I found Amy Tan’s essay, “Mother Tongue,” very interesting because I have never thought about “broken English” in the way that she does. English is the first language for everyone in my family, and I must confess that I have been too ignorant to imagine what it must be like to have to speak a language you aren’t completely comfortable with on a regular basis. In high school, I felt like three classes of Spanish gave me more than my fair share of another language. I was privileged enough to be born speaking the language I needed to live in the land of opportunity. I took it for granted. This essay reminded me of how fortunate I am and also gave me a newfound respect for those living in America and struggling to communicate every day.
In the past, I’ve thought of it as the responsibility of American citizens to speak our language. There are multiple issues with this. For starters, the United States of America doesn’t even have an official National language. Second of all, how exactly do I want American citizens to speak English? Citizens from Alabama don’t speak English the same way as citizens from Massachusetts. Nor do citizens from Wisconsin speak the same way as citizens from California, yet for some reason this is okay. The difference between most English spoken throughout the country and the English Tan’s mother speaks may be a little bit greater, but she’s still speaking English.
When those citizens from Alabama or California talk to citizens from Massachusetts or Wisconsin, they make an effort to understand each other. Based on Tan’s mother’s experience, the same is not necessarily true when American citizens listen to people who speak English as a second language. I also found it very interesting to hear about how Tan heard her mother’s speech in full detail, despite her “broken English.” Her English is not really broken at all. It may not be grammatically correct, but I say “y’all,” “wanna,” and many other incorrect words every day. I also speak in run on sentences. I always assumed that people who spoke English with strong foreign accents lacked life and depth in their speech, but this essay shows just how false that assumption is.
I also think that this essay is particularly relevant on Virginia Tech’s campus because it talks about English as a second language students being pushed toward math and science rather than English and writing. From my knowledge, there is a widespread general assumption that Asian population of students are primarily engineers. Why is this? Why would a larger percent of the Asian population on campus study engineering?
The only good reason is a language barrier. Those students are born just as likely to enjoy language and writing as any Caucasian student, but their language hinders their ability to study it. Many likely struggled with English growing up in school because they spoke different languages at home and, because of that, were never able to find their passion and just assumed they should be engineers because they did better at math and science in school. Tan identifies the language barrier as the reason that her math scores were always higher than her English scores. Not everyone is as rebellious as Tan though and wouldn’t work as hard to prove others wrong about their English abilities. This issue makes me wonder what famous writers to be never got the chance to express their way with words and talent with language because of the language dilemma they grew up dealing with. What has the world missed out on because of our ignorance to those who struggle with multiple languages?