I've realized that I still don't know the way to talk about "speaking a language", for instance the Chinese equivalents to sentences like these:

  • Do you speak English?
  • I can speak a little Chinese.

Of course there are other senses of "to speak" as in "he speaks very loudly" and "who were you speaking to?" and there is the similar word "to talk" which cannot be used with the name of a language, except in colloquial or nonstandard speech.

So I have found at least two single-syllable Chinese words that both seem to work for the sense of "to speak" that I am interested in:

  • / (shuō)
  • / (jiǎng)

Are these two interchangeable synonyms or are there subtle differences? Are these the only two options for expressing "to speak XX language"?

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    说 sounds more casual while 讲 sounds more formal to me. I think in most cases they are interchangeable. I can't think of a situation that they are not interchangeable for now.
    – hrzhu
    Commented Feb 19, 2014 at 11:59
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    I think it's the other way round, 讲 is more informal than 说
    – user58955
    Commented Feb 19, 2014 at 12:09
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    @user58955 probably regional. "Can you speak English", northern mandarin: 你会说英文吗? cantonese: 你識唔識講英語嗎? Commented Feb 19, 2014 at 13:14
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    Yes, several southern dialects use 讲 (e.g., Wu dialects, Min dialects and Cantonese)
    – user58955
    Commented Feb 19, 2014 at 13:58
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    I think this is entirely region-dependent in this context. Mandarin spoken by southerns contains more 講 and Mandarin spoken by northerners contains more 說. I had (almost) only heard 說 in this situation before arriving in Taiwan. Since, I have almost exclusively heard 講.
    – Olle Linge
    Commented Feb 22, 2014 at 3:19

3 Answers 3


The two are interchangeable in this particular context.

The two has different usage in other contexts.


  • can mean to say in 讲话, to explain in 讲解, to bargain in 讲价.
  • can mean to persuade in 劝说, and it can be a noun in 学说(theory).

The choice of syllables for your situation I would say is based on statistical usage of each. In certain areas is more naturally used because it's used more by the community. And the same is true for .


讲 is formal while 说 is casual in this particular context.

Usually you won't hear Northern Chinese say "讲英语" or "讲话" in oral Chinese, however these two expressions are used in TV news.

Southern Chinese usually use "讲" orally though.


其实两个是一个意思,to speak xx language一般用"说","讲"用的相对较少,而且"讲"还有讲课的意思,比如说"他是讲英语的老师。"

  • There are lots of signs of "请讲普通话 请写规范字"...
    – user58955
    Commented Feb 19, 2014 at 14:45
  • Our site requires that answers are provided in English to assist beginner learners. Please update your answer to include English otherwise it may be removed.
    – going
    Commented Feb 20, 2014 at 0:31
  • @xiaohouzi79: On the Spanish site we were open to posts in both languages and we encouraged contributors to edit posts to provide a translation into the other language. I'm not active there anymore but it seemed to work well at the time. Commented Feb 20, 2014 at 6:47
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    @hippietrail - We decided a while back to assist with new learners we would ensure that English is used in all questions and answers. If you think we should revisit this feel free to create a new discussion on the meta site.
    – going
    Commented Feb 24, 2014 at 0:51
  • @xiaohouzi79: That's certainly a reasonable decision that every language site has the right to take for itself. One problem though can be that native speakers with poor answers won't be able to contribute or will contribute answers with poor English that's hard to read. The other way there's the possibility that the combination of good native answers and good translators of them into English can work together to give the best answers of all sometimes. Commented Feb 24, 2014 at 13:07

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