English to Swedish: A Hockey Writer’s Journey

By Robert Riches
November 15, 2011

As a writer for NHL.com, the official website of the National Hockey League, as well as a writer for the Philadelphia Flyers and Los Angeles Kings websites, Bill Meltzer is a highly-respected journalist in the hockey community. In addition to his work for the NHL’s website, the Flyers and Kings, Meltzer also has another significant writing milestone under his belt.

He wrote the English version of the book “Pelle Lindbergh: Behind the White Mask.”

The book, a biography about late Flyers goaltender Pelle Lindbergh, was originally published in Sweden by respected Swedish hockey writer Thomas Tynander in 2006. Meltzer taught himself written Swedish and began a project to translate the book into English.

“‘Behind the White Mask’ is basically half-translation and half-rewrite,” Meltzer said. “I spent three years, from 2006 to 2009 working on it.”

After the book was published in Sweden, Meltzer set out on his quest to translate it.

“I spent a year just working on translation,” Meltzer said. “I originally tried using a program to translate Swedish text into English.”

However, the translation program did not come without its flaws.

“Several words did not translate very well at all,” Meltzer said. “For example, the word ‘gift’ in Swedish has two entirely different translations. It translates to either ‘poisoned’ or ‘married.’”

Meltzer decided to utilize a fresh translation and teach himself Swedish, in order to make the project easier in the long run. But how did he do so?

“I went out and purchased a Swedish-to-English dictionary,” Meltzer said. “I then went online and looked at the sports sections of Swedish newspapers. If I saw a word that I did not recognize, I would underline it and look it up in the dictionary. I would do about 20 to 25 words a day and once I gained enough understanding of the sports sections, I would move on to other sections of the newspaper.”

Hockey journalist Bill Meltzer wrote the English version of the book “Pelle Lindbergh: Behind the White Mask.” The book was released in the fall of 2009. -- MCT

Once Meltzer gained a strong enough command of written Swedish, it was time to move on to the second phase of the “Behind the White Mask” project.

“I spent the second year editing and rewriting the book,” Meltzer said. “I also conducted an additional 20 hours of interviews with former teammates, coaches and friends who still live in the [Philadelphia] area,” Meltzer said.

After the edits, rewrites and interviews, it was time for Meltzer to work on the project’s third and final step.

“I spent the third year re-editing the book as well as submission,” Meltzer said.

Meltzer submitted “Behind the White Mask” to Middle Atlantic Press, who published it in the fall of 2009. “Behind the White Mask” outlines Lindbergh’s life in great detail, from his upbringing and boyhood in the Swedish capital of Stockholm, to his success with the Swedish national team, to the car crash that took his life in 1985 during the prime of his career.

The three-year project definitely paid off and proved to be a learning experience for Meltzer as well as his readers. Meltzer was able to master a foreign language, and English-speaking readers were able to learn about Lindbergh’s life and times from the project.

While English and Swedish both have their differences, they have their similarities as well.

“Swedish is not too different from English,” Meltzer said. “They are pretty similar when written. If you can understand even a little bit of German, you would be able to understand Swedish. However, spoken Swedish is a completely different game.”

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Robert Riches

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