How do you deal with “betreuen”?
There are some German words that just don’t have a single, direct equivalent in English. A few weeks back, we looked at the verb “realisieren” and today the lucky word is “betreuen”. If you want to know more about this verb and its related noun “Betreuung”, all you have to do is read on!
“Betreuen” in context
Translators, particularly those working on websites and marketing materials produced by German companies will probably be very familiar with the frequency with which this word is used: “Kunden betreuen,” “Frau X betreut Y” and “Herr A betreut die deutsche Tochtergesellschaft als Steuerberater seit mehr als zwanzig Jahren.”
The dictionary entry for “betreuen” contains a number of definitions that fit a number of standard situations. Duden, for example, tells us that that we are dealing with a transitive verb (so if we are translating fairly directly and sticking with the source text’s structure, we will need a subject and at least one object. Duden also gives two main definitions, plus a number of examples:
a. taking care of someone or a group of people, at least on a temporary basis. Looking after someone.
b. having responsibility for a defined process, department, field or other area.
Collocations with betreuen
Common collocations include Projekt(e) betreuen, Kinder betreuen, Patienten betreuen and betreutes Wohnen.
Let’s take a look at these before we move on to cover some other examples:
Projekte betreuen – in English, we normally talk about project managers as the people ultimately responsible for the way a project is designed and carried out, e.g. “She has managed three large infrastructure projects since joining us in 2012.”
Kinder betreuen – anyone who spends time looking after children, such as babysitters and childminders, could be described as looking after, supervising or taking care of children.
Patienten betreuen – doctors and nurses who provide medical services to patients would normally be described as treating or caring for patients.
Betreuetes Wohnen – this special type of supervised housing, e.g. for seniors, is typically referred to as assisted living or sheltered housing.
In a business context
As you can see from the examples above, there’s a difference in English between treating patients, looking after children and managing projects, and yet, in German, these things all collocate with the same verb. A translator really has to have a good understanding of both the content and context of the source text in order to produce an accurate and authentic target text. Something that is not always easy when you have so many options. So, back to the examples in the second paragraph:
Kunden betreuen – companies will often talk about serving their customers or providing their customers with certain services. They may have key account managers or a customer services department, so any of these could be appropriate. In a software or technology context it is often best to use support customers as the best translation.
Frau X betreut Y – Ms. X is responsible for Y is one option. Another might be to say that she is in charge of or supervises Y.
Herr A betreut die deutsche Tochtergesellschaft als Steuerberater seit mehr als zwanzig Jahren – Here there really are a number of possibilities:
The tax adviser, Mr. A, has been working for/with the German subsidiary for more than 20 years.
Mr. A has been working as the German subsidiary’s tax consultant for over 20 years.
Mr. A has been the appointed tax advisor to the German subsidiary for more than two decades.
Making a decision
So, how does a translator decide if, even after they are clear on the context, there are still numerous possibilities? Well, either the client has preferences, or they don’t. If the client doesn’t really mind, then the translator makes a decision based on the previous and subsequent text, the client’s business and image, etc. After all, an experienced translator has to make this kind of decision on a regular basis!
Let us know how you deal with betreuen/Betreuung and if you’ve ever come across some innovative translations.
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