The best-selling "Harry Potter" series has been translated into more than 75 languages. This week at Central Michigan University, you can hear Harry's story in 12 of them.
CMU students and faculty members are presenting a reading marathon to share passages from "Harry Potter and the Order of the Phoenix" in languages including Spanish, Arabic and American Sign Language. The readings begin at 4:30 p.m. Thursday, Feb. 22, in the Park Library Baber Room.
Connecting over a shared passion
"Reading these books creates a common bond between people. You have this shared experience with someone from another country who loved these books, too," said Bryan Whitledge, archivist manager for the university's digital records.
Camilla De Bernardi, a freshman international student from Italy who plans to double-major in international relations and psychology with a minor in cultural and global studies, is excited to share the book with her friends in her native language.
"This event is such a cool opportunity to connect Harry Potter fans from around the world in celebration of language and nerdiness." — CMU student Cassandra Olson
De Bernardi said her father read the books to her as a child, and she loved the inspirational message.
"The fact that Harry and his friends could do all they were doing with hardly any help from their parents made me believe I could, too," she said.
For fourth-year student Cassandra Olson, participating is an opportunity to share the fantasy fiction she loves with others while practicing her language skills.
Olson is a native English speaker majoring in German and has completed two years of German classes, including a study abroad stay in Berlin. She is using the read-athon as a way to build her confidence speaking German before she heads back to Germany for a full year in the fall.
"This event is such a cool opportunity to connect Harry Potter fans from around the world in celebration of language and nerdiness," she said.
Sophomore Noelle Belanger is studying anthropology, French and museum studies and will read a section of the story in French.
"The most exciting thing about this event is seeing how Harry Potter affected different areas of the world through all the languages it's been translated into. I find the diversity of languages through one common thing very exciting, especially if that shared thing brings people together," she said.
Familiar in an unfamiliar way
The library is home to thousands of international children's books representing more than 50 languages and 70 countries, including a first edition of the London version of "Harry Potter and the Order of the Phoenix." Whitledge said the library borrowed or purchased copies of the books in languages such as Romanian and Korean in advance of the read-a-thon.
While the participants read aloud in different languages, audience members will be able to follow along in English and be able to pick out some familiar words, Whitledge said.
Maiko Bronson, a faculty member in the English Language Institute who also teaches Japanese in the world languages and cultures department, will read a portion of the book in Japanese.
"People probably won't understand the words, but hopefully they will find it interesting to hear how the Japanese language sounds."
Mackenzie Root, a senior studying biomedical sciences, will use American Sign Language during her segment of the read-athon.
"When people think of different languages, they think of French, Spanish, Korean, but most times no one will mention ASL," Root said. "People aren't really aware that it is out there."
Even so, ASL is one of the most popular minors at CMU.
Magic of multiculturalism
There's a bit of magic in the idea of bringing people together through the common love of reading, Whitledge said.
Olson said it's been challenging to get the pronunciations for names and places right, but it's worth the effort to participate in the event.
"Books like this," she said, "are what led me to love language and reading as much as I do now."