Saying 'I Love You' in Spanish is tricky. Teach your language students the many nuances of saying 'I love you' with different connotations and levels of emotion, an art they never had to learn in the English language.
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Rationale for Teaching Students How to Say 'I Love You' in Spanish
The purpose of this lesson is to teach students to distinguish between the various levels and types of love in the culture of the Spanish language, how they are verbally expressed and in which situations they are appropriate in.
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Usage of Phrases for 'I Love You'
The phrase used to say 'I Love You' in Spanish varies greatly depending on the level of love and the type of love you feel for the recipient. For example, friends or those who are dating, but not seriously may say 'te quiero.' This would literally mean 'I want you,' but is more like sharing an affection than being in love with someone. This phrase can be used between very close friends, to a pet, or to someone you have recently become romantically involved with but are not extremely serious with yet.
Those who are in love would use the term 'te amo.' You would never say this to someone you just recently met or have not been seeing for long. This is a more serious form of love. 'Te amo' is when you are truly in love with someone. It is a very strong phrase. If used too early in a relationship, for example, you might scare someone away or make them feel uneasy. You wouldn't say this to a friend.
The next level up is 'te adoro,' or more literally, 'I adore you.' Although in English this might not be stronger than what 'te amo' means, in Spanish this is a very strong phrase. You could use this phrase with someone you have a special love for, whether or not it be a boyfriend or girlfriend, or a spouse, but it can be used also to tell your own children. After all, 'adorar' means to adore, and aren't your children adorable?
The only stronger phrase in Spanish is 'te idolatro' which means 'I idolize you.' This phrase, although not incorrect, is rarely used and with reason. Idolizing someone is usually reserved for our imaginations and hearts. Be careful using this one, if at all.
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To practice using these phrases, students can be given a variety of situations on flash cards or offered up by the audience and then react by giving the appropriate phrase in return.
For example, students should be able to tell which they would use with whom. What would they say to their mother? To their husband? To their dog? To their best friend?
If students are talking to their best friend, they would say 'te quiero.' They would tell their husbands or wives 'te amo.' If they got the chance to meet Shakira, for instance, they might tell her (although who knows how she might react) 'te idolatro.' And when their daughter does something cute, they could say 'te adoro.'
To continue practicing, students should be given roles to play and different scenarios. In front of the class they should act out the scenario and determine which type of love and with phrase of love is most appropriate. The student audience will likely react if the wrong one is used.
Afterward, students should compose a poem with the title of each of the loving phrases for a person they love. In their poem 'Te Idolatro' they should not be writing to their dog or another inappropriate person. This will demonstrate whether or not they understood which level each type of love is.
These poems can be used to create an anthology of love poems for the class. See if you have any Nerudas in your mist!
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Students should also practice these phrases with different conjugations.