'Kompetenz' – a tricky German word

The German term Kompetenz has a somewhat broader meaning and usage than the English 'competence'. While both terms share the two basic meanings, 'the ability to do something' and 'the authority to do something', the German term refers more widely to skill and professional expertise rather than just to mere ability.

Translation pitfalls

The translation of soziale Kompetenzen as 'social competencies' or 'social competences' has one major flaw: it ain't English. Even in cases where the use of the English adjective 'competent', as in 'the competent court' is appropriate, 'competence' sounds unnatural. With the possible exception of European Union texts and, possibly, academic writing, we wouldn't refer to the 'competencies of the court' or the 'competencies of a CEO'.

Sample sentences

Here are some German examples:

  1. soziale Kompetenz
  2. digitale Kompetenz
  3. fachliche Kompetenz / Sachkompetenz
  4. die Kompetenzen des Geschäftsführers
  5. die Kompetenzen des Gerichts
  6. die Kompetenz der Konzernleitung
  7. Bundeskompetenz

Sample translations

The following are some possible translations of the above examples:

  1. social skills
  2. digital literacy
  3. professional expertise
  4. the qualities of a CEO
  5. the remit of the court
  6. the responsibility of the Executive Committee
  7. federal jurisdiction

Translation strategies

Opt for a more precise term or idiomatic collocation.