Russian distinguishes 2 types of consonants: hard and soft. We mark soft consonants with [ʲ] or with a prime [´] in the transcription. In сад /'sat/ 'garden', both consonants are hard. In сядь /'sʲatʲ/ 'sit down (imperative)', both consonants are soft.
When я, е, ю, ё follow a consonant, they don't have 'y' sound. Instead, they change the way previous sound is pronounced. We say that they make it 'soft'.
Vowel И also makes the previous consonant soft (but it doesn't have 'y' even if it's in the beginning of the word or after a vowel), and Ь marks a soft sound when it's not followed by a vowel.
English L is neither hard nor soft, it's somewhere in-between. You can listen to soft and hard versions of L in these pairs: лот /'lot/ vs. лёд /'lʲot/, люк /'lʲuk/ vs лук /'luk/, стал /'stal/ vs. сталь, дал /'dal/ vs даль /'dalʲ/.
This has been puzzling me for a while. Большое спасибо, шэрая жаба! (I still have trouble distinguishing between soft and hard consonants, though, even after listening to lots of examples. I think it's something I'm really going to struggle to master. But at least I have a better idea what I'm listening for now.)
It’s a bit more complicated:
- about things, activities, places: I like = я люблю́ (for things you know well), мне нра́вится (can be used for a thing you encounter for the first time); I love = я обожа́ю
- about people: I love = я люблю́, I like = мне нра́вится.
Yes, that’s how I’ve been taught to translate English ‘love’ when used not about people back at school. That, or «я обожаю кофе» ‘I adore coffee’.