We’re thrilled to be sitting down with our friend and colleague, Laura. An ATA-certified Russian and French to English translator specializing in legal translation, Laura began her tenure as NOTIS President in January 2022 after serving a two-year term as Vice President.
Below is our conversation with Laura Friend, in which she tells us how she came to be where she is today and shares some sage advice for her fellow freelancers.
Brianna Salinas (BS): Welcome Laura, and congratulations on your new-ish gig! How did you first get involved with NOTIS? What drew you to the organization?
Laura Friend (LF): I first learned about NOTIS while studying Slavic Languages and Literatures at the University of Washington. NOTIS held an informational workshop for linguists wishing to take the ATA certification exam. I was impressed to see accomplished language professionals sharing their time and giving fellow translators a hand. After that I attended many worthwhile NOTIS trainings and gatherings and learned that this is what it’s all about. I have enjoyed some of the Literary Translation Feedback Forums, to name just one series.
BS: Those feedback forums are so much fun. Who knew how thrilling it could be to mull over punctuation marks and onomatopoeia with fellow language nerds!
Judging from your bio, you've got an impressive talent for language. In addition to English, your working languages are French and Russian, and you also know Czech, Spanish, and German. Can you trace your interest in language study to any particular source? What was your first foreign language? What led you to continue expanding your repertoire?
LF: I have been fortunate to live in several different countries, and I was always motivated to learn well the language of whatever country I lived in. I owe this largely to my parents, who, as scholars and teachers, were fluent in French, as well as many teachers and friends. I first experienced foreign language immersion at age five in a French grade school. Back in the U.S. I progressed through advanced French language, literature and drama in high school.
My interest in Russian began with high school history and literature classes, for which we read some of the great Russian novels. I took up Russian in college and ended up completing two intensive language study programs in the U.S.S.R. during the Cold War.
BS: A fascinating trajectory! I'm always happy to meet another language lover whose curiosity was piqued by great books.
Will you talk to us about how you got started as a translator? What drew you to the field and, more specifically, to legal translation—your specialty?
LF: Growing up near the nation’s capital, I developed an interest in politics, thanks partly to the Washington Post and its reporting on the Watergate scandal. In college I minored in Political Science/International Relations, which proved good preparation for legal translation. Over time, friends and colleagues asked me to translate various things for them, and I enjoyed doing so. My first paid job was translating military history texts for a historian.
For several years I worked for a law firm in D.C. and Moscow. There I sometimes translated Russian laws for partners, and before long they invited me to work in their growing Moscow office, where I experienced the exciting Post-Soviet Transitional Period. At the time Russia and the United States had what seemed like a fairly friendly relationship. Working in a bilingual, binational setting was rewarding: nearly all the lawyers and staff, American and Russian alike, were fluent in Russian and English. I had the privilege of helping to supervise a cadre of impressive translators and interpreters from both countries.
BS: That must have been a surreal experience, especially taking into account the affairs of today. It sounds like a joy and a challenge—which brings me to my next question: What do you find most rewarding about the work you do today? Most challenging?
LF: I enjoy the process and craft of translation itself. I don’t tend to promote myself, so finding new clients can be a challenge. Clients find me through the ATA and NOTIS online directories, and through colleagues.
BS: So your work is mostly freelance. With that in mind, what does an average workday look like for you?
LF: For freelance translators, it can be feast or famine. You may have no work for a few days, and then be “slammed” for weeks. It’s up to you to decide what kind of a schedule you want to have. If you work for agencies, you are likely to be at the mercy of their deadlines, which are typically short. If you want to be able to set regular hours, you may need to cultivate your own, private clients or even create your own projects, such as finding a book to translate.
BS: Speaking of books in translation, are there a couple—or a few—that you might recommend?
LF: Lately I have been enjoying Japanese literature in translation, including classics such as Snow Country and Botchan, and current fiction such as Killing Commendatore and 1Q84 by Haruki Murakami. Murakami works with some phenomenal translators, such as Philip Gabriel, Jay Rubin and Ted Goossen. For a taste of Murakami, I recommend the short story “The Year of Spaghetti.”
BS: Excellent, thank you! We can't let you go without asking this one last question: Any advice for emerging translators?
LF: Yes. Take full advantage of the rich and varied opportunities for continuing education and professional networking offered by NOTIS and ATA. Attend webinars, workshops and conferences. Our next event, on October 1, will be an all-day, in-person conference in honor of International Translation Day.
Laura Friend is an ATA-certified Russian and French to English translator specializing in legal translation. She is originally from the Washington, D.C. area and has traveled widely. She attended elementary school in St. Cloud, France for two years and has studied, worked and lived in Russia, Spain and Germany. Later she taught Russian at Georgetown University and the University of Washington while earning a second M.A. in Slavic Languages and Linguistics. Her other languages include German, Spanish and Czech. Laura holds degrees in Russian language and area studies from Yale University, UW and Middlebury College. She has lived in the Puget Sound area for over twenty years, in Seattle, Newcastle and the Kitsap Peninsula. In 2017 Laura chaired the ATA Slavic Languages Division Nominating Committee. She loves nature, music, film and literature. She works hard to create and nurture a backyard wildlife sanctuary and native pollinator garden.