Reading familiar books in other languages

Lately, I have been trying to teach myself new languages. While language apps have been helpful, there’s only so much that can be gleaned from translating “Where is the courtroom?” into French, and from French back into English. I decided to approach this the way I always approach learning: read a book. While it will not improve my spoken language or accent, I’m optimistic that it will help with learning new words I won’t find in an app.

I picked a book very familiar to me, the first Harry Potter, which translates into “Harry Potter at the Sorcerer’s School” in English. Surprised to realize I understood most of what I was reading, I took out notecards for unfamiliar words, writing the French on one side, the English translation on the other. From one sentence in the second chapter, I discovered more fascinating words than I had in the course of my months with the language apps. For example:

  • Rafistoler = patch up. Harry patches up his glasses. The verb can also mean vamp (jouer la femme fatale) or botch.
  • Le papier collant = sticky paper (Scotch tape?), which is what Harry uses to rafistoler his glasses.
  • Coups de poing = punch; how Dudley broke Harry’s glasses. Breaking it down, coups = knocking, poing = fist.

I don’t have enough grasp of the language to understand the changes to proper names. Hogwarts becomes Poudlard, Muggles are Moldu, and even a character as central as Snape becomes Rogue. How does a translator get from Snape to Rogue? I have been unable to find any convincing arguments for this through an online search, but it’s an interesting change, even if it does eliminate the lovely alliteration of Severus Snape.

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