Interview with Swedish translator – part 1
On attending the annual ATA conference and being a member
November 1, 2011
Plain language and translation – guest post from expert in plain language
November 16, 2011
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I have had the privilege of getting to know some other Swedish translators and I wanted to feature other Swedish translators on this blog to share the joy. Here is the first guest blog by another professional Swedish translation, with information on translation in general, literary translation and his best business tips.

P-O (Per-Ola) Nilsson is an authorized translator for English to Swedish. He has an MA in English and is a native Swedish speaker. He has translated for businesses and organizations since 1997, specializing in IT, telecom and EU texts. P-O is also a literary translator. He lives in Karlskrona in southern Sweden. You can find more information about P-O on his homepage,, or in his profile, at He is @pnilsson1 on Twitter, where he tweets about translation, writing, editing and language.

How did you become a translator? By chance or was it planned?

It was very much a planned thing. I had always been interested in literature as well as in language in general and English and Swedish in particular. So, I asked myself at one point, what was more logical than for me to translate literature from English into Swedish?

There was more to this, of course – what also seemed attractive to me about the profession was the freedom of it, the possibility of being independent of a physical location, and of working independently in a broad sense. So I set about studying English at the university, and I also took a one-year university course in translation from English into Swedish.

Towards the end of the course, I got hired by a Swedish localization company, stayed with them for a short while, and then started freelancing. Some time later, I got my first literary translation assignment and I was up and running.

What are the advantages and disadvantages of being a freelance translator?

For me, one of the main advantages is the possibility of focusing exclusively on what you want to do, free from the usual workplace distractions. As for disadvantages, the other side of the coin is of course the danger of isolation and stagnation. After all, “workplace distractions” may sometimes be just what you need in order to stay creative and productive.

What is your best business advice for translators?

Respect deadlines. Embrace technology. Specialize.

Tell me more about being both a technical translator and literary translator. How do they compare? What are the differences?

In theory, the two types of translation are very similar, involving the same basic process of transferring a message between linguistic and cultural systems. In practice, they are wildly different. I suppose one of the main aspects of this is that in technical translation/localization, both the syntax and the lexicon tend to be very limited and fixed. Paradoxically, this limitation is one of the main challenges in this type of translation – you must make an effort to stay clear and consistent, all in the interest of the reader, who has to be able to access the instructional text with a minimum of effort.

Literary texts, by contrast, show much more variation (although they have their formulas too, typically of the “she said smiling” variety). This means that as a literary translator, you have to have a large repertoire of target language words, phrases and structures at your disposal (as well as a deep cultural knowledge). Furthermore, when you use that repertoire, you have to do it much more freely than in technical translation – no Excel sheets with fixed source-target term pairs in literary translation. I suppose it boils down to something like “poetic licence”.

Name something special about the Swedish language.

One special thing is those little modal particles, such as “väl”, “nog” and “ju”, which tend to have no formally similar counterparts in English. “Väl” may correspond to a comment clause, for instance, as in “Det var väl OK” – “It was OK, I guess”.


Swedish Translation Services is a company owned by Tess Whitty, a freelance translator (English-Swedish), proofreader, editor, copy writer, localizer and entrepreneur.


  1. Great interview. I love the answer regarding the difference between technical and literary translation. That is very well put.

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