Do you speak Harry Potter?

While Harry Potter has cast a spell over children worldwide, to the delight of local English teachers many young readers in France seem willing to cross the language barrier on their magical journey with the young wizard.

Bookshops in France are preparing for a flood of Potter fans following the release of author JK Rowling’s sixth novel, Harry Potter and the Half-Blood Prince. The English edition of the book is to be released at exactly one minute past midnight on Saturday morning (11.01pm GMT Friday night) during a special ceremony at Edinburgh Castle, Scotland.

In June 2003, eager French readers snapped up no less than 22 000 copies of the English edition of the previous Harry Potter book in the first week it became available, well before the French translation went on sale.

That briefly catapulted an English-language book right to the top of the French best-seller lists, beating out all books sold in French, including the translation of the most recent murder mystery by Mary Higgins Clarke.

“We sell a lot of the Potter books, and the English version represents around 20% of those sales,” said Francoise Barnaud, head of literature sales for the Virgin retail chain in France. She refused to divulge the exact number of new Potter books that her company had ordered, but said the number was “large”.

The phenomenon is of particular interest to English language teachers in France, who have happily entertained the series’ potent appeal.

The Harry Potter books have become a staple of English-language classes in French junior high and high schools, which frequently use the series in reading assignments, and certain extracts have already found their way into textbooks.

“It’s not always required reading, but it can help people understand more about British society, culture, and education,” explained Dominique Vallee, who has used the series with her high school students.

“My students asked me for it, but in reality they just wanted me to summarise the mystery” so that they don’t have to wait until the release of the French version, said Anne Leroux, who used the first book in the series four years ago with her junior high students in Saint-Germain-en-Laye, a town just outside Paris.

“In any case, Harry Potter is like all of the other books in English that I use with my students—after six classes on the same subject, they get bored with it,” she admitted.

But for Martine Villy, an English teacher at the Venise Verte high school in the western French city of Niort, Harry Potter mania has its limits as a teaching aid.

“Some of my students buy the book in English because they want to know the story, but that doesn’t lead on to an interest in reading other books in English,” she said.

“It’s a Harry Potter phenomenon, and that’s all.” - Sapa-AFP

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