Although Hogwarts has an attendance of mostly British, Scottish, and Irish students, Beauxbatons, Durmstrang, Castelobruxo, Uagadou, and possibly Ilvermorny and Mahoutokoro all accept kids from other countries.

How would the kids understand each other? Is there an enchantment that makes everything sound like their native tongue? Or is it possible they don't take lessons together?

In addition to the answer to the question, I am also curious as to whether Ilvermorny and Mahoutokoro accept other nationalities.

  • Related, not entirely dupe: What language were Durmstrang classes taught in? – Jenayah Aug 15 at 17:33
  • Thanks! I will look at that! – user103390 Aug 15 at 18:43
  • Note - "British" already includes Scottish (Great Britain being the rightmost island of the Ireland-Britain system, composed of Scotland, England and Wales). – DavidS Aug 16 at 11:01
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    Maybe I should point out that many European countries require that students study at least one foreign language and that many adult Europeans speak at least two languages. So I think that wizard parents who plan to send their children to a foreign wizarding school would plan for them to take classes in the language of that school and/or have them privately tutored into that language at home. – M. A. Golding Aug 16 at 15:02
up vote 5 down vote accepted

I went to an international boarding school in England. We had students from all over the world, enough variety that there was actually a set of buntings in the school hall, which featured the individual flags of each student.

Everyone spoke English as a lingua franca

If they didn't speak it well, they often had tools such as Electronic Translators at their disposal.
I frequently heard students from wildly different nationalities speaking English as a common language even though neither of them spoke or understood it well.

In the Potterverse I imagine it'd be pretty much the same, speak the language of your hosting nation, supplemented with a Polyglot Spell of some kind to handle the difficult bits, or perhaps a spell to translate text on paper, so a student would write the word they knew and use the spell to translate it into the other language.

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    From the above answers, it seems rather clear that such a spell likely didn't exist. – Edlothiad Aug 16 at 8:33
  • It's not really an answer but this seems like an ideal use-case for magic, the idea that there wouldn't be any options for magical translation at all seems like a big hole in the capabilities of magic with no clear reason for it. The obvious conclusion is that the magical tools and spells aren't considered reliable or convenient enough for the situations we see or hear about, or that they're really specialised and none of those characters actually have/know them. – Ruadhan2300 Aug 16 at 9:16
  • Mindyou, if I were going abroad (like the students from durmstrang or beauxbatons) I absolutely would take the time to learn a spell to translate my written or spoken words into english :P – Ruadhan2300 Aug 16 at 9:19
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    Well you'd take the time, if it existed, which evidence strongly suggests doesn't. – Edlothiad Aug 16 at 9:21
  • The evidence definitely implies that if there was one, it wasn't convenient enough to hold a face-to-face conversation, You wouldn't muddle through a conversation with foreign dignitaries or impatient goblins by translating written words in front of them, and there's no evidence merpeople can read. All of the examples are about spoken word. So I'm leaning on the notion that any translation spell would have to be for written text. Which would fit the kinds of spells we've seen quite well. the only spell to modify speech I can think of was Sonorous which acted as a megaphone. – Ruadhan2300 Aug 16 at 9:29

In addition to the example given by Valorum, there are several other examples that show that there is probably no simple magical way to understand different languages. At the Quidditch World Cup we find:

“Couldn’t do me a brew, I suppose? I’m keeping an eye out for Barty Crouch. My Bulgarian opposite number’s making difficulties, and I can’t understand a word he’s saying. Barty’ll be able to sort it out. He speaks about a hundred and fifty languages.”

“Mr. Crouch?” said Percy, suddenly abandoning his look of poker-stiff disapproval and positively writhing with excitement. “He speaks over two hundred! Mermish and Gobbledegook and Troll ...”

“Anyone can speak Troll,” said Fred dismissively. “All you have to do is point and grunt.”

From this we see that Ludo Bagman and his Bulgarian counterpart, both presumably full-fledged wizards, could not communicate without an interpreter. We also see that it is considered very impressive that Mr. Crouch can speak so many languages.

Later in Goblet of Fire when Bagman meets with the goblins we find:

“Absolute nightmare,” said Bagman to Harry in an undertone, noticing Harry watching the goblins too. “Their English isn’t too good ... it’s like being back with all the Bulgarians at the Quidditch World Cup... but at least they used sign language another human could recognize. This lot keep gabbling in Gobbledegook... and I only know one word of Gobbledegook. Bladvak. It means ‘pickax.’ I don’t like to use it in case they think I’m threatening them.”

When Harry reports this to Ron and Hermione, and they wonder why the goblins would have been looking for Mr. Crouch, Harry says:

“Crouch can speak loads of different languages, though,” said Harry. “Maybe they need an interpreter.”

Of course, Harry might be completely wrong, and Bagman was probably lying, but this most likely again indicates that language translation/interpretation is not something that can be accomplished with a simple spell.

At the Second Task we find out that Dumbledore can speak and understand Mermish, and presumably the other people (including teachers, headmasters, and judges) can't:

Dumbledore was crouching at the water’s edge, deep in conversation with what seemed to be the chief merperson, a particularly wild and ferocious-looking female. He was making the same sort of screechy noises that the merpeople made when they were above water; clearly, Dumbledore could speak Mermish. Finally he straightened up, turned to his fellow judges, and said, “A conference before we give the marks, I think.”

While it is possible that this is different because Mermish is not a human language, it seems once again that languages is a skill that cannot be simply replaced with magic.

However, at the end of Goblet of Fire Dumbledore issues an open invitation for the foreigners to return to Hogwarts:

“Every guest in this Hall,” said Dumbledore, and his eyes lingered upon the Durmstrang students, “will be welcomed back here at any time, should they wish to come. I say to you all, once again — in the light of Lord Voldemort’s return, we are only as strong as we are united, as weak as we are divided. Lord Voldemort’s gift for spreading discord and enmity is very great. We can fight it only by showing an equally strong bond of friendship and trust. Differences of habit and language are nothing at all if our aims are identical and our hearts are open.

The statement Differences of habit and language are nothing at all implies that it would not be too difficult to overcome a language barrier if necessary. While Dumbledore was not necessarily referring to them attending classes at Hogwarts, language is clearly not an insurmountable obstacle.

Thus, if there were students of different languages in the same school, there is probably no simple way to magically enable them to understand other languages, so they would probably either learn the main language of the school, or attend classes in their own language.

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    There may not be any simple magical way to understand different languages, but there must be some magical way to do it, because speaking over 200 languages as Crouch allegedly does is quite simply not humanly possible without it. It is generally estimated that the human brain cannot hold more than twenty-odd languages at the same time if even decent fluency is required. Two hundred would be completely and utterly impossible and must be magic. – Janus Bahs Jacquet Aug 15 at 22:54
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    @JanusBahsJacquet sciencefocus.com/qa/… And they might have been exaggerating somewhat. – Alex Aug 15 at 22:56
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    Note that none of those numbers say anything about level of fluency (many of them are also legendary, uncorroborated, and wildly exaggerated). It’s certainly possible to know a fair bit of many languages (I myself have studied and have at least basic proficiency in over 25), and it is of course possible that Percy is exaggerating and counting languages in which Crouch knows only a few words; but speaking 200 languages fluently, or even reasonably fluently, is simply impossible. – Janus Bahs Jacquet Aug 15 at 23:03
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    I understand Differences of habit and language are nothing at all if our aims are identical and our hearts are open. to mean that if there's a shared purpose and a willingness to accept the other, then no obstacle is insurmountable, or even important. Doesn't mean that objectively it'll be easy to overcome, just that anything can be accomplished. – Zev Spitz Aug 16 at 6:13
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    There's a possibility that Dumbledore spoke mermish to the merfolk simply because he could and it was a sign of respect that he had gone to the effort to learn. It shows good spirit, which given the fairly belligerent nature of the merfolk probably helps relations a lot. – Ruadhan2300 Aug 16 at 8:26

Given that even powerful wizards seem incapable of language translation spells or enhanced magical learning of languages, students attending those schools would most likely have to learn to speak a common language the old-fashioned way, by attending regular language classes during their early years. This is similar to what happens at most international schools in real life.

‘Harry Potter, you know,’ he loudly told the Bulgarian Minister, who was wearing splendid robes of black velvet trimmed with gold, and didn’t seem to understand a word of English. ‘Harry Potter … oh, come on now, you know who he is … the boy who survived You-Know-Who … you do know who he is –’

The Bulgarian wizard suddenly spotted Harry’s scar and started gabbling loudly and excitedly, pointing at it.

‘Knew we’d get there in the end,’ said Fudge wearily to Harry. ‘I’m no great shakes at languages, I need Barty Crouch for this sort of thing. Ah, I see his house-elf’s saving him a seat … good job too, these Bulgarian blighters have been trying to cadge all the best places … ah, and here’s Lucius!’

Harry Potter and the Goblet of Fire

Presumably in the case of Beauxbatons this common language would be French (since the majority of student are French) although English is also a distinct possibility given that the foreign exchange students as well as Fleur's mother all seem to speak it to a lesser or greater extent, albeit with comedy 'Allo 'Allo accents

At that moment, a voice said, ‘Excuse me, are you wanting ze bouillabaisse?’
It was the girl from Beauxbatons who had laughed during Dumbledore’s speech. She had finally removed her muffler. A long sheet of silvery blonde hair fell almost to her waist. She had large, deep blue eyes, and very white, even teeth.

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    Fudge is a powerful wizard? – Alex Aug 15 at 17:48
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    @Alex I'd say one should have some kind of clue to become a Minister, and in that case, both the English and the Bulgarian Ministers can't manage the spell - if there even is one. Hence the need for a translator, or just sit and learn the other language – Jenayah Aug 15 at 18:24
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    @Alex - One would assume that he's likely to be competent. Certainly he has excellent Ministry wizards and witches at his command. – Valorum Aug 15 at 18:33
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    @Jenayah Why would Fudge need to be a powerful wizard to become Minister of Magic? Politics require very different skills than magic, I imagine. A real world example would be the manager/director of a sports team: would you expect him to be an elite athlete? – 11684 Aug 15 at 22:48
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    To address all the other comments ... even if Fudge is an average wizard a language spell would be expected from his character more than any others, really, given he's the head of the British wizarding government. – Azor Ahai Aug 15 at 23:18

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