How I read Swedish documents

So far I’ve been getting along pretty well in Sweden. Learning my way around Stockholm, figuring out how to do things, picking up some Swedish words and phrases… The one thing I can’t come close to doing yet is reading large blocks of text. Most of the time, this isn’t really a problem. Context gives you a lot and some Swedish words are somewhat similar to words in other languages that I actually do know (especially if you sound them out).

What kills me is official documents that I actually need to understand, not just get the gist of. Like the documents that came with my phone or from my bank. Some of these I can hand to someone at work to translate for me (if I am very nice about it). That doesn’t work with sensitive documents or when I’m not there.

I got my new ATM card tonight along with a raft of rather important instructions that were all in Swedish. I tried downloading some iOS apps that claimed to OCR and translate. Those were useless.

I ended up with the following process instead:

  1. Connect iPhone to my computer over USB
  2. Take shots of the text as straight-on as possible, with flash
  3. import to the desktop using image capture
  4. import to Photoshop
    1. auto-tone
    2. auto-contrast
    3. rotate (if necessary)
    4. convert to black-and-white
    5. change to 144 DPI *
    6. Save
  5. import images to Acrobat as a single document
    1. OCR document with Swedish hinting
  6. copy/paste into google translate
  7. read (finally)

This is an insanely painful process and not worth it for less than the most critical things. It will get easier when I get my scanner (currently on a boat), which will cut out steps 1-5, but that is still sucky.

If someone could get this working with 70% accuracy in a single iOS app, I would gladly pay $75 for it. I would work on this in my copious free time, but it would probably be more productive for me to learn to read Swedish.

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