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I always interpreted 何 as "what" and "どう" as more of a "How or How about?" and thus was under the impression that if one wanted to ask "What will you do?" or "What did you do?" you would say 何をしますか and 何をしましたか respectively.

However, I've recently started to come across どうしますか in Genki 1 which I naturally interpreted as "How will you do?" but in the sentence 冬休みはどうしますか it seems like it would be translated more as "What are you going to do for your winter vacation?" Is this correct?

In the above sentence would どう be interchangeable with 何 such that it's 冬休みは何をしますか ? In the context of this sentence would they mean the same thing if interchanged? In what ways is 冬休みはどうしますか different from 冬休みは何をしますか. Are there any small differences in the meanings that I'm not interpreting properly?

Thanks!

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up vote 8 down vote accepted

This is a good example of where direct or literal translation does not work well between Japanese and another language.

We often use 「どう」 where English-speakers would use nothing but "what".

「どうしよう。」 or 「どうしたらいいの。」 vs. "What should I do?"

「どうしましたか。」 vs. "What happened?"

If you used 「なに」 instead of 「どう」 in the phrases above, you would sound more foreign than you might think just like I would sound very foreign if I said "How should I do?" or "How happened?".

「[冬休]{ふゆやす}みはどうしますか。」 would often be preferred over 「冬休みは[何]{なに}をしますか。」 because the latter sounds like a pretty personal question to Japanese-speakers. We might not want to be asked that question at least by someone we do not know well because 「なに」 requires specific and detailed information whereas 「どう」 only requires rough or vague information. "Specifics vs. Overall Approach", so to speak.

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I often say to Japanese people "今日は何をしますか?" and have never been corrected. Is this actually wrong (at least foreigner Japanese)? –  hippietrail Mar 31 at 4:27

Overall your sense is on the mark. A good way to view the example in Genki is along the lines of "How [are you spending] your winter vacation?", as opposed to the looser translation they provide.

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