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Culture — To Want or To Love

by Brandi

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February 9th, 2010

For learning more about the Spanish language this week we will learn about Love, Spanish Style. If any of you have ever taken Spanish in school, you probably have learned the phrase “I love you” as being “Te amo.” When I actually arrived in Latin America and lived in various regions for about two years, I heard many family members say to each other “Te quiero” instead of “Te amo.”

These two phrases essentially mean the same thing in the Spanish language. However, if you translate “Te quiero” literally into English, it means, “I want you” which has quite a different meaning than “I love you.” I would never say “I want you” to a family member in English unless I had a very strange and unorthodox upbringing.

An example of this is when I recently went to a little show at Disneyland and they were telling some jokes about people who live way in the back hills and are sort of out of touch with reality. They are the sort of people who might say the “direct” English translation of “te quiero” to a family member. One of the actors in the show jokingly said, “If we get a divorce, does that mean you’re still my sister”? (Just so you know, this is a funny joke, but that type of relationship is not common here in the United States)

Now on a bit more serious note, there is a bit of a difference between “te quiero” and “te amo” in Spanish (both mean “I love you” not “I want you.”) A native Spanish speaker explained to me that “te quiero” is used as a more casual expression of love and that “te amo” is a more heartfelt, deep love that may be used between a married couple for example.

If any of you native Spanish-speaking subscribers have some more insight in this area, please enlighten us. Also, how would you say love expressed in your part of the world? Latin people are usually very affectionate and generally say “I love you” easily and regularly to family members. In the U.S. when people are dating and they want to show that they are becoming very serious about the other person, they say “I love you;” this takes the relationship to a whole new level. Like Latin people, many American families also regularly hug each other and say “I love you.” It is my understanding that in places like Japan, the phrase “I love you” isn’t commonly said between family members or husband and wife.

Sneak peek at next week: “Final research on language and the brain: the effects of learning language and slowing old-age illnesses.”

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