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Are they just interchangeable?

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  • 2
    Roughly the same difference as in 'to speak English' vs 'to speak in English'. Nov 15 '18 at 14:48
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Generally speaking, they are interchangeable. However, sometimes по-ангийски sounds a bit more natural than на английском. For example:

Вы говорите по-английски? (Do you speak English?)

По-английски is usually used when we talk about somebody's ability to use the language. It's not that Вы говорите на английсокм (языке) is wrong. If fact it's not. But по-английски is shorter, and definitely more common when asking someone if they speak English.

But

Вы говорит на английском? Я что-то не понял. - Нет, я говорю на немецком. (In this situation the person who is asking the question is not sure whether it's English he hears, so he is making sure it's really English. Note that if you say Вы говорите по-английски? instead, it should be fine too, since the context makes the situation clear)

Another example:

Пожалуйста не перебивайте меня, когда я говорю на английском. Я могу сбиться. (Again, it's quite possible to say когда я говорю по-английски instead)

Conclusion: When you mean someone's general ability to speak, you may want to use по-английски, not на английском. When you mean something else, the two phrases seem to be interchangeable:

Текст написан на английсом или текст написан по-английски (though на английском sounds just a bit better to me personally; it sounds a bit more professional, I would say)

Когда он говорит по-английски (или на английском) , всё понятно - у него очень хорошее произношение.

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  • How do you add the yellow and grey text behind words if you dont mind me asking? 🤔
    – Almonds812
    Nov 23 '18 at 19:07
  • @Almonds812 You are asking about the preformatted text and blockquote. See the elements between the hyperlink and image (the editor is above the body of your question/answer when you are typing). Good luck!
    – Enguroo
    Nov 24 '18 at 2:52

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