Julia Kolesova, translates from Swedish to Russian. Foto: Ingrid Heller

Voices from the conference

33 translators were attending the International translator conference that we arranged on Långholmen in Stockholm in December. We asked three participants about their work and their reflections on Swedish culture and language. This is what they answered!

Julia Kolesova, translates from Swedish to Russian

What challenges do you experience when you translate from Swedish?

When I started translating from Swedish in the 1980s, it felt like Sweden was situated on the moon. Today, the knowledge has increased, but the cultural context in Russia is very different. For example, it is difficult to translate terms like “hedersmord” (honour killing). And it is hard to find words for the perpetrator when it concerns domestic violence, since this is not a crime in Russia.

What insights have you obtained during the conference?

The huge superpower we form together is striking! Would you believe how many we are, fighting for Swedish literature. It is exciting to exchange experiences and discuss difficulties in the work, especially when it comes to translation of a specific book to different languages. 

Mention a few Swedish words that are hard to translate!

A lot of Swedish words such as pappaledighet, (paternity leave), fredagsmys (Friday cosiness), lördagsgodis, (Saturday sweets), do not exist in Russian.

Zeljka Cernok, translates from Swedish to Croatian

What challenges do you experience when you translate from Swedish?

When I translated my first children's book from Swedish, I noted that the Swedish have extensive knowledge about nature, even the children have it. The book mentioned ten different kinds of mushrooms – while I only know two. The cultural context is very different, and many Croatians do not know anything about Sweden. Sometimes, this makes it hard to translate without footnotes. For example, the dish Janssons Frestelse cannot be understood in Croatian without an explanation. Cultural markers in Swedish must be translated in a different manner compared to English, for example, where most already have a lot of knowledge. I can include Bronx without a footnote in a translated text from English, but I have to explain Rinkeby to make it understandable.

What insights have you obtained during the conference?

I am impressed how much it is possible to learn in a few days, compared to when I am working on my own. It is so useful and fun to meet others who are burning for the Swedish language!

Mention a few Swedish words that are hard to translate!

Euphemisms are tricky! How do you, for example, translate the expression “lite småroligt” (“a tad amusing”)? Or ”småtuff” (quite smart) or “dödstrevlig” (to-die-for nice)? Those kinds of expressions do not exist in Croatian, our language is more straightforward.

Regine Elsässer, translates from Swedish to German

What challenges do you experience when you translate from Swedish?

German is more straightforward than Swedish. “Would you close the door?” in Swedish give room for misunderstandings. In reality it means close the door, and it is not a question you answer no to, even if it may seem that way.

What insights have you obtained during the conference?

It is exciting that we are such a mixed group – every one of us have different backgrounds and gateways into the Swedish language.

Mention a few Swedish words that are hard to translate!

The most difficult is to translate so-called false friends from Swedish, i.e. similar-sounding words with different meanings. And I do not mean words like Öl in German (beer in Swedish), which means oil, but more subtle expressions. For example, the Swedish expression “ställa någon mot väggen”, (to put somebody up against the wall). In German this means that a firing squad executes someone, and this is something completely different than the Swedish expression.

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