Beware of the knowledge trap

The term kunskap (knowledge) in Swedish is tricky when translating to English. While it can seem obvious to use “knowledge”, a closer examination of how the Swedish term is used reveals a range of better choices in English. Kunskap pretty much covers everything related to knowledge in Swedish, whereas English tends to use many synonyms or phrases the sentence differently depending on the specific subject. Let’s look at a few examples:

Example 1

Swedish: Exampel på kunskapstöd som tagits fram inom ramen för programmet.

English: Examples of teaching material developed within the program.

Example 2

Swedish: Samhällsorienteringens uppgift är att förmedla nycklar till förståelse genom kunskap och dialog.

English: Civic orientation uses information and discussions to help participants come to a better understanding.

Example 3

Swedish: Kommunikatörernas kunskap, färdigheter och trygghet som samtalsledare är avgörande för att all denna potential ska kunna tas tillvara.

English: The communicator’s knowledge, skills and self-confidence in leading discussions are crucial for leveraging the full potential of the course.

Example 4

Swedish: Ökade kunskaper, större säkerhet i yrkesrollen och förbättrade pedagogiska färdigheter, är exempel på utbildningens vinningar.

English: Benefits from the training course include a greater grasp of information, more self-confidence in their professional role and improved teaching skills.

Example 5

Swedish: Den ska ge en grundläggande förståelse för det svenska samhället och en grund för fortsatt kunskapsinhämtande.

English: It provides a basic understanding of Swedish society and a basis for continued learning.

These five examples (an incomplete list) show five different ways of translating kunskap: teaching, information, knowledge, understanding, learning. In Swedish, all these concepts use kunskap or a variation of it. Of course, your translations will likely vary from mine and you may choose another way of expressing these concepts. But that isn’t the point.

So what is the point?

It is far too easy to fall into the knowledge trap of trying to force your translations to conform to the Swedish use of kunskap.  Rephrase, rewrite, reconsider. Ask yourself: Is this how a native speaker with no knowledge of Swedish would formulate this idea or is your translation severely limited by the Swedish way of expressing the concept?

This naturally applies to many concepts and terms, but I find kunskap one of the more tricky ones since it is so easy to just write “knowledge” without reflecting on what is really meant.