Zingterview with a translator: Mercedes Pacheco

Before we get on with the article, some shameless promotion. Remember you can signup for the launch of our free cat tool which also helps you get jobs directly from companies inside of the tool. Sorry! 😀

You may know this month’s interviewee from Twitter or LinkedIn, or perhaps, like me, you’ve met her at a translation conference. She’s a fantastic freelance medical translator who’s also happy to interpret or train the newcomers of the profession. Meet Mercedes Pacheco, translation technology enthusiast, owner of the website mprtraducciones.com, and big fan of healthy outdoors activities, which doesn’t mean she wouldn’t be happy with a nice cup of tea and a good book!

Zingword: Let’s begin at the beginning. How did you become multilingual?

Mercedes: I grew up in a small village of Spain where French was the compulsory second language at school, and English at high school. Weird enough? I know. So I studied French at school and took private English lessons till high school, and then the other way round. Later, I got a Bachelor’s degree in English Language & Linguistics at the Universidad Complutense de Madrid, with French as second language. Also, I used to spend my summer holidays in Brighton (UK).

How and/or why did you become a translator? (and do you suck the life out of words for immortality purposes or to pay the rent?)

After finishing my studies at university, I became a teacher of English at a private high school, but I felt it wasn’t my vocation. It was then when a friend told me about a diploma course on translation at the Universidad Nacional de Educación a Distancia (UNED), and I decided to give it a try. After some weeks of theory on translation I got my first exercise: “The Lottery”, a short story by Shirley Jackson. I followed the instructions provided: I read it carefully first and then I started the translation. I loved it!

Hmm… “Immortality”… that sounds good! 🙂 I am a medical translator, healthcare professionals and patients are my audience, and most of my translations are confidential. But I am very lucky, I can pay the rent doing what I love.

How much of a coincidence is it that you ended up on this path? How much of a choice?

It was a choice. When I decided I wanted to become a translator, I quit my job as a teacher, sold my car, bought a computer and focused on finding my first client. Fortunately, that took me just a couple of months, because my car was very small and old, and I didn’t get much money for it!

Is life everything you thought it would be, and more? What did you think it would be?

I love my life as a translator, but I am that type of person who needs to learn and do new things – that feeling of moving forward – and that’s why I am always thinking of improving. Nineteen years ago I used to work as interpreter as well, but I had to focus on translation when my son was born. Some years ago I decided to take up that job and attended a training course on Conference Interpreting, and now I translate, interpret and teach Medical Translation.


Mercedes at her desk on a typical day. Doesn’t it all look pleasantly ergonomic?

What is it you love about your lifestyle as a translator?

The freedom.

What was your darkest moment as a translator?

When my son was a baby and he demanded my attention but I had to deliver a job. Trying to concentrate with your baby weeping on your arms is not easy!

If you listen to music while working, what’s on your speakers lately? Spotify links or youtube links are much appreciated 😉

Normally, while translating, I listen to classical music here:
If I am busy with other tasks (marketing, e-mails, social media, etc.), I also listen to jazz or very different singers or groups, such as Sting, Coldplay, Adele, Mumford & Sons, Elvis Costello, etc.


If you had a magic wand and a pointy hat that actually worked, what would you change about the translation industry or your working lifestyle?

I would change the way people in general and clients in particular see and value translators. Some days ago, a colleague told me her boss said he was “losing money with her”. He needs her to grow and open more centres in different countries, he needs her to translate all his documentation (hundreds of documents to different languages), she is the bridge he needs to have more benefits, but he thinks he is losing money hiring her.

That happens with some agencies as well. When you see how much they charge to their clients and how much they try to pay their translators… They just focus on their benefits and do not realize that translators are part of them! If the translator had enough time and wasn’t in the need to get several assignments at the same time to pay his/her bills, the results would be far better. Happy clients always come back!

What are you doing at home or in the office to be more productive?

I am too curious about everything and spend a lot of time when I have to do an Internet research for a new assignment. I can start looking for information on a specific type of cancer, and two hours later I am reading something on how to induce reverse photosynthesis. Not sure whether I can change that and be more productive, but there is something that I always do:
I schedule my job according to my delivery dates, i.e., I set how many words I have to translate and/or proofread every day to meet my deadline. In my schedule, I also include one or two “just-in-case-days”, to have some room for manoeuvre if something unexpected occurs.

Tell us about the weirdest thing you ever translated.

A poem to introduce a new product for a cosmetic firm.

But I usually translate about fascinating innovations, new treatments for different diseases, scientific breakthroughs, such microspheres which detect tumours and release radiation inside them without affecting the surrounding tissues, etc.

What’s the best question that we didn’t think to ask?

Your questions were really good, but if you want one more, this is one of the questions my students usually ask: “Is it important for a translator to be on the social media?” My answer: It is, translators are invisible; thanks to social media we can gain visibility, we can be in contact with colleagues AND potential clients!
Thank you!

Zingword: Thank you, Mercedes, for participating!