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I haven't been able to find an obvious translation for this. There are three verbs I've come across the seem like they could do that job: Halten Erhalten Aufrechterhalten

But I can't seem to figure out which one would be most appropriate, or in which situations one or another may be more appropriate.

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Could you provide some example sentences how you would use that phrase? –  Matthias Aug 11 at 19:02
Matthias, as an example something like "I've learned to speak German, and must maintain that skill" or something of the sort. Thanks for the answer! –  Noah Aug 12 at 15:35
Noah, glad I could help. I tried to cover your example in my answer. –  Matthias Aug 12 at 20:38
Trainieren kommt mir noch in den Sinn. –  user unknown Aug 15 at 15:23

5 Answers 5

Among the verbs you mentioned I would see "erhalten" as best fitting. But I don't recommend a word-by-word translation in this case. I think you would need to find a phrase with similar meaning. This could depend on the context. One that could work in many cases is

in Übung bleiben

Your example

I've learned to speak German, and must maintain that skill.

could be translated this way

Ich habe Deutsch gelernt und muss in Übung bleiben.

But an alternative for this example would also be

Ich habe Deutsch gelernt und will es nicht wieder verlernen.

This also makes clear that you want to practice to maintain (and not loose) your skill. "Nicht verlernen" would probably sound strange with skills you cannot possibly learn and/or loose. (But maybe there wouldn't be much need to maintain them either?)

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AFAIK the newest rules of German orthography dictate that it must be "muss" and not "muß". –  ben Aug 13 at 13:18
Fortunately, there is no German orthography dictator ;-) so I won't go into prison for following the rules I learned in school. But you are right, of course. I am going to fix this. –  Matthias Aug 13 at 13:51

Two options that I would consider are:

Fähigkeiten erhalten

Wir wollen kontrollieren, ob die Arbeiter ihre technischen Fähigkeiten auf Dauer erhalten können.

This is more or less the go-to translation for "maintaining skills" in the professional realm.

A bit more florid approach would be to use the verb pflegen

Humor ist eine Fähigkeit, die man pflegen muss.

Pflegen implies a somewhat more intimate involvement with the maintenence of a skill, and is also the verb used for looking after both living and non-living things.

For future reference:
In situations where appropriate phrasing is difficult to ascertain based on circumstance, I highly recommend searching the phrase in question at Linguee.de. There you will find excerpts from (mostly professional) texts that show the language used in context, which can prove much more helpful than a simple dictionary entry. Hope this can be of use in the future!

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I wouldn't see "Humor" as a "Fähigkeit". But the link to Linguee is a good idea: +1. –  Matthias Aug 11 at 18:58
@Matthias In a strict sense, no. But as a more florid example of language use, I don't see why not. –  Milchgesicht Aug 11 at 19:00
@Matthias Allerdings, Duden stimmt mir zu ;) –  Milchgesicht Aug 11 at 19:09
I would translate "skill" to "Fertigkeit", not "Fähigkeit", because that more points in the direction of somewhat to train (as opposed to roll ones tongue, which is simply inherited). "Ausüben" would be the verb of my choice, but it requires different grammar. –  guidot Aug 11 at 19:17
@Milchgesicht Ok, kann man so beschreiben. Ich empfinde Humor als eine Wesensart, die die Fähigkeit verleiht, in bestimmter Weise zu reagieren. Aber vielleicht ist das auch schon zu spitzfindig. - Aufgrund der Frage hatte ich wohl auch "Fähigkeit" eher im Sinne von "Fertigkeit" im Kopf (dank an guidot für diesen Hinweis!). Und obwohl es ja heutzutage Kurse für alles Mögliche gibt - ein Humortraining ist mir noch nicht untergekommen. –  Matthias Aug 11 at 19:31

As commented above I would translate "skill" to "Fertigkeit". There is a little problem however, since in German you would tend to avoid the abstract "skill" and replace it by whatever skill is intended. E.g.

I learned data base programming but didn't maintain that skill 

would translate to

Ich habe Datenbank-Programmierung gelernt, aber die Tätigkeit/Fertigkeit nie ausgeübt. 

This sounds only a bit strange, but in case of bicycling, swimming, French conversation you would use that directly instead of referring to a skill and appearing arrogant.

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Not maintaining a skill doesn't imply never having used it. –  Grantwalzer Aug 12 at 3:11

Ein "Skill" ist eine Fähigkeit, die man nicht von Geburt an hat. Man muss sie erst erlernen oder durch Übung erlernen.

Eine eine solche Fähigkeit muss man üben(to train), damit man sie nicht verliert. Der Anglizismus "trainieren" (to train + Endung(-ieren)) hat sich aber eingebürgert und ist im deutschen Sprachgebrauch üblich.

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I'll try to provide a literal translation.

Although "Fähigkeit" can be translated as "skill", it's rather an ability.

"Fertigkeit" is a skill.


is used for solid objects or metaphorically for beloved ones.


could be misinterpreted as "to receive", especially when used together with "Fähigkeit".


is unambiguous when used with "Fertigkeit".


plays in the same league (it's one of its synonyms) while shorter, therefore

eine Fertigkeit wahren

For "emotional skills", like humor (mentioned in the comments), use "Wesensart" instead. Additionally I think Matthias' "in Übung bleiben" is a very good choice. It covers all grounds and is more colloquial.

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