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The Role of Language in Life in Mother Tongue by Amy Tan

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Everyone who speaks the English language, does not speak it the same way. It is rare to find people that speak English the exact same way word for word, because there are so many ways to speak English. Amy Tan uses a name to describe the English she grew up with, “Mother Tongue.” Tan uses emotion to tell her audience, how her experiences with her mother and the Chinese language shaped the way she speaks and writes today.

In “Mother Tongue”, Tan describes the many situations where the language that she was taught impacted her life. Throughout the story, she explains her relationship with her mother, who speaks “broken” English, and how the way she perceives language has changed due to her mother. When Tan was younger, she was always embarrassed of the way her mother spoke because it didn’t sound right or sounded weird and other people who were not familiar with the way she spoke and found it very difficult to understand her. Tan said that when her and her mother would go stores people would treat them differently because they did not speak “proper” English. She said that the people “did not take her seriously, did not give her good service, pretended not to understand her, or even acted as if they did not hear her”. So with that being said Tan would have to sometimes pretend to be her mother, and she would call people to yell at them while her mother stood behind her telling her what to say.

The language formed a barrier between Tan and her mother but as Tan grew older she started to embrace this “broken” English, because it reminded her of home. She no longer saw anything wrong with her mother’s tongue, instead she found comfort, it had become a part of her family.

In the essay “Mother Tongue,” Tan talks about the power of language. She says, “it can evoke an emotion, a visual image, a complex idea, or simple truth.” One of the many main points of her story was that words are more than just words, sometimes you have to look deeper and beyond the words. For example, her mother did not speak perfect English, but it was the point her mother was trying to make or get across are what’s important. Amy Tan also felt that standardized tests could not determine any one person’s intelligence. She supports this argument by using rhetorical statements like, “I wanted to capture what language ability tests could never reveal: her intent, her passion, her imagery, the rhythms of her speech and the nature of her thoughts”. When she said that standard tests cannot determine a person’s true intelligence, she was really saying how people don’t think the same and have different ways of thinking and different types of intelligence, and these standard tests only measure one kind of many intelligence. It is rather unfair, for lack of a better term.

Overall, I want to say that the main idea of Tan’s story is to stress the idea that just because someone cannot speak English “properly”, does not mean they are less intelligent than someone who is born in this country that understands and speaks proper English. Tan has been judged by her language, and has seen people disrespect her mother, because of how she speaks, but it was because of that she was able to see through the different languages and become who she is today. Everyone has a message to say, it may be different from yours and it might be grammatically incorrect but it does not make the message wrong, it just makes it unique.

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The Role of Language in Life in Mother Tongue by Amy Tan. (2020, September 01). GradesFixer. Retrieved November 28, 2022, from
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