Ages: 6.75 & 9.75
Suitable for 4th grade and up.

I don’t think people need me to review such a well known series like Harry Potter.  This post is more about Chinese translation of Harry Potter and where they fit in the scheme of learning Chinese.

First a little backstory.  If you’re impatient, skip to my point.

Two weeks ago, I sent Astroboy to an English camp for a week and Thumper had a week “off”, where she can do whatever she likes and I generally don’t bother her about when to get up or go to sleep.  She spent that week re-listening to Harry Potter books 1 to 3 again, in English.

This was after we’d gone to the local library and borrowed Harry Potter 4 in Chinese for her to read, as I’d told her last year that she can read the fourth book after she turned 10.  She dropped that after a day and went back to listening to the English version instead.  She said while she could read the Chinese characters, she did not understand what it was saying.

By spending the week, I meant, she was listening to the audiobooks 4-6 hours a day, listening while she played with her rainbow loom, listening while eating, listening while dressing, often to the point where I have to ask her to turn it off because it’s just continuous noise to everyone else.  She re-listened to each book 1-2 times, to the point where she can now quote you passages verbatim from the books.

I’m not surprised by this.  She is such an auditory learner that often she can listen to an audiobook, then read it like she’s a fluent reader.  Give her another book of the same reading level that she hasn’t listened to and she sounds like she’s 1-2 grade level behind.

Ever since I heard the podcast that said listening to audiobooks is the same as reading, I’ve been much more blasé about asking her to read aloud.  It may still take me awhile to really get there.  But I’m slowly coming to accept that the way Thumper will acquire a language will be first through listening rather than through reading.

Since Thumper got all into Harry Potter again, it got Astroboy interested as well.  I felt kind of bad for him that his sister has been talking about Harry Potter the last year and he can’t really hold a conversation with her on it.  So I told him that if he wanted to he could also read the first book only.  He can then read book 2 next year and book 3 the following.  So for several nights, I sat along with him while he read it on our Kindle Paperwhite.  (Speaking of which, best purchase ever.)

Again, just like Thumper, I’m so much more laid back now about the whole reading thing with Astroboy after listening to all the Charlotte Mason podcasts this summer (Your Morning Basket, Read Aloud Revival).  The podcasts basically said that reading to your children, even till high school, does wonders for their language learning.

What’s this got to do with Astroboy reading Harry Potter?  Harry Potter is clearly above his level, but I’m trying hard to follow his interest and my resolution this year is when he’s not interested in picking up and reading a book by himself anymore, I will get off my behind and read it to him instead, or play audiobooks, or drop it.

Basically, I don’t want him to read one little chapter a day as “school work” like last year unless he’s asking for it.  I’ve slowly come to the realization in the last two months that there are so many good books out there at their level for the kids to read!  Books that we own!  If I keep pushing and pushing higher level books, the children won’t be able to enjoy those other really good books!  As long as they’re reading and the books are good, they will learn from them.

So what’s my point?

If Reading 123 is where you’d like the kids to be by the time they reach the end of second grade, I think the next level would be the first 4 books of Harry Potter by the time they reach 6th grade.  If they can read a high level non-zhuyin book by then and comprehend it, they’re all set!

It’s not the reading that’s important, it’s comprehending what they’re reading, without your help.  These books are on upper level reading lists even in Taiwan.

Alternatively, there’s nothing wrong with starting the kids earlier on the audiobooks if their interest in adventure and magical stories happen before 5th grade and they don’t have the reading ability.   Any way to get them exposed to the language is alright.  Just be prepared when they won’t read that set of Harry Potter Chinese you bought after they’ve listened to the audiotapes and read the English version.

In our household, I am mean and am doling out the books one at a time.  So I will require both kids to read at least the Chinese version before I let them read the next book.

I spent several weeks Googling and painstakingly downloading Harry Potter in Chinese.  In the process, I learned about the different versions out there and why the translations are what they are.

Here are the versions of Harry Potter I know of:

  1. Traditional Chinese published by Crown Books (皇冠)
  2. Simplified Chinese published by People’s Literature Publishing (人民文學出版社)
  3. Web translated version on Haodoo (好讀)
  4. Web translation on b111 (雲台書屋)
  5. Audiobooks narrated by 李慧敏 from China National Radio (中央人民廣播電台)


Harry Potter Traditional Chinese

In the US, kids sometimes as young as 7 or 8 can read Harry Potter, definitely by 3rd grade.  In traditional Chinese, it’s more of a 5th or 6th grade book, through middle school.  In my Googling I learned that when Crown Books had to translate the books, they had to decide what book series they would put these under.  Ultimately they decided it would be part of the adult Choice series!

Aha!  So this is why the translator, (did you know she’s the wife of the famous Jimmie Liao 幾米?) used much more advanced vocabulary than the English version.  It makes so much sense to me now why it’s an upper elementary book.

Web translation by Haodoo

The only version on Haodoo that has been “edited” is the first book.  I’m conjecturing from the explanation that they got these books from online simplified translations.  Then they re-edited it so that it uses the names from traditional Chinese version, then changed some wordings so it sounds more like Chinese used in Taiwan and fixed translation mistakes.

The rest of the series you can’t easily find on Haodoo’s listing of available books unless you search for them.

I downloaded all 7 last year and while Thumper was reading book 1, I tried doing some massive search and replace in Calibre for book 2 and 3 so that they use the same character names as in the first book before converting them to Kindle format.  That did not go so well because there are so many names!

I ended up just making these versions available as is for Thumper to read if she wants to.  Since she got so used to the Taiwanese version names in book 1, she did not really want to read the second or third book.  Though she soldiered on because she was obsessed.

Web translation on b111 (雲台書屋)

This is a crappy version, at least by the first few paragraphs of the first book that I read.  They drastically condensed the first few paragraphs into a few sentences.  It’s in traditional.  But crappy!

Audiobooks narrated by 李慧敏

Even though there are other audiobooks out there, I ended up downloading all 7 as narrated by this woman so that the voice is consistent across the books.  It was very painful looking for it online and downloading hundreds of tracks one by one.  On a side note, you won’t find this on 喜馬拉雅 Ximalaya because they’re cracking down on copyrighted content.

I first found it on 荔枝FM, but it had missing audio files, misnamed tracks, and completely unusable book 7, which I later found on 有聲中國

After Thumper listened to English book 3 for the 3rd time, she moved on to the Chinese versions.  She’s been similarly obsessed with these books the last few days.  Thank goodness.  I was afraid she was going to start talking about Harry Potter all in English at the rate she was going.

That is really the reason to read Harry Potter.  Most children will read it once in English.  For Thumper to even discuss the books with me, when we only speak Chinese to each other, means that I need to provide her with the Chinese vocabulary.  It’s very easy to switch completely to English when you just don’t have the vocabulary to express your thoughts relevant to your daily lives.

One thing to note, these audiobooks take a LOT of liberties with the books.  Whole sections are chopped off and words changed.  She also has this way of pronouncing the character names that is really jarring, as if she’s a non-native speaker trying to speak Chinese and getting the tones mixed up, OR a native Chinese speaker speaking English with a Chinese accent.

Harry Potter Simplified Chinese

The audiobooks are based on the simplified Chinese version of Harry Potter.  IMO, both this version and the Haodoo version use a simpler language more suitable for younger children.

Thumper will likely finish listening to the simplified abridged audiobooks, then either choose to read the Kindle books or the physical traditional Chinese version I bought when I was pregnant with her.  Yes, I am a little crazy.


Hopefully in the near future, I will finish writing that post on how to convert Haodoo books to Kindle format.

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