1. Forum
  2. >
  3. Topic: Chinese
  4. >
  5. "你能说几种语言?"


Translation:How many languages can you speak?

December 20, 2017



How many languages do you speak... Should be correct


For language skills, the verb should be 会 (can, able to). 能 denotes physical capability, like if you are able to attend a conference (and are not thousands of miles away, making it physically impossible) or able to lift a heavy object. Unless, of course, the question is asking about how many languages the person is physically capable of speaking (which would exclude, for instance, an alien language that requires different organs to speak it).


That is how I was taught as well, but it seems like a lot of Chinese people don't really care about that difference :)


I think its like the "can"/"may" distinction in English. We were taught to strictly separate them by our English teachers (or stern mothers!), but speakers do not maintain such firm distinctions.


...yeah, some Chinese don't really care about that.

(I do.l


Jumping off of Janus159341's post, "can" can be translated as either 会, 能, or 可以 ... but the connotation of each word is different. I'm not a native Chinese speaker, but as I understand it, 会 is used for knowing how to perform a skill, 能 is used for being physically able to do something, and 可以 is used for having permission to do something. So, for example:

我会开车 means "I can drive" (as in, I know how to drive a car, because I've completed my driving tests, etc.)

我能开车 means "I am able to drive" (as in, I'm not drunk at the moment, so I'm physically capable of driving)

我可以开车 means "I can/may drive" (as in, I have permission to drive)


Thanks for this detailed clarification. This is one of the best explanations I've seen. Your use of examples really helps me understand it better.


I think they are treating speaking a language as an ability 能力 so using 能. Speaking a language consists of both knowledge and physical skill. Many Chinese people believe they cannot speak a foreign language because they cannot physically form the words with their mouth. As someone who taught English in China I came across this attitude. This may explain the choice of 能 over 会。


Thank you. Your explanation provides us a new insight of this matter.


Exactly, thanks


"How many languages do you speak?" should also be correct no?


"How many languages do you speak" is correct - from a Chinese


They keep marking so many correct things wrong, i popped open google translate to check and noticed a pattern. Guess what pattern i noticed?


I speak 5, English Spanish Chinese Bird and Dog


How many different languages can you speak should also be accepted.


This site is really nitpicky, isn't it? My Chinese teachers would say that's correct.


Kinds of languages = different languages


I thought the measure word for languages was 门, not 种…


這一道應該是 幾多。 如果只有 幾 好像不好


CAN YOU SPEAK is what you are CAPABLE of doing, but DO YOU SPEAK is what you ACTUALLY do.

Learn Chinese in just 5 minutes a day. For free.