GUSTAR versus LIKE
To use the ver “gustar” in Spanish, you need to start thinking differently because Spanish does not have an exact equivalent of the verb “like” in English.
One thing that seems backwards to both English speakers and Spanish speaker is how each of us say that we like something. For English speakers, if you learn to think of the phrases backwards in English, you get the hang of it better. The sentence structure is completely different than how we use the verb “like” in English. You also need to change it from an active sentence to a passive sentence.
I like this dress = Me gusta este vestido.
Now, think of the Spanish sentence like this: Me (To me) gusta (is pleasing) este vestido (this dress). “To me is pleasing this dress.” Of course, the word order is strange when written that way, so let’s change it to: “This dress is pleasing to me.” In English, it’s a passive way of saying that you like something.
Although it’s not at the beginning of the sentence, in Spanish, the SUBJECT of the sentence is el vestido (this dress). In English, the subject of the sentence is “I”. So… to put yourself in the Spanish way of thinking, start expressing what you like with the object in the English sentence as the subject in a Spanish sentence, and it will come more naturally to you.
Since the sentences already use indirect object pronouns such as me, te, le, nos, vos or les, usually the prepositional phrases a mí, a ti, a ellos, etc. are only added to the sentence if needed for emphasis or clarification. That’s why I show the prepositional phrases in parentheses in some of the Spanish examples below.
Each example shows first, how we say it in English, then how we need to think in English with the word order based upon the use of “gustar”, and then the Spanish equivalent of the original sentence.
You like María. = María is pleasing to you. = (A ti) Te gusta María.
I like books. = Books are pleasing to me. = (A mí) Me gustan los libros.
I like reading (or: to read) books = Reading books is pleasing to me = (A mí) Me gusta leer libros. Notice that in this example, the subject in the Spanish sentence is leer (reading). Compare to the previous example in which los libros (books) is the subject in the Spanish translation.
Juan likes red cars. = Red cars are pleasing to Juan. = A Juan le gustan los carros rojos. (In this sentence, adding the prepositional phrase “A Juan” is necessary to identify who we are talking about.)
Do you like cats? = Are cats pleasing to you? = To you are pleasing cats?) = ¿(A ti) Te gustan los gatos?
I like you a lot. = You are very pleasing to me. = (A mí) Me gustas mucho.
LINKS TO LEARN MORE ABOUT THE VERB “GUSTAR”
http://www.spanishdict.com/topics/show/40 This page includes explanations, plus an interactive quiz.
http://blogs.transparent.com/spanish/spanish-lesson-beginner-24-the-spanish-verb-%E2%80%9Cgustar%E2%80%9D-to-like/ This page includes a YouTube video by a native Spanish speaker. The transcription of everything she says is below the video on the page.)
ONLINE QUIZZES TO TEST YOUR USAGE OF “GUSTAR”
http://www.studyspanish.com/lessons/games/gustar-sp.htm In this flashcard style quiz, you are asked to translate short sentences (you can do it mentally or write it down on paper), and then check your answer by continuing to the next flashcard. Each flashcard includes audio by native speakers.
http://www.lessonpaths.com/categories/search/card?search=gusta This site has many quizzes about the verb “gustar” and quizzes on many other topics which you can look for with the search function.