It s the same as English. Saying "cosa fai?" you could both be asking "what are you doing now?" and "what do you do in your life?" (example what job do you do). So "Cosa fai?" is both "Che stai facendo?" (present continues) and "Che fai per vivere/che lavoro fai?". Hope it helps ;)
Thanks for the clarification. I do understand that in Italian it can mean either, which is great. But in English it is definitely not the same. "What are you doing" means in this moment, and "what do you do" means what do you do with your time, presumably as a job.
If you stretch it, "what are you doing these days" or "what are you doing now" (with "now" meaning in a general sense, not at this very moment) could be used to ask "what is your job" but without qualifications you wouldn't expect someone to answer with their profession.
in Italian language the verb "fare" is used a lot.
in this case without context both ("do" and "make") are ok
- cosa puoi fare? = what can you do?
- io faccio una torta = I make a cake
- tu fai una domanda = you (1 person) ask a question
- voi fate una domanda = you (2+ people) ask a question
- mio padre fa l'avvocato = my father is a lawyer
- loro fanno la doccia = they take a shower
- noi facciamo colazione = we have breakfast
we make (prepare) breakfast = noi prepariamo la colazione
Duolingo usually requires gerund tense for that: "Cosa stai facendo" = What are you doing/making?
http://italian.about.com/od/verbs/a/italian-verbs-gerund-form.htm gerund it is taught later on in the skill tree
Yes, "Cosa stai facendo" is more acceptable for "What are you doing/making" than "cosa fai".
Generally "what do you make?" = "cosa fai?"
I think that "What do you make? as if asking "How much do you earn?" would be Quanto guadagni? (guadagnare = to earn http://www.wordreference.com/iten/guadagnare)
It depends on context, really. If you asked this of someone who was actively doing something, they would certainly understand you, but more accurate might be "cosa sta(i) facendo?". It can also mean "what's up", "wassup?", "how ya doing", etc. - all based upon context and how you say it. This could, however, be locale dependent, but is certainly valid in Umbria.
why can one translate "cosa fai?" with either simple present or continuous, but "lei parla" is--per discussions and busuu answer--is only translated with the simple present?