“Just last week, as I was walking down the street with her, I again found myself conscious of the English I was using” (Tan 20). We do not all speak the same English is the argument Amy Tan has in “Mother Tongue”. This is a fascinating essay written about the life experiences the author went through as the child of an immigrant who spoke broken English in a primarily English-speaking society, and how it created her love for language.
This essay clearly illustrates how her mother’s simple way of speaking changed the way she and others saw her mother, how others discriminated against and stereotyped them, and how it helped her decide how she wanted to write her books. Tan effectively explains how someone’s way of speaking does not show their intellect so others should not judge someone on the way they speak. She conveys this message with a series of short stories and examples which can help the reader clearly understand her purpose. The article’s main claim of a person’s use of language does not show their true intelligence is clearly conveyed by Tan including personal experiences and feelings as well as examples of how her mother was treated because of the way she spoke.
Tan has a very effective way of using emotion to get her point across. I feel she paints this picture clearly and it draws the audience in and helps them understand her point of view. Tan explains that when she was younger, she was often shamed and embarrassed by her mother’s way of speaking, because others had a hard time or could not understand her at all. She illustrates how some people would not take her seriously or ignore her because they could not understand what she was trying to say. Although, Tan herself can understand her mother perfectly, some of her friends say they can only understand some or none of what she is saying. Another example is when she was a teenager, she was forced to call her mother’s stockbroker portraying herself as her mother.
She threatened to come speak with his manager next week while in New York if she didn’t receive her check. Tan’s mother did not get it as promised and consequently the next week Tan sat red faced and quiet in the stockbroker’s office while her mother, the real Mrs. Tan was shouting at his boss in her impeccable broken English (Tan 23). This story shows that even if the mother was unable to convey her message clearly, she is highly intelligent and was serious about what she was trying to say. I feel if the stockbroker had taken the time to get to know his client, paid more attention, and taken the time to understand what Tan’s mother was trying to say he may have figured that out.
The author helps the reader understand how language can change the perception that others have on someone who does not speak the same language clearly or not as fluently. She wants the audience to think logically and about how to treat others and how we would feel if the tables were turned. Often, we look at those people as being uneducated or dumb because we do not understand what they are trying to say. She explains through real life examples how this is not necessarily true by describing that her mother although unable to speak clearly using English, she is able to understand many things that Tan herself cannot, like reading Forbes and listening to Wall Street Week (Tan 21). Although, Tan was embarrassed by this, as she grew older, she started to embrace her relationship with her mother and the way she speaks.
It is explained in the article that Asian-American’s may be stereotyped by telling how she was told by her boss that English was her worst subject and she should hone her talents toward account management (Tan 23). Although she cannot answer why there are not more Asian-American’s represented in American Literature, she feels that students who speak other languages at home may have teachers that push them toward math and science instead of helping them master the English Language or simply by thinking they aren’t smart enough to portray their ideas clearly.
Even though she endured a lot of embarrassment, discrimination, and stereotyping when she was younger Tan did not let it hold her back, she has become an author of at least one well known book, The Joy Luck Club. She learned to love her mother tongue and language in general. She loves that the power of language can evoke an emotion, a visual image, a complex idea, or a simple truth (Tan 20). She also used this love to find a way to express herself through her writing using “all the Englishes” (Tan 23) she grew up with.
Tan’s essay and description show how non-English speaking immigrants may have trouble in our society. Without the tools to express themselves clearly, people tend to stereotype and think less of them. Tan’s use of rhetoric is strong throughout the piece to get her message across clearly and to sway the audience. This essay gives us insight on what it is like to be disabled by a lack of English mastery and how a society should listen more carefully, take the time and effort to understand and never judge someone by their lack of fluency of a language.
If Tan, herself judged her mother because of how she spoke can learn to embrace and love differences in language we should too, and never judge someone’s intellect based on their fluency of a language, but on their character instead. By writing this essay I have learned not to judge a book by it’s cover. The title of the essay didn’t sound very interesting to me, but I really enjoyed reading it. It has helped me to understand more of what message the writer was trying to convey through her essay. I will use more critical thinking in the future when reading and writing. I will also pay more attention to detail when writing and revising to improve the message I am attempting to convey to my audience.
- Tan, Amy. “Mother Tongue.” Read, vol 56, no. 4, Oct 2006, p. 20. EBSCOhost, ezproxy.snhu.edu/login?url=https://search.ebscohost.com/login.aspx?direct=true&db=f5h&AN=22499184&site=eds-live&scope=site.