Or at least my students do. And they’d be happy to tell you so if you came here.
Like ‘hello’ and ‘cheese’, ‘I love you’ is one of the English words/phrases that all of my students, including the preschool ones, seem to know right off the bat. They learn it from TV or advertising or older siblings…and I’m not sure they understand quite how ‘strong’ a phrase it is. I mean, English-speakers regularly say things like ‘I love cheese!’ or ‘I love this dress!’, but ‘I love you’ is pretty much reserved for use between relatives and romantic partners. I mean, I have good friends that I love, but you probably won’t catch me saying ‘I love you’ to them. I have a hard enough time saying it to my little brother.
Japanese junior high schoolers are not like this. They will say ‘I love you’ to anyone they think has a chance of understanding them, especially if they are female. However, my male colleague down in Esashi admits that he gets it fairly often from his students, both male and female.
For example, when I studied abroad in Nagoya in 2008, my daily walk to the subway station took me past a city junior high school. The students would wave if they saw me and one day a clutch of girls caught sight of me across the street.
Girls: *waving frantically* Hello!
Me: Oh, hello!
Girls: How are you?
Me: Alright, how are you?
Girls: *nervous tittering*
Girl: I LOVE YOU!
Now, I’m used to it. The eighth graders all wrote me Christmas cards last year and at least 2/3 of them featured professions of love (sometimes for my games, not me). Most of the correspondence I receive through the message system involves ‘I love you’ in some form or another.
And then there’s this:
Difficult to make out? It’s ‘I LOVE YOU’ stomped into the snow, on the path between the town gym and the road, behind my workplace. ::sigh::
Of course, I wanted to test my hypothesis, to see what my students thought the word ‘love’ meant. In class, I took one seventh grader and placed him at the front of the class and wrote a word on the board that he couldn’t see. The other students had to give clues in English to help him guess. With different students, I did ‘cat’ and ‘school’ and ‘October’. With the last girl, I tried to see what they would come up with for ‘love’.
Girl: I’ve had this.
Boy: I haven’t had this.
Boy: It’s big.
Girl: It’s pink.
Teacher: I think of it as being red.
Boy: This is how I feel about tomatoes.
Boy: This is how I feel about basketball.
The girl guessed correctly at that point, though she admits she was warring between it and ‘favorite’.