Gustar is one of those verbs (encantar, importar, interesar, etc.) that end up turning the English sentence around. The sentence literally says "going to the beach is pleasing to my parents."
It might help to think of "a mis padres" as meaning "to my parents."
It's really an "a phrase" being used to provide information about the required indirect object pronoun "les."
Les gusta ir a la playa means they like to go to the beach (or you plural like). But that's not enough information. So you add my parents (in an "a phrase"), and leave in the les, which is still required but is now no longer translated.
My friends like music. A mis amigos les gusta la música.
My brother likes to study. A mi hermano le gusta estudiar.
Much more explanation, examples and quizzes at studyspanish.com (Grammar Unit Four).
Very nice explanation, marcy65brown. As Marcy said, the "a __ phrase" is providing additional information, which is that the Spanish indirect object noun phrase "a mis padres" translates into the English prepositional phrase "to my parents."
For me to understand why the "a" is necessary, I first need to translate "gusta" as "like" instead of translating it as "is pleasing to." Second, I toss out the phrase "a mis padres" (to my parents) temporarily. What I have left is the colloquial English interpretation, "They like to go to the beach/They like going to the beach." Third, I remember that the pronoun "they" is standing in for the noun "parents." Then I substitute "my parents" for "they," as in "My parents like to go to the beach/My parents like going to the beach." This English syntactical order is Subject (S), Verb (V), and Direct Object (DO).
All Spanish object pronouns precede verbs, with indirect object pronouns preceding direct object pronouns. However, this is not the case when both objects are nouns instead of pronouns. Instead, the literal translation of the Spanish is "To them, it is pleasing to go to the beach," and this translation has the syntactical order of Indirect Object (IO), Subject (S), Verb (V), and Direct Object (DO). As far as I know, there is no Spanish syntactical pattern of reflexive pronoun, indirect pronoun, and direct pronoun all preceding the verb. I suspect that may be ungrammatical Spanish.
Even when Spanish IOs are nouns, a same number indirect object pronoun is still a syntactical requirement. Some people think the reason why is because "a" is a null preposition when it precedes an IO pronoun but NOT a null preposition when it precedes an IO noun. Without the prepositional "a" preceding an IO noun, there can be logical syntactical disconnects in Spanish. (That is, the Spanish object noun can at first be mistaken as a subject). An example of an English logical disconnect: The horse raced past the barn fell.
With verbs like gustar and encantar (or others like them), the les (or other indirect-object pronouns: me, te, le) is grammatically required. The "a mis padres" is grammatically optional and is only there to clarify (or emphasize when you need to do so) who les is (because les can be standing in for "they"/a ellos, "you"-plural/a ustedes, "my neighbors"/a mis vecinos, "your friends"/a tus amigos, etc.)
The female voice pronounces "ir" like "isssz" with no English "r" sound at all. Is this how it is pronounced in Spain? Is it idiosyncratic by country? I ask because I'm fairly sure Duo's program often gets pronunciation because they make mistakes in French -- and I used to work for a French company, have been to France many times, etc. And the mistakes are simply bizarre.
Not sure I understand. I see that one can correctly say, "A mis padres les gusta ir a la playa." Is is incorrect to say, "A mis padres les gustan ir a la playa."? If so, why? It seems like all of a sudden we have stopped conjugating, "gustar", and I don't understand what is the point of doing so. What am I missing?
Yes, "A mis padres les gusta
n ir a la playa is wrong, because "gustar" must be conjugated according to the subject "ir". With "gustar", the thing being liked in the English version is the subject in the Spanish version. Think of it this way: a little bit more literal translation of this Spanish sentence into English is--
Going to the beach please
s my parents". We have here "Going to the beach" as our sentence subject. We conjugated the verb "please
S" to match "Going to the beach", right? That's kinda what happened to "gusta and why it cannot be "gusta
N: because the subject "Ir a la playa*" is not plural.
• A mis padres les
el libro «To Kill a Mockingbird»
= "My parents like the book 'To Kill a Mockingbird'" (regular translation)
The book 'To Kill a Mockingbird' please
s my parents." (a bit more literal translation)
• A mis padres les gusta
= "My parents like books." (regular translation)
please my parents." (a bit more literal translation)
"Going to the beach pleases my parents" makes sense; "Going to the beach is pleasing TO my parents" seems strange in an English context, but a lot of Spanish verbs are kind of like that; but "Going to the beach pleases TO my parents THEM?" Please explain. Why is "les" necessary?