Face to Face with Patricia Ferreira

All our lives are marked by milestones which appear clear in only retrospect. Each time we make major decisions or react to unexpected circumstances, we never really know what lies ahead. But looking back, we see how each key event – whether welcome or unwelcome –played a part in making us into the person we are today. A chance meeting, an unplanned travel experience, a divorce, a disease – all emerge along the journey as seemingly random events, and it’s only later that we recognise them as real turning points. That is certainly true of English and French into Italian and Spanish translator Patricia Ferreira, whose life and travels have taken her far from home, given her a varied career in languages, and culminated in an inspiring triumph over adversity.


But let’s not leap ahead. Although Patricia now lives in Sardinia, her story begins far away in Uruguay. Growing up in Montevideo, Patricia discovered a flair for languages even as a child, and now speaks Italian, French, English and Spanish, with a good grounding in German, Brazilian Portuguese and Russian too, having attended courses as a student. Her contact with English began aged 9, attending a special afternoon class, as her school was not bilingual. But she classifies her success at this early stage as par for the course – as a small coastal country Uruguay has traditionally been outward-looking – and languages are widely seen as an asset.

Fast forward a few years, during which Patricia did well at a private school, and we reach the first of those turning points. Having finished her high school in December 1983, she began her university studies, intending to become a social worker, but back in those days of the dictatorship, the atmosphere was heavily politicised, and many of the faculty members were heavily pro-regime. This came as a shock to the young student, so when a chance arose to embark on an exchange with a study programme in the USA, she leapt at it. Within no time she was in distant Minnesota – culturally and above all climatically a world away from Uruguay – a country few of her new classmates had even heard of. It was there, staying with a family, that she began to master the language, even though communication was not that easy at the very beginning. By the time she finished she was a regular member of the school Speech Club and thoroughly at home in the language.

But beyond the linguistic achievement, the experience of living in a vast state not far from the Canadian border broadened Patricia’s horizons and changed her entire outlook. The prospect of returning to study at her former university suddenly seemed distinctly unappealing. Instead, she chose a totally different path, beginning with a three-year course in translation, during which she experienced the “aha” moment beloved of so many translators and realised that languages would become her life.

Still, the journey that took Patricia to actually becoming a freelance translator had many twists and turns along the way. The first of these saw her employed at Citibank, working fully bilingually, and using some of the practical skills she’d wisely chosen to study during her academic year in the US, such as typing and shorthand. And so she stayed there for the next five years, earning a high salary, as much in fact as her father made at a public bank, despite his decades of experience.


But life is never so simple, and love often thwarts our course. The man who would become Patricia’s first husband had Italian ancestry, and the policy in Rome at the time was that anyone who could trace their lineage back even over four generations was entitled to apply for Italian citizenship. Some of his friends had made the move, and the lure of adventure beckoned. After all, what was the alternative? At the time he was employed as a bus driver in Montevideo and life was expensive. Even a pair of jeans had to be paid for in instalments…

So when they got married, they sold their wedding gifts and put together the funds to head to Italy. This was August 1990. Looking back, Patricia says that 24 was far too young to make that kind of life decision. The couple separated after three years, but perhaps the real point of the move was not the relationship, but to introduce her to the love of her life: Italy, where she was also entitled to become a citizen through marriage, and has lived ever since.

Patricia began working within months of her arrival, starting out as a secretary. She’d already studied Italian back in high school, so was pretty well versed in the language, given its proximity to Spanish. A private teacher in Montevideo, before leaving, helped.

It was a few years later that she fell into translation as if by chance. Now with her second partner, she moved from Milan to his region in the north of Italy and stumbled across a small language school that doubled as a translation agency within the small town. When the owner decided to sell, Patricia opted to buy the company and inherited a small client base, serving the town’s various technical firms with manuals, catalogues and the like. She enjoyed the mix of translation and language courses, but after a several relatively successful years, business began to wane, and the prospect of a secure income beckoned.


Ten years at Johnson & Johnson followed, throughout which Patricia was able to use her English skills as part of their QA processes. Along the way she picked up a great deal of medical know-how from her work, from attending conferences to reading about clinical trials. By the end of the decade however, novelty beckoned once again. Encouraged by her new Italian partner, who became her second husband, she decided to leave and set up independently in 2013, but this time purely as a freelancer, not an outsourcer. And that’s where she’s been ever since, building up a solid base of agency clients, and specialising in medical texts. Along the way she’s been an active member of ProZ, taken many training courses, and even served as a Moderator for five years on the site’s forums.


So far the turning points had all been positive experiences, full of adventure and the hope of new beginnings. But last year an event of a less welcome kind suddenly turned into a life milestone when Patricia was diagnosed with breast cancer. Her primary intention was to keep working, but as the effects of chemo took hold, then the surgery itself, followed by the radiation treatment, she decided to focus above all on her health. She had a hard time at first turning down work, but as time went on it became easier to say no. Eleven months passed, and when the treatment finished two months ago, Patricia’s energies began to recover.

During that time she overcame her initial reticence and began to blog about her health journey, hoping to offer some comfort and good news to people around the world. She also received huge support from groups like the ProZ.com Facebook community, which she treasures for its internationalism and for the connections it opens.

She’s now on the road to starting back at work, safe in the knowledge that the income is not absolutely necessary. Above all she’s looking forward to the freedom of trying out new texts, perhaps dipping into voiceover. The experience of both suffering and overcoming cancer, she says, has taught her a great deal about resilience and perseverance, and she’s not about to let those lessons go to waste…

To contact Patricia, go to:

ProZ.com Profile
LinkedIn Profile


Topics: translator, interpreter, facebook, interpreting, face to face

Andrew Morris

Written by Andrew Morris

French to English translator, Translation Mastermind founder, ProZ.com staff.

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