Harry Potter in Chinese, Japanese & Vietnamese Translation


The Titles of Magical Books in Harry Potter


Charm Your Own Cheese


Chinese (Mainland) 给你的奶酪施上魔法
Gěi nǐ de nǎilào shīshàng mófǎ
gěi = 'give'.
= 'you'.
de = connecting particle
奶酪 nǎilào = 'cheese'.
施上 shīshàng = 'to work, cast'.
魔法 mófǎ = 'magic'.
Put Magic on Your Cheese
Chinese (Taiwan) 對你的乳酪下符咒
Duì nǐ de rǔlào xià fúzhòu
duì = 'towards, directed at'.
= 'you'.
de = connecting particle
乳酪 rǔlào = 'cheese'.
xià = 'cast'.
符咒 fúzhòu = 'incantations (Daoist)'
Place a Spell on Your Cheese
Japanese 自家製魔法チーズのつくり方
Jika-sei mahō chiizu no tsukuri-kata
自家製 jika-sei = 'home-made'.
魔法 mahō = 'magic'.
チーズ chiizu = 'cheese' (from English cheese).
no = connecting particle
つくり方 tsukuri-kata = 'method of making', from つくる tsukuru = 'to make' + -kata 'method'.
How to Make Home-made Magical Cheese
Vietnamese Ếm bùa phô mai của chính mình ếm bùa = 'cast a spell on'.
phô mai = 'cheese' (from French fromage').
của = 'belonging to'.
chính mình = 'onself'.
Cast a Spell on Your Own Cheese

This is a very interesting title in English. Before looking at what it means, let's look at what it could mean.


This could mean:

(1) Be charming to: It could mean 'to use your skills of diplomacy and flattery to make someone feel that they are truly wonderful'. This might make sense if the book were titled 'Charm Your Own Wife', but one's charms would be wasted on an inanimate lump of cheese.

(2) Cast a spell on: This interpretation is possible although it's not clear exactly what is to be gained by casting a spell on one's own cheese -- change its colour perhaps, or improve its flavour? Turn it invisible, or make it inexhaustible so that no matter how much you ate there would always be the same amount you started with?

(3) Use magic to create: In this sense, 'charm' doesn't simply mean 'cast a magic spell on; it refers to the use of magic charms to create something, just as 'baking' and 'building' mean creating something new from raw materials or ingredients.

The third appears to be the correct one. This title is thus modelled on books like 'Bake Your Own Bread' or 'Build Your Own Backyard BBQ'. This extends the meaning of the word 'charm' in a way that is part of the genius of English. Note that 'own' in this case emphasises that the cheese is made by the consumer him/herself, as opposed to being bought in a shop.

Two points are important in translating the sentence: firstly, the translation should imply that something is being 'created' by means of magic charms, and secondly, 'own' is used in contrast to buying from someone else. How do the translators fare?

    The Japanese translator is the only who gets it right. The verb used is つくる tsukuru meaning 'to make'. Since tsukuru is a very pedestrian verb, the magical connotations of 'charm' are transferred to the cheese itself as 魔法チーズ mahō chiizu 'magical cheese'. The concept of the cheese being made at home rather than bought outside is well captured in the expression 自家製 jika-sei 'home made'. While not quite as snappy or witty as the original English, this translation captures virtually all the elements of the meaning, arranged in a different way.

    The other translators do not do as well, treating 'charm' as an ordinary verb meaning 'to cast a spell on' or 'put a charm on'. They all miss the special use of the word 'charm'. The only thing to be said for them is that the incongruousness of casting a spell on a lump of cheese has a certain humour in keeping with Rowling's whimsical book titles. The Mainland translator, by using gěi (literally 'to give', but with a wide range of meanings in Chinese), suggests that there is something beneficial or desirable about casting a spell on your cheese.


The incongruousness of the title is helped in the case of the Chinese translations by the fact that cheese is not that widely eaten in China (at least Mainland China). There are two standard translations of the word 'cheese', one is 奶酪 nǎilào (used by the Mainland translator), one is 乳酪 rǔlào (used by the Taiwanese translator). Both mean a 'semi-solid food product created from milk'. Neither will necessarily be fully understood outside the cities. Waiters in fancy hotels are more likely to say qīsi (or 起士 qǐshì or 芝士 zhīshì).

To confuse things further, there is also a kind of soft, semi-sweet milk product from inner Mongolia called 奶酪 nǎilào.

At any rate, casting a spell on this strange foodstuff has just the right amount of mystery to deflect attention from the fact that casting a spell on cheese doesn't make a lot of sense.


The word 'own', as mentioned above, emphasises the act of creating the cheese oneself rather than buying it from someone else. The Chinese translators omit it as they have given 'charm' a different interpretation. The Vietnamese translator translates 'own' quite explicitly, so that it means something like 'put a spell on your very own cheese'. This is the weakest of the four translations.

Category: Household magic

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