Swedes often overestimate their English-language skills

Did you know that Swedes are some of the best non-native speakers of English in the world? According to EF’s 2023 English Proficiency Index, Sweden ranks sixth in the world in terms of English-language skills. If many Swedes are that good at English, why would you still need to hire an English translator if you could just write and translate a text yourself?

Native language and foreign languages

Let’s first define a few concepts. A person’s native language, first language or mother tongue is the first language they are ever taught. If you grew up in Sweden, raised by Swedish-speaking parents, Swedish is your native language. A second language is one you learn after your native language, in an environment in which that language is spoken – for example by growing up in a multilingual society or moving to another country. If, on the other hand, you learn a new language outside of the place(s) in which that language is spoken, you’re acquiring a foreign language. Swedes who learn English in Sweden thus learn a foreign language. Your mastery of a language is not always related to which of the above categories that language falls into. But for most people, their native language is the language they know best.

The native-speaker principle

Swedish children start learning English at a young age, in primary school, and many Swedes consume English-language films, games, music and literature on a daily basis. Swedish colleges and universities also often teach in English, to attract foreign students and to be able to contribute to and benefit from international research. But being fluid in English requires more knowledge than what you would pick up on by growing up in Sweden. That is because fluidity is also about understanding a language’s culture, its humour, and the norms and other characteristics of the society in which that language is spoken. At Textforum, we stick to the native-speaker principle: the translators we work with only ever translate into their native language. Depending on a text’s target group, the translation may also need to be localised. This is best done by someone who lives in the country in which the language is spoken and who understands its subtle nuances.

Watch out for false friends

Even though Swedes are excellent at English, there are good reasons to hire a translator who has English as their native language. Doing so helps you avoid common mistakes, like using British and American spelling and vocabulary interchangeably in one and the same text, or using “false friends”. Those are words that resemble each other but have a completely different meaning in different languages. The Swedish “aktuell” (present, current, topical), for example, is not the same as “actual” in English (genuine, real, true).

Well-written source texts – a prerequisite for good translations

Translations are always based on a text in the original language – what we in the translation sector call “the source text”. Regardless of which language a text is being translated into, the quality of the source text will affect the eventual translation. A well-written source text is a prerequisite for the translator to do a good job and helps avoid misinterpretations. If you’ve written a text in English, we can help you make sure it is flawless by asking one of our English-speaking translators to tweak and proofread it before sending it out to be translated into other languages. Because even though Swedes have reason to be proud of their English, it is always a better idea to have a native English speaker write, proofread and translate your texts to achieve the best possible result.