the first six HP books in French over the past five months. CEFR-wise I think my current level is comfortably in the B2 zone (the practice TCF from TV5Monde gave "fin de B2, début de C1" when I took it this June, for example).

Overall it's been a good experience, absolutely. These six books sum to a bit over 3000 pages and that's enough reading to give you some tangible improvements. I think they helped my reading speed a lot--the first book took me a couple weeks to read 276 pages while I devoured the 599 pages of the 6th book in a week (though this doesn't factor in how much time I dedicated to reading--but it's easier to spend more time reading when you're making fast progress, too). I've learned a bunch of vocab and even a grammar point or two.

I started reading these books at a point where I already had a pretty decent level but hadn't done that much reading in French yet. I think they were and are at a great level for me. I still come across plenty of words and expressions I don't know or only partially know and I reckon that'll be true for most learners, even fairly advanced ones. But overall my comprehension is very high and my vocabulary coverage is somewhere around 98% or 99% or so (to determine precisely I'd need to take a much larger sample than I want to for this post).

I think some other folks may have different approaches or philosophies about reading than I do. For me when I read I need to understand what I'm reading. I can't really let stuff just wash over me (not if I want to still call it "reading", anyway). I generally look up almost all unfamiliar words or expressions. I think my level could have been slightly lower when I started reading these and it still would have been fine (maybe a low B2), but I don't believe it's a good use of time for lower levels. Better IMO to work with texts that are relatively easy (or at least "not difficult") for you and to read a lot that way, vs struggling (and possibly stalling out) with harder texts that you only crawl through. Keep in mind that when kids start reading these books in their native language (somewhere around 10yo or so, give or take) they typically have a vocabulary of a similar size to a C1 level learner.

As for a couple things I commonly hear claimed about the HP books:

  • Are they graded readers? Not really, IMO. I hear people regularly claim that the books get progressively more difficult but that wasn't my experience or impression. They get longer, and the story and themes become more complicated and mature, but language-wise I don't think there's much difference outside the opening chapter(s), which get a bit more stylized later in the series.
  • Are there too many "magic" words? Nah. I see people worrying or complaining about all the "useless" magic-related vocabulary in HP. It comes up sometimes, absolutely. Nobody needs to learn how to say "wormwood" in their TL (I don't even really know what it is in English, just that it's a potion ingredient). Some of the candies or contraptions have names that I don't pay too much attention to, and of course there's some magical creatures and things like that. In general, though, the proportion of these words is pretty low and I don't think it affects the reading experience much. They're novels, not encyclopediae.
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Re: At What CEFR Level Did You Start Reading Harry Potter?

Postby smallwhite » Sat Oct 16, 2021 10:51 am

Spanish (after English and French)
Never read or watched Harry Potter before

Short answer: when I knew 98.2% of the words on page 106 of Da Vinci Code and didn't know 29 words on pages 1 to 3 of Harry Potter I.

Chronological answer:
* 6000 vocabulary flashcards L1>L2.
* Da Vinci Code around Day 260, looked up and memrise'd every unknown word, ending at 98.2% known words on page 106, didn't continue.
* Harry Potter I around Day 270, 29 unknown words on pages 1 to 3,
** read (ahead) without dictionary each night, then looked up and memrise'd every unknown word (after) for around 2 weeks,
** 17 unknown words on pages 47 to 49, known words rose to 98.3%.

> And how was that experience?

Book boring. Fruitful. The earlier words around the house felt useful, the later words around the school not. The dictionaryless-reading-ahead was smooth as I remember. My next (unfinished) book Lord of the Rings felt comfortable even at my low tolerance for unknown words. Da Vinci Code felt way more useful.
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