I would translate:
"Ich gehe zwei Schritte." ("Ich laufe zwei Schritte." is weird you definitely get a bad look when you say that in Geman) hence don't say that!
But the doctor may say: "Gehen sie bitte mal zwei Schritte!" or "Machen sie bitte mal zwei Schritte!"
"Ich laufe die Strasse entlang." can mean gehen/laufen/schnell laufen rennen
For the mentioned extreme short trip we say:
"Ich gehe mir mal die Beine vertreten" "Ich gehe mal ein paar Schritte" the form with "machen" is also possible
The sports trainer (sprint) may say: "Renn mal 10 Schritte!" , or maybe "Lauf mal 10 Schritte!" ,-but how can you run 2 steps!?
Hence, never say: "Ich laufe zwei Schritte!" it is too short for a walk, and too short for a training exercise. Same in English.
What purpose does "mal" serve in those sentences? eg, "Machen Sie bitte mal zwei Schritte." I feel like it's a word I might forget to include.
"mal" is short for 'einmal" and would be translated in this context as: "sometime", but I struggle to translate it. Its a filler to say that you politely ask someone to do something.
So as you said, you may forget about the word 'mal' but it could change the attitude of your sentence. :-)
Mal also serves as times (as in sequence of events) i.e. ich habe zweimal es gesehen
I am very confused with the use of "laufen" on this site. My mother is German. I have heard the language spoken regularly throughout my life by native speakers and am proficient in my understanding of spoken and written German. So can someone help me understand why I have only rarely heard "laufen" used to mean "walking?" In my experience it almost always means "running," but that is not even offered as a possible suggestion here. Why is this? Is it a regional thing?
Yes, it's largely regional. In Austria, for example, ‘laufen’ means “run”, and ‘gehen’ means “walk”; but in Swabia, ‘laufen’ means “walk”, and is ‘springen’ is “run”.
In Switzerland, laufen means "walking" (people don't generally use spazieren gehen as most germans would). You can use rennen to be explicit about "running".
In Italy we say (word for word translation) "we made two steps", that means that we took a short walk. Does this sentence have the same meaning? You could use "two steps" in german (and english) too? Thanks!
Well....so, what does this sentence mean? That I walked litterally two steps? one-two-stop?
Yes. Maybe I've started physical therapy after suffering a stroke or getting a leg joint replaced, and am walking two steps on my own now. Or I'm a toddler just learning how to walk. Or I'm hang-gliding off a cliff. Or, in a novel, I walk two steps and someone whacks me or the bridge collapses…
That's what I thought in the first place. But it does not seem to light any bulbs in german native speakers, as well as in english
(I guess that even "Ich gehe ein paar Schritte" would sound like "I am going for a couple of steps", so a non-sense).
"laufen" can be both "to walk" and "to run". So if "I run two steps" is the suggested answer, why "I go two steps" is rejected?
You answered it yourself. Laufen doesn't mean go, but walk or run. Gehen means walk or go, hence the confusion.