Harry Potter goes to Poudlard (Learning French with Harry Potter)

Well… at least in France he does. He also doesn’t know what a Prefect is, hates Professor ‘Rogue’ and has his Quidditch matches refereed by Madame Cheap Wine. Intrigued? I’ve been reading Harry Potter in French! 🙂

During my first month in France I picked up ‘Harry Potter and the Philosopher’s Stone’ in French to improve my French (or ‘Harry Potter and the School of Sorcery’ as it is called in France’ (reasons for the change I can’t seem to find, except that Wiki tells me the translator preferred his title to the original… pfff) I’ve been able to pick up French words and phrases that I probably wouldn’t be able to pick up in every day life, like ‘to cast a spell’, ‘cauldron’, ‘magic wand’ and ‘dungeon’. I’ve also noticed just how many changes there are when Harry Potter is translated, some words are changed completely (e.g. Hogwarts becomes Poudlard) yet things stay the same (e.g. Hagrid stays Hagrid, as does Weasley, Granger and Quidditch)

But before we get onto the changes… aren’t the French covers pretty? *sparkly eyes*

Above is the new French cover, a big improvement on the old one (below) which looks like a 7-year-old drew it


  • Hogwarts = Poudlard The first difference I noticed was that Harry receives his Hogwarts letter and sees a lion, eagle, snake and badger encircling the letter ‘P’. The translator interpreted the word ‘Hogwarts’ to be an inversion of ‘Warthog’ so he thought he would have to do the same thing with two French words. He also looked at the word ‘wart’ and the word ‘hog’, ‘poud’ coming from the word wart and ‘lard’ implying fat/pig.

So what do French Harry Potter fans think when they see the Hogwarts crest with a giant H in the middle and not a P? “We think it stands for Harry” one of my French friends told me.

  • Muggle = Moldu This translation I don’t get, I believe the French translation implies the word mixed/not pure, but I know J.K Rowling wanted a term that was cute and cuddly. I asked a French friend if she thought the word had a cute/cuddly connotation and she said no. Conclusion – bad translation.
  •  The Sorting Hat = Le Choixpeau I love this translation – so much I might even like it more than the original. The word is a pun on the French word for hat ‘chapeau’. In French the verb to choose is ‘choisir’ the word for a choice is ‘un choix’, so the translator combined the word hat ‘chapeau’ and choice ‘choix’ to form the ‘choosing hat’, which it’s very poetic in French. Bravo Monsieur Traducteur! 🙂
  • Diagon Alley = Chemin de Traverse Another translation I like is Diagon Alley. To translate the word literally ‘jeu de mot sur diagonale/diagon-allée would be impossible in French. So he used the French for a path ‘chemin’ and then the French word for crooked/askew ‘traverse’, but just like ‘Diagon Alley’ has a nice even ring to it so does ‘crooked path’ in French. ‘Chemin de Traverse’ has a nice soft sound and an even amount of syllables like the original to create a poetic sound.
  • O.W.L’s = B.U.S.E I was impressed by this translation too, because the translator needed to find an acronym in French for a wizard exam but also try to keep the second meaning – that the acronym is the world for OWL. The French word for owl is ‘hibou’ but this must have been impossible so the French ended up with B.U.S.E (in English it stands for Universal Elementary Sorcery Certificate) and the word ‘buse’ is the French word for a buzzard, a North American bird.
Name Changes

Some translations of names make sense to me, and others I barely notice the difference  – Malfoy become Malefoy to give it a more French look. Then there’s ‘Madame Bibine’, who is Madame Hooch. The translator took the word ‘hooch’ to mean a whiskey of bad quality, which is apparently what the word means (?) and bibine is another French word for bad quality wine. So we have ‘Madame Cheap Wine’ or maybe Australian’s would say ‘Madame Goon’ 😛

Then there are translation such as Snape becomes Rogue (also an English word) because the translator felt that the word ‘Snape’ had a connotation of someone who was irritable and illustrated his character, so it had to be translated.

Cultural differences

One thing that struck me as strange was that when Ron tells Harry that his brother is Prefect Harry asks him what it is. Ron then explains that it’s a type of supervisor at school, then asks him ‘didn’t you know that’?

Harry replies: ‘I don’t get out much’

Aw…. poor Harry! Never learned what a prefect was 😛 I thought the paragraph was strange and after some digging found out it wasn’t in the original as I thought, it makes sense since that is a foreign concept to French people but it’s also a foreign concept to Australians, and I remember not knowing what a prefect was but figuring it out from the context.

The weird part is Harry’s explanation, that he never found out what prefect meant because he doesn’t… go out? LOL

A few final things…

There are a few other smaller things that get lost in translation, like Hagrid’s accent which the French translator left out. One article believes the translator feared that to give him an accent in the French version would give the character a vulgar side or rural connotation which the English don’t have (I always assumed Hagrid was Scottish?).

In my opinion Hagrid’s accent gives him a soft, gentler side – perhaps it implies he’s a bit simple, more ‘brawn over brains’ but as an English speaker it makes me warm to Hagrid – maybe this is something a French person would interpret differently.

The French also have some advantages when reading Harry Potter, since there are a few key words that are in French in the series. The word ‘Voldemort’ when taken apart becomes ‘vol de mort’ which depending on how you translate it, means thief of death/flight from death. The character Fleur Delacour when pulled a part means ‘fleur de-la-cour’ = flower of the court. A French person knowing this might even enjoy the meaning of these names and attach them to the character better than an English-speaker would.

Just like I might chuckle at the words for the spells if I could read Latin.

So there we are – a small guide to Harry Potter in French, there are a lot more differences but those are the ones that stand out to me the most.


20 thoughts on “Harry Potter goes to Poudlard (Learning French with Harry Potter)

  1. Harry replies: ‘I don’t get out much’.

    This is cute! I love sassy Harry. Hooch, if I recall correctly, was the slang term for moonshine, which was the cheap, awful alcohol people brewed during prohibition in North American 🙂 But it’s not a connotation I think of when reading ‘Madame Hooch’ – language, eh!~

  2. Hi! I love this, I’ve had a french exchange over and she’s made about Harry Potter, so we’ve had fun discussing the differences. Another interesting point is that they’ve dubbed the movies! I’d assumed they’d be subtitles. But I guess I am english, and so it being with all the right accents seems even more important to me haha

    • Thanks! Yeah, the French are not a fan of subtitles! When I lived in France I struggled to find an American film in the original version with subtitles outside of the big cities. I’m thinking of writing about my experience reading Harry Potter in French in more depth, maybe do a blow post covering each three chapters or something. I just need to find my copy of it cause it’s buried in a box somewhere! 🙂

      • Well, yes subtitles…
        As German I grew up with all films dubbed but began appreciating the “originals” while studying – thanks to DVD it’s much easier nowadays.
        Now moved to France and my son wishes for a HP party. Gosh, I barely learned French in the past months… to go through all the terms in the books, naaa. So thanks for these valuable hints.
        – Still I have the strong impression that in a year or so we’ll have 7 French HP in the shelf next to the 7 Germans – next to the 7 English I couldn’t resist to get when in the US…

  3. On another note: “Poudlard”
    My poor son, he got a hoodie with “Hogwarts School” imported from UK some time ago. Never asked if the others at school (in France) reacted on that. Now I wonder if they even recognized it…
    Barely name changes in the German versions, except Hermione becomes Hermine, I guess for the ease of pronounciation… and Voldemorts name is Tom Vorlost Riddle to get the anagram in Vol.2 (“I am” >> “ist”), which is funny in the movie as you see the letters but he says something different.
    “vol de mort”, “thief of death”, wow, didn’t recognize that but it shows how complete the storyline was in Rowlings head when writing the first volume. Thanks for showing.

    • Thanks for your comments! I do remember reading that English is a Germanic language so maybe that results in not more similarities between the languages than English and French? I do remember someone telling me that when Hermione starts the ‘S.P.E.W’ organisation it’s not funny because ‘spew’ doesn’t mean anything in German, or is it completely changed?

      I’d really like to write more posts about Harry Potter in French, and make it more of a blog series since there’s so much to write about which I didn’t write about in this post.

      • SPEW is changed to B.ELFE.R (Bund für ElfenRechte = Society for Elvish Rights).
        but BELFER has still no meaning. Though it sounds ugly/stupid, as is intended, to me, it’s one of the “not so good” translations. Same as for ZAG (ZAubererGrad = OWL) verZAGen = to despair, but it’s not as clear as with OWL.
        Since there are a lot of similarities in English and French, too (more than to German!?) I suppopse that the similarities (special words are kept: Quidditsch, Hogwarts…, or literally translated: leaky cauldron = tropfender Kessel) in German edition are more due to the translaters intention to stay as close to the original as possible, while others involve more specifics of their own language.
        On the harrypotter.wikia I found a list of many terms in multiple languages, totally interesting and again a sign that Finnish is just a hilarious language: U-No-Poo = Kakka-joka-jääköön-tulematta!!
        Sorry, I digress but agree with you: it’s an fascinating topic…

      • This is definitely a topic I could go on and on about, all the changes and the reason behind them are so interesting. It’s funny that you happened to mention Finnish, I actually used to live in Finland and the sheer length of Finnish words always amazes me!

  4. I actually know why they changed the name of the first book! They changed it for the same reason as they changed it from the original “philosoper’s stone” to “sorcerer’s stone” in America; They were scared that kids would be confused by the mention of philosophy and would therefore not read them, while sorcery might sound more apealing to children!
    Also I think they simply chose B.ELFE.R in the German translation and marked it with the dots since “ELFE” means “ELV” in English.
    I grew up reading the Harry Potter books in German, but soon after read them all in English and only recently started with the French ones and by now I am just so confused! LOL
    And I laughed so hard when I read the paragraph about the Prefects! Poor Harry doesn’t get out much. haha
    What I found really weird tho is that they changed Snape’s last name into yet another English word.
    Hope I could help with the name change (:

    • Oh my gosh, thank you so much!! That really has been driving me crazy, maybe the word ‘philosophy’ is particularly scary to French kids because its compulsory to do it for their BAC! 😛

      I also find ‘Professor Rogue’ really jarring when I read it, it just doesn’t seem to flow properly. But I understand that the translator felt that ‘snape’ implied someone of a bad character, or ‘sinister’ side in English (which I agree with) and knew the word ‘snape’ would have no connotation for French readers, but the word ‘rogue’ does.

      Thanks for you comment! 🙂

  5. Found this blog after reading a few articles about the French translation. About the need to explain prefects to the French… First of all, we do have prefects in Australia – at private schools, which are much more common and prestigious in Australia compared to France. Historically, prefects were even more common in Australia because the Aussie school system used to be much more English – an unsure Aussie reader could easily ask an older Australian to explain. Additionally, Aussies are much more likely to have read other books set in British boarding schools, so are more likely to be at least vaguely familiar with the concept. For a French child, Harry Potter may be the first and only British boarding school story they ever read. And almost all Australians would be familiar with similar concepts, eg school captain.

    However, the REAL reason why the French translator decided to explain what prefects are is because the whole concept would be alien to a French child. In French schools, academic merit is emphasised above all else. But prefects have nothing to do with intellectual performance! Prefects are expected to maintain rules, order and discipline other students; they are responsible for running the school when teachers aren’t around. Australians can work out what a prefect is because our school system, like the British system, values both academic performance and leadership. French kids don’t necessarily have the cultural information to work out what a prefect is.

    The French translator changed many other things to reflect the cultural importance of academic performance. For example, in the original edition James and Lily are referred to as Head Boy and Head Girl, but in French they are “top of the class.”. Not just because readers wouldn’t understand the concepts, but so the story reflected proper French values. Another example: in the English edition Hermione says that friendship and courage are more important than books and cleverness. But not in French! The French edition removes all regional accents and colloquialisms for the same reason: proper, correct French is seen as vitally important.

    The academic Anne-Lise Feral wrote an excellent analysis of the French translation that summarises all the very small ways that the French translator changed Harry Potter to reflect French values. She suggests that the translator was trying to make the concepts of prefects seem like it was a strange and fantastic idea that could only be found in the wizarding world. She suggests that he didn’t want to draw attention to the fact that British students are in charge of their own discipline. Her essay is well worth a read. It explores many more cultural differences, including the obliteration of references to social class in the French translation. http://www.erudit.org/revue/meta/2006/v/n3/013553ar.html

    • Hi Jenny, thank you for your very insightful comment! I’m amazed people are STILL finding this blog post! I’ve bookmarked the essay you sent me and I’ll be reading through it later. I never had Prefects at school despite going to private schools in Victoria, and when I was 11 the “prefect” concept was foreign to me, but I did understand the ideas of School Captain, Sports Captain, Arts Captain which made it easier to figure out etc Anyway it’s really interesting how cultural values impact the translations – thanks again!

  6. Pingback: Learning French With Harry Potter - 4funSpot

  7. I’ve just started reading it in French as well and have been similarly interested in the name changes. I also LOVE choixpeau – inspired! And though I find Poudlard a bit of a wet sounding word and a weak translation, I can pretty much understand the need for and reasoning behind most of the rest…. Except Snape/Rogue. This completely kills it for me! It totally ruins the alliterative quality of his name and all of the beautiful Slytherin (‘Serpentard’) connections that come with it. Not only that, but it’s now about as subtle as a sledgehammer and yet nowhere near as menacing. Argh…. I’d been really enjoying reading Harry Potter again but this is making it difficult to take seriously 😦

    *side-note* As a fellow Australian, ‘Madame Goon’ made my day 😉 But we definitely had prefects at my school, so I think that depends more on where you went to school than what country you’re from.

  8. Pingback: Hogwarts se dice Poulard y otros cambios en la saga de Harry Potter - El Blog de Fundación Instituto de Idiomas

  9. Pingback: Hogwarts Poudlard esaten da, eta beste hainbat aldaketa Harry Potterren sagan - El Blog de Fundación Instituto de Idiomas

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