Language is such an important way that we communicate with others. The majority of Americans today speak English as their first language. To some, language may seem like an obstacle to face when you speak with imperfect English. Amy Tan’s essay, “Mother Tongue” provides a look into how Tan adapted her language to assimilate into American culture.
Life may be difficult when one doesn’t speak the native language or is new to a country. Amy Tan shares her personal story as a first-generation Asian American. She shows how much the people you are around can change the way you speak. When it is just Tan and her mother, she speaks in a more “broken” English that they both can understand.
When she is talking to people she works with or deals with on a more business-oriented basis, she uses clearly spoken, grammatically correct, standard English. It was not until giving a speech in a room in front of her mother that she finally realized how different her two forms of English really are.
Throughout Tan’s experiences as an teenager posing to be her mother to gain the respect she deserves, Tan develops a frustration at the difficulty of not being taken seriously because of the way her mother spoke English. People’s perceptions of one another are based largely on the language being used. Despite everything, Tan did not allow others to prove their misconceptions of her. She exerted herself by excelling at English throughout school. She felt a need to rebel against the stereotypical view that writing is not a strong suit for people like her.
Amy Tan made changes to her language because her mother heavily relied on her for translation. She was the voice of her mother, relaying information in English to those who were unable to understand her mother’s broken english. Tan tells a story about her mother’s broken english and its impact on her communication to those outside their culture. Her mothers broken english limited others’ perception of her intelligence, and even her own perception of her mother was skewed.
Tan said in her essay, “I know this for a fact, because when I was growing up, my mother’s ‘limited’ English limited my perception of her. I was ashamed of her English. I believed that her English reflected the quality of what she had to say” (Tan 651). The use of English was critical to Tan’s incorporation into American culture. English was a tool Tan acquired to help her mother but more importantly was a tool that helped her gain success as a writer. Tan changed the way she spoke to her family to include standard English that she had learnt in school and through books, the forms of English that she did not use at home with her mother.