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I recently started talking with a Japanese "pen friend" on Skype, and I'd like to ask her "Should we speak in Japanese or English?"

If I said:

わたしたちは 日本語を はなしますか。 英語を はなしますか。

does that convey what I'm trying to say? Or is there a better way to express it?

I would appreciate it if you could reply in kana, I know precious few kanji.

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up vote 9 down vote accepted

You want to ask your "pen friend" whether she wants to talk with you in Japanese or English, Don't you?

In this situation, I say "日本語で はなしますか、それとも英語で はなしますか?". This sentence means "Which would you like to speak in? Japanese or English?"

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Okay, I looked up the meaning of それとも, which I haven't heard before. Apparently it means "or else", to connect two alternatives. わかります! Thanks, I'll accept. – Leo King Jan 25 '14 at 14:42
You're right, via guidetojapanese.org/learn/grammar/polite: "The masu-form must always come at the end of a complete sentence and never inside a modifying relative clause. When we learn compound sentences, we will see that each sub-sentence of the compound sentence can end in masu-form as well.", so in compond sentences, as this one, it is ok for both verbs to be polite; it is only about intra-sentence verb clause. – herby Jan 25 '14 at 21:19
Why is everyone using spaces here? – l'électeur Jan 25 '14 at 23:21
Spaces are often used when there's no kanji at all, and they're occasionally used when there are only a few kanji (as in this question and answer). It's not how Japanese is normally written, but in my opinion there's nothing wrong with it, especially if it helps you understand. – snailplane Jan 27 '14 at 0:20
That's the other reason - because I understand so few kanji, I use spaces to help me to understand phrase boundaries. – Leo King Jan 27 '14 at 19:53

A good structure you might want to look into is the ~ましょう verb ending. It means "let's __" You attach ましょう to the verb stem, so for "let's speak" it would be はなしましょう.

To make it "shall we __?" you add "か" to the end. So for "shall we speak?" it would be はなしましょうか?

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+1 Damn, I can't accept two answers ;). Both perfectly valid constructions: I like the simplicity of it. Could I say: 日本語を はなしましょうか。 それとも 英語を はなしましょう。? – Leo King Jan 25 '14 at 23:00
@LeoKing I think you can say「日本語"で"[話]{はな}しましょうか。それとも英語"で"[話]{はな}しましょう"か"。」 – user1016 Jan 26 '14 at 4:22
Thank you for your support. I think "~ましょうか" is better than "~ますか" too. However I think that many Japanese would care less about the difference of the two. If you are nervous about grammer miss, don't be afraid! Many Japanese use their language with many grammatical mistakes. – a Japanese passerby Jan 26 '14 at 13:14
I'm not nervous about it, but as a language student I feel like it's my responsibility to learn to speak how Japanese people consider normal. – Leo King Jan 26 '14 at 15:29
@Leo, thanks :) And yes, the volitional. There's a shorter, casual version of it too, once you get used to the long version. (よう・おう) – silvermaple Jan 26 '14 at 15:36

xxx xx しょうか

xxx xx syouKa

e.g. ご飯にしま しょうか gohannishima syouka (shall we have lunch)

e.g. 日本語で話しま しょうか nihongodehanashima SyoUKa (should we talk in Japanese)

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-1 I can't take your answer seriously: it's very distracting the way you've capitalised every syllable, and I've not seen "syo" as a romanisation of しょ before. – Leo King Jan 26 '14 at 15:32
sorry but syo=しょ when typing on key – Ultimate Noob Jan 26 '14 at 15:37
@LeoKing Without commenting on the answer as a whole, I'll just note that syo is fine as a romanization of しょ. – snailplane Jan 26 '14 at 15:40
@LeoKing "Syo" is Nihon Shiki-style romanization, where kana-alphabetic correspondence is more important than pronunciation-alphabetic correspondence. All gojuon kana, with the exception of ん, are represented by two letters. So, for example, し is "si", and つ is "tu". The yoon kana take the base gojuon letter and add "ya", "yu", or "yo". So しょ is "syo", じょ is "jyo", ちょ is "tyo", etc. It makes for more uniform romanization, but it's not very intuitive in English, so it's not used as widely as Hepburn romanization is. – alexhatesmil Jan 26 '14 at 23:40
@LeoKing You may want to ask that as a separate question. A couple quick notes: slashes indicate phonemic transcription, which in Japanese can be very simple, hardly requiring special characters at all--phonemically しょ could be transcribed /syo/ (as in Labrune 2012). In contrast, you can indicate phonetic transcriptions with square brackets. And importantly, Japanese has no [ʃ]. Instead, /si/ is typically realized as [ɕi]. – snailplane Jan 27 '14 at 1:20

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