I have always wondered how to ask someone (like my Japanese teacher) to tell me how to say something in Japanese. For example, I wanted to ask Kato Sensei how to say "Please send me a photo via Instagram DM." If I were to ask her in English, I would say, "How do you say 'Please send me a photo via Instagram DM' in Japanese?" But if I asked a person in Japanese "How do you say 〜?" in English, that wouldn't make sense, I guess. How do you say "How do you say __ [in Japanese]?" in Japanese?
The general pattern is:
To break things down a bit:
- 「something」は = the phrase
- 日本語で = "in Japanese"
- 何ですか = "is what?"
In this context, the で particle is used to mean "in this language", like so:
What is "dog" in English?
Here's an example I remember seeing on japanese-online.com many years ago:
Jason: Kore wa Nihon-go de nan desu ka.
What is this (item) in Japanese?
Yota: Nihon-go de sore wa "denwa" desu.
In Japanese, that is a telephone.
...and here's the explanation given on that page:
Kore wa Nihon-go de nan desu ka.
This sentence means "What is it in Japanese?" or "How do you say it in Japanese?" The word de is a particle that signifies "in" when referring to a language.
Thus, Nihon-go de means "in Japanese". The word Nihon-go is a compound of the two words, Nihon and go. Go means "language" and when added to the end of a country name, it signifies the language of that country.
I'd personally use...
For years, I used the...
But I had a Japanese native tell me it was more natural to use it with the verb 言う (polite form is 言います).
So, to break it down, you're literally asking "What is ~ called in Japanese?" or "What do you say for ~ in Japanese?"
言う = to say
と = grammatically necessary particle used with 言う to indicate a quotation. Think of it like the "that" we use in English to quote someone. (He said that he was hungry.)
You could still use ～は日本語で何ですか？, of course. But I personally feel using the the verb 言う is more natural for Japanese. Choice is yours though. Either way, you'll be understood.
If I'm not clear on anything, just let me know. I sometimes have trouble explaining, hah.