The Subject: Je
Nothing special is required for the subject of the sentence: just use the standard subjects, the very first things most students learn:
As je is the first person singular, the equivalent of I in English, we will be using that for this construction.
The Verb: Aimer
The French language is a bit funny about love. In English, there's something of a dichotomy between the verbs to love and to like, with very different connotations when it comes to feelings towards people, with the former being far more intense in nature than the latter, with something of the romantic attached to it. In French, they use aimer for a whole range of feelings in different structures to display this range of feeling.
Aimer conjugates like any other -er verb:
You can also substitute a verb like “adorer”, but it's not quite as classy.
The Object: te
But who are you referring to? This is where the direct object comes into play. For this phrase, you'll want to use te, which you may note, is a lot like tu. Indeed, most of the direct object pronoun forms in French are fairly similar, if not the same, as the original forms. Easy enough:
Now, note that me and te end without a pronounced soft vowel. Since the following verb also begins with a vowel (aimer), the direct object will thus contract with it in a process known as elision. So now we have a structure that looks like t'aime. Add on the subject, and you have your final result: je t'aime!
While in theory you can place the object anywhere in the sentence, the French language is all about aesthetics, and Je aime te sounds terrible according to that aesthetic. While French also allows you to change certain forms of the direct object to make it sound stronger when at the end of the phrase, it still doesn't have the same ring to it:
If you want to structure your phrase so that the direct object is after the verb, as we do in English, feel free. However, remember to contract the subject as according to elision if necessary, just as you would the object! For instance, j'aime toi.
Knowing all these pieces of information, it is pretty easy to make variants on this phrase. Want to reply? Add on a aussi to say “I love you, too.” Using yourself as an object, you can also make the structure moi aussi, just as with the English “me, too.”
Want to mix up your subjects and objects? That's easy enough as well with the formula provided: Tu nous aimes, vous m'aime, the like.
Want to express a nonromantic, platonic love? Adding in a bien to the phrase will tone down the the phrase from its romantic connotations. Je t'aime bien will then literally translate to “I like you well.” A bit awkward in English, but it serves to express friendship in French.
You can also be considerably more creative in your romantic expression—it is the language of love, after all! While we won't get into more elaborate statements of affection in this article, by all means go out and learn more
So, this is a simple enough concept to grasp. Should be easy enough to teach, right?
Not necessarily. No matter what the age of your student, the classroom is very likely to dissolve into a puddle of awkwardness over the prospect of in-class practice. Try to bring a level of humor to the lesson, an absurdity, so that it isn't taken too seriously in class. Use examples involving bizarre relationships, perhaps a dog who loves a cat, or a king who loves his clothes. When it comes to having the students practice with each other, your best strategy is to encourage goofy declarations of love amongst your students, perhaps with a sort of one-upper or competition to see who can come up with the sappiest tagline. Alternatively, with Valentine's Day coming up, you could have them all make Valentine's to their heartache.