Theme of Language in Amy Tan’s and David Sedaris’ Essays

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The essays “Mother Tongue” by Amy Tan and “Me Talk Pretty One Day” by David Sedaris explore the significant role that language plays in one’s life. Not only does robust language prove to be an asset to one’s communication skills but it can be a vital part of one’s identity. A common language is an essential feature within any community. It provides a sense of connection between people; however, when one is not proficient in the language of a community, they often feel left out. This feeling shuts one out from job opportunities, social activities and can lead to negative implications on one’s spiritual, mental and emotional health.

Tan’s narrative focuses on the discrimination of those who speak broken English. In our society, one who speaks a broken language is related to being uneducated in our society. Tan’s mother is acutely aware that her broken English limits her possibilities. Her very awareness of this is what reminds us that her English is in no way a reflection of her intelligence.

As a young child, Tan would have to impersonate her mother over the telephone. She recalls a time she had to argue with her mother’s stockbroker over a missing check at age nine, implying that her mothers’ stockbroker assumed that because she did not speak fluent English, she would not be intelligent enough to realize her check was missing.

In another instance, she had to argue with the doctor whose office lost her mothers CAT scan records. In this case, the doctor’s office was only happy to help when someone who was fluent in English got on the phone which is a blatant example of how one can be categorized and marginalized for the way they speak. Tan talks about her belief that the existential reason as to why Asian students are better in Math than in English is because they are often discouraged from language studies and guided towards a path in the math and sciences.

Tan went against all societal standards and changed her major from pre-med to English in University; she found inspiration through her hardships with language as an adolescent and wholeheartedly believes her experience shaped her to become the person she is today. Tan now professes her love and fascination with language and has single handily rose to popularity as a freelance writer.

Sedaris’ narrative focuses on the hardships of learning a new language and how mentally and emotionally draining it can be. Sedaris recounts his experience with moving to France as an adult to immerse himself in the culture and become fluent in French. Even as an adult, one’s first day at school can be nerve-racking; he becomes conscious of himself and starts comparing himself to his peers who are younger, more beautiful and better at speaking French.

He sits in his seat and in walks his teacher, during the first few minutes of his first class, he becomes fearful of her. As the class continues, he is often met by his teacher’s humiliating tone as she is on the verge of verbally abusing him. As the days go on, she criticizes Sedaris for his failures instead of giving him constructive feedback and shows an obvious priority to those who are fluent in French.

Sedaris compares this teacher to a wild animal with her brash words and actions. It becomes apparent that his experience in this class starts to impact his perception of himself negatively. He develops anxiety when he is faced with socializing and human contact because he is so afraid to forget or mispronounce a word. He falls into a depression and feels isolated as he feels he does not have the same privileges as the people who are native to France.

One day, he breaks this habit of self-depreciation and begins to understand every word in the French language. He has a profound thought and realizes that it is as important to understand the language as it is to speak every word of that language. He begins to understand what his teacher and the people around him are saying and realizes that all along he was able to understand but he was just afraid to speak. By the end of the essay, we can see Sedaris’ progress, tenacity, and dedication.

Reading “Mother Tongue” and “Me Talk Pretty One Day” separately have taught me that perseverance and self-confidence are key when withstanding a situation as such. Tan persevered to be a writer and Sedaris did not let his teacher get the most of him. Tan’s narrative focuses on her tough journey with language while Sedaris struggles with speaking it. Both Tan and Sedaris share stories with their unique relationship to language. They share common feelings, and both found strength and inspiration through their hardships.


Cite this paper

Theme of Language in Amy Tan’s and David Sedaris’ Essays. (2021, May 12). Retrieved from https://samploon.com/theme-of-language-in-amy-tans-and-david-sedaris-essays/

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