Which One is More Correct:
"Can I speak Italian?"
"Can I speak in Italian"?

by Franzoso Ernesto

I teach English but since my mother tongue is actually Italian, heavy doubts are always there.

I want my students to speak English in class (no matter how well they can speak it; what matters most is speaking and speaking and speaking).

However, they often ask me for permission to use their mother tongue and say:
"Can we speak Italian?"

Well, I feel there’s something wrong in that question, something that doesn’t work.

Isn’t it more correct to say: "Can we speak in Italian?"

My doubt is:

They aren’t actually asking themselves if they are able to use Italian, they’re simply asking for permission to use Italian.

I’m a bit confused. Could you please help me again?

Believe me: it’s beautiful to have an expert you can trust and count on.


Ola's answer:

Hi Ernesto,

To understand what is the real difference between these two sentences we must look into what each of them means:

"Can we speak Italian?"

"Can we speak in Italian?"

Let's see what the online Oxford dictionary has to say about it:

Speak something = to be able to use a particular language.

For example: "Do you speak English?"

Speak in something = to use a particular language to express yourself.

For example: "Would you prefer it if we spoke in German?"


"Can we speak Italian?" means: "Do we know Italian well enough to use it?"


"Can we speak in Italian?" means: "May we use Italian to express ourselves?"

I hope this helps :)

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