The Power of the Pre-Session


I remember over a decade ago when I first started interpreting I would, as expected of interpreters, inform the patients and providers what to expect of me as their interpreter: I would interpret everything said by everyone involved, keep all information confidential, etc. You know, the typical pre-session things. Years later, I continue to include the pre-session as standard interpreting protocol, and I've come to value it as a tool that packs a lot of punch. 

Interpreters have used the pre-session strategy for years as a way to make sure that everyone knows what to expect and knows how to work with the interpreter. It’s a mini-class for some people who have never worked with an interpreter. It is a brief refresher for those who have. It is a way to ensure and reassure that everyone is on the same page from the get-go.

The pre-session is an essential component to laying the groundwork for a successful interpreted encounter. The effects of the pre-session, however, can be more powerful than just ensuring that the encounter starts off well.

Occasionally, I have gotten some unexpected feedback from individuals after I’ve given my brief spiel. One time in particular, the individual was someone who had worked with interpreters for years and knew full well what to expect of them. It was the first time, however, that I was going to interpret for her. So, I acknowledged that she already knew the protocols, and I reassured her that I, like the interpreters who had gone before me, would interpret everything and keep everything confidential. She politely listened and then – to my surprise – thanked me for telling her all that I did (which took less than 10 seconds to do) because, even though she knew what to expect of me, it was still reassuring to hear it directly from me, since I had never interpreted for her before.

In this case, the pre-session served, not to get on the same page, but rather to establish rapport and trust.  I imagine that if I had skipped the pre-session, the encounter still would have gone just fine. It would have been apparent in my skillful and professional interpretation (I’ll work on my humility tomorrow.) that I was interpreting everything, and therefore, it would have also been reasonable to conclude that I would also keep everything confidential. But, in laying out the expectations clearly, it removed any need for guesswork or assumptions. It is a good thing anytime guesswork or assumptions can be removed from healthcare encounters.

As if laying out the expectations for working with an interpreter and establishing rapport weren’t enough, the pre-session does yet another thing. It also puts the pressure on the interpreter to perform to the expectations of the profession.  That is a good thing.

Every time I give the pre-session spiel, I’m essentially making a promise to the people who are counting on me for their communication needs. I am letting them know what they can expect of me. When I tell someone what to expect of me, I had better follow through with what I’ve said. Words are nice and important, as we’ve already covered here, but actions are what give words weight and meaning. If I tell someone that I will interpret everything and then skip over the “small stuff” or otherwise cut corners, I’ve jeopardized any rapport I might have established and cast doubt on anything I’ve said regarding what people can expect of me as their interpreter. Completeness, accuracy, professionalism, confidentiality, competence – it is all called into question. When I speak the words of the pre-session out loud, I’m publicly setting an expectation and holding myself accountable to live up to the expectations of the profession. If ever I’m tempted to cut corners or slack off a bit (Oh, no one will care if I [fill-in-the-blank.]), the promise I’ve made in the pre-session keeps me in line.

So. . .

  • Sometimes the pre-session is for the benefit of those who are not sure what to expect when working with an interpreter.
  • Sometimes the pre-session is for the benefit of establishing rapport with people who have never worked specifically with me before.
  • Sometimes the pre-session keeps me from getting lazy in my work.

In all cases, the pre-session is a powerful tool that serves everyone who is involved in the interpreted encounter.

Interpreters, what examples do you have which show the power of the pre-session?

Posted on July 26, 2016 and filed under Interpreter.