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I would like to preface this by saying I'm Australian and speak with an Australian accent when I'm speaking English which can be hard to digest for a lot of people new to Australia.

A lot of 1st gen Chinese-Australians struggle with my accent so I commonly find it easier to order in Chinese. This is how I would normally transition between the two languages:

我:你会说汉语吗
他:我会说
我:我要...

I feel that this is kind of a harsh transition but haven't been corrected; yet. I've considered saying something like: 我们可以说汉语吗 but it doesn't sound overly natural or correct.

How would I politely ask to continue the conversation in Chinese?

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Sometimes I ask the waitstaff if they speak the language of the restaurant's cuisine. Chinese restaurants usually are run by Chinese but I've been fooled in Japanese restaurants run by Koreans or Vietnamese and a Korean restaurant run by Mongolians ... so you never know. Sometimes even Asian Aussies working in Asian restaurants in Australia who don't speak their ancestral language (-: –  hippietrail Jan 18 at 7:39
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@hippietrail My favorite Japanese place near work is run by Chinese who know 0 Japanese, one of the better sushi train places near my house is run by Koreans who speak Japanese & Korean fluently. Also know my share of 3rd-4th gen Australian-Chinese mates who don't know Chinese or only know a little of their mother tongue eg. Hokkien or Cantonese –  50-3 Jan 18 at 7:46
    
Yes only after submitting my comment did I realize I forgot to mention Chinese restaurants with staff who speak some Chinese language but not Mandarin. I guess we still must especially have Cantonese-only speaking restaurants here and there. –  hippietrail Jan 18 at 7:49
    
@hippietrail Another fun one is YumCha depending who is pushing the cart will dictate which language they will try and speak to you in, Or for double fun they will give the Canto name of one dish the Hokkien name of another dish and the rest in either Mandarin or English... Chinese can be confusing at times :) –  50-3 Jan 18 at 7:52
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Reminds me of a question I asked over on cooking.SE a while ago (-: –  hippietrail Jan 18 at 7:54

7 Answers 7

up vote 5 down vote accepted

In eastern asian languages, hints are very important, thus, if you have already said "你会说汉语吗?", it has included an indication of "让我们说汉语吧" and the part you are asking for is actually an unnecessary part of the communication. You can just switch to your Chinese mode after that sentence as a notice.

It is the same case in English. When you say "Can we speak in Chinese?", obviously you are not inquiring if we really have the ability to say Chinese, rather, it is an indication including the sentence "Let's speak Chinese.", which you will not speak aloud.

But it is important you know the correct answer. “(咱们/我们)能用(普通话/汉语)说吗?”

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This is a good suggestion, by asking them "你会说汉语吗?" you clearly indicate that you know Chinese and if the other person also knows Chinese then you simply carry on in Chinese. –  grayQuant Jan 27 at 18:32

Since it is possible that the waiter/waitress speaks Cantonese as his/her mother tongue, saying something like

我们能说普通话吗?

would kill two birds with one stone.

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If it were me, I'd say:

要不这样,我们讲中文吧。

I think this will be very gentle and soft.

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To avoid making the other party feel you're not satisfied with his or her English level, you may say:

我们可以用中文吗? (wǒmen kěyǐ yòng zhōngwén ma?)

Which translates into: Can we use Chinese?

In this way you're kindly asking if speaking Chinese is possible. Also, it would propably make the other party feel that you're simply interested in speaking Chinese rather than English.

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I always thought 中文 referred to the written Chinese language, or at least literary Chinese? –  hippietrail Jan 20 at 17:08
    
Yeah well.. I partly agree. It also covers the language as a whole. When it comes to languages and the character 文 is applied, then the written form of that particular language is rather in the fore, e.g. 英文 and 德文. –  Joel Hansen Jan 20 at 22:03

How about: "那么,请跟我说汉语/普通话" (in that case, please speak Chinese with me)?

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I think "哦,好的。我要..." is good enough, or 'OK, 我要...'. There is no difficulty for them to understand words like 'OK', 'yes' and etc.

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What about 「您要说汉语吗?」 In this you are asking if they want to speak Chinese instead of asking if we can speak chinese.

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