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Decoding Äkta Människor (Matrix Pt 3)

My aim with this post is to provide a few tips to start off with as you queue up your first Swedish-subtitled movie or series. I’ll keep it short & summarize at the end.

There’s no way this won’t sound “over the top,” so here you go: I encourage you to grab a pad and a pen and start off by transcribing your show. You will reach a point where you can scale back a bit, but start off by writing down everything. I didn’t, so I’ll show what I did and why I came around quickly to putting everything on the page.

Though I set out knowing almost no Swedish, my plan was to write down only those words I couldn’t glean from context. That lasted about two pages, and it looked like this:

A few problems jump right out at you:

  1. No flow – this page is what I jotted down to cover two scenes, the first 5 minutes or so. Would these isolated words have much value, were I to review the notes a week or two later?

  2. No attribution – who’s saying what?

  3. No “motivation” – in other words, what’s so important about these words compared to those I left out? You have to have the story to make it memorable. If I’d kept this up, I’d have buried my effort in a jumble of disconnected words.

A few pages further in – long before this next page – I had started writing it all down. I hadn’t started labeling the lines with who had said them, but because I was committing all to paper, that was okay.

Note two things here:

  • The vertical line on the left indicates that the same character is still speaking. You’ll need a cue like this as you break longer passages into smaller chunks, to make translating easier.

  • I began marking instances when the closed captions didn’t include all that was said, or didn’t match what was spoken. Simply noticing such a mismatch is a sign of significant progress. Figuring out what the actors really said is even better! Give yourself a gold star by marking “cc!” in your notes whenever you find these.

By the way, it wasn't until I got through the first season's third episode that I was ready to scale back and only write down what I couldn’t translate on-the-fly, or lines that caught my attention because they were funny, had new words or interesting Swedish phrases, or had a “slice of life” quality regarding Swedes.

Additional Refinements

Using a page from my Season 2 notes as the example, I had added several cues to enrich my notes, including:

  • The character’s initial (at a minimum)

  • Underlines for new words

  • The ellipsis […] to indicate spots where I had omitted dialog

  • The square-ended underlines marking things like idiomatic phrases (in this case, vad som helst) and “particle verbs” (for example, stoppa upp).

Wrapping Up

  • Spiral, top-bound pads (steno pads) are quickest for taking notes (which is why stenographers like them)

  • Write on one side of the page – it’s faster easier to read & leaves room if you need to make extra notes

  • Write down everything, until it has been obviously redundant for a while – then take great notes about just the interesting bits

  • Make note of context: scenes, which character is speaking, intentional gaps in your notes, etc.

  • Always note closed-caption mismatches, as well as what was really said if you can figure it out

  • Mark any jokes that you get (😊) – understanding humor is another great milestone


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© 2018, 2017 Dan Schultz