Swenglish eller svengelska? Posted by Transparent Language on Mar 14, 2009 in Vocabulary
One of the commenters mentioned my funny English recently and that actually was a very good thing. As any expat who’s been living for a long time in a non-English speaking country can tell you, this is bound to happen. Sooner or later, your English will start deteriorating. And the funniest thing is, you might not even realize when instead of English you begin to switch to Swenglish (or svengelska).
Suddenly, you find yourself talking about “red days.” You begin to “eat pills” and to “follow” people to the movies. And when you hear yourself saying that your husband worked “in the commune under five years” you know it’s been a long time since you visited an English speaking country.
So, let’s take a look at some of the most common direct translation mistakes that both Swedes and long-time expats in Sweden tend to make, OK?
- Vill du följa med? – literally: Do you want to follow with? Correctly: Do you want to/ would you like to come (along)?
My former chef (who was not a chef) was a super-kind woman, who would always invite me to different activities. First time when I heard her say in English to me: “Do you want to follow us?” it took me a moment to figure out what she meant.
- chef (def. chefen, plural: chefer, def. plural: cheferna) – correctly in English: boss.
I don’t even remember when it first happened that I started to replace “boss” with “chef” (of course when meaning “boss”) while speaking English. This has to be hands down the most common false-friends mix-up in Swenglish. And it’s an equal opportunity mistake, too – both native Swedes and expats make it.
- röd dag – literally: red day, correctly: bank/public holiday.
You know you’re listening to two expats talking when you overhear this sort of conversation:
“Are we off tomorrow?”
“Sure, it’s a red day. What are your plans?”
“Dunno, go to the stuga maybe. Do you want to follow?”
- äta tabletter – literally: eat pills, correctly: take pills.
This always confuses my husband when he goes to the pharmacy. He automatically asks to clarify: “You want me to eat while taking the pills?” Because my husband doesn’t speak Swedish, he and the unlucky pharmacist must communicate in English, and so further confusion ensues. Listening to them can be quite entertaining, actually.
- under (when talking about time periods) – correctly in English: during
This is also a very common mistake. In December on of my friends who’s been living in Sweden for over 20 years asked me this: “Are you going to be home under Christmas?”
- den röda tråden – literally: the red thread, correctly: the main thread, common theme
We went to a lecture once where the speaker kept talking (in English) about the red threads in Bergman’s movies. My companion whispered to me quietly: “I didn’t know that Bergman was into the Kabbalah.”
There are of course many more of such words and phrases and this is just a small sample to give you an idea of how easy it is to fall into the svengelska trap.
And now, if you excuse me, I have pills to eat. I got sick under winter break.