Mother Tongue by Amy Tan

In the article “Mother Tongue”, Amy tan emphasizes the idea that we all speak different languages unconsciously and that we are categorized by the way we speak. The author is a fictional writer who is “fascinated by language in daily life” and uses language as a daily part of her work as a writer. In paragraphs 2 and 3 she observes experiences that made her realized the different types of “Englishes” she uses.

The first time she became aware of this was when giving a talk about her book, The Joy Club, she saw her mother in the audience and she realized that she had been using academic language learned from books, a language she had never used with her mother. The second time she noticed one of her “Englishes” was when walking with her mother and husband, she said “not waste money that way” which for her is an intimate language used only by her family. Her mother’s “broken” English contradicts how much she actually understands, this reminds us that even though her mother’s English seem “broken” it does not reflect her intelligence. Even though her mother was categorized with limited ideas by the people she would to because of the way she spoke tan rejects the idea that her mother English is “limited” or “broken”.

She emphasizes the fact that even her mother recognizes that her opportunities and interactions in life are limited by her English. When the author was young she used to have to call people on the phone and act as if she was her mother in order to get people to pay attention to her like when she had to yell at her mother’s stockbroker for not sending a check. In a different occasion when her mother went to the doctor to get the results of a CAT scan, the doctors ignored her when she complained about them losing her results.

It wasn’t until Tan talked to the doctor that they apologized and cared to solve the problem. She insists that people not taking a person seriously because of their language can have dangerous consequences. Tan comes to the idea that the language spoken in the family, specially in immigrant families, plays a large role in shaping the language of a child this made her acknowledge that perhaps her family’s language had an effect on her own opportunities in life. For instance in her experience, she notices that Asian students actually do better in math tests than in language tests, and she questions whether or not other Asian students are discouraged from writing or directed in the direction of math and science. Tan changed her major from pre-med to English and she decided to become a freelance writer even though her boss told her she couldn’t write. She eventually went on to write fiction, she celebrates the fact that she did not follow the expectations that people had of her because of her struggle with writing and language. With her mother as an influence Tan decided to write her stories for people like her, people with “broken” or “limited” English.

Like the author I also grew up in an immigrant family who’s English might seem “limited” to others. I sometimes too have to be the spokesperson for my mother and other family members. The idea of people categorizing other people by the way they speak I believe it’s wrong. Unconsciously I have categorize people by the way they speak, both English and Spanish, whenever I hear my mother attempt to speak English I feel as if she is not smart, but then when I’m watching random history or science channels and she tells me her point of view on the whatever I’m watching I realize that she’s actually pretty smart, just like Tan mother’s English seems “broken”, it does not reflect her intelligence. After reading “Mother Tongue” my belief of judging someone by the way they speak has made me stop and think before I put someone down and it has also reminded me of all those times when some of my friends would say something bad about a person because they couldn’t express their ideas or feelings because their language skills were limited.

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