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“Mother Tongue” by Amy Tan Essay

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Updated: Dec 10th, 2019

Language is one of the distinguishing peculiarities of any country, any region, and any society. It is perceived as an additional cultural, national, or social attribute, and it is inseparable from all components needed to be known when visiting or living in some country. This issue concerns both the native-born speakers and the immigrants, newcomers.

It bears the symbolic meaning of assimilation and acculturation at a new place, and the correct or wrong speaking and writing will show the true identity of a person at once. Some native speakers are initially illiterate, but the traditional stereotype that has been forming for centuries is that immigrants will always speak worse than any native speaker. In her essay “Mother Tongue,”Amy Tan raises these issues of linguistic dominance.

Being a Chinese American, she explores the history of her family and the assessment given to her and her mother by others judging from the level of proficiency in English they had.

The writer shows a couple of examples of how different the attitude of people was when she talked to them by phone on behalf of her mother, using correct and sophisticated phrases, and how detached and unserious was the treatment when her mother spoke personally, using the ‘broken’ and ‘limited’ language (Tan 1-2).

It is this broken and limited language that symbolizes the limited opportunities for immigrants. People who hear the ‘limited’ language feel free to show disrespect and neglect as they perceive people with poor linguistic possibilities as limited not only linguistically but socially, culturally, mentally, and even physically. The attitude is, in general, not serious, as Americans listen to only those who can talk like they do, becoming seemingly equal to them.

In the summary of “Mother Tongue” by Amy Tan it is clearly seen that in case the language is not pure, is broken or limited, the feeling of dominance comes to Americans only on a linguistic basis. One can see the many proofs for this fact in the treatment Tan’s mother received from a stockbroker, the medical staff in a hospital, etc. When Tan started to speak correctly, the attitude changed at once, which spoke quite eloquently about the direct connection between linguistic skills and respect.

The language of a family indeed leaves a trace on the further possibilities of a child in America. Tan has also felt this in her studies as she was much more proficient in precise sciences, and English was a vague, multifaceted, and multivariate subject. The author’s observation that the IQ tests, the achievement tests, etc. also depended seriously on the level of knowing English is correct.

It is true that one cannot complete a test on any topic if he or she does not completely understand the task given in it. Hence, the achievement level becomes severely reduced, even in case the internal knowledge is incomparably higher, the immigrants will be unable to show it because of their crippled linguistic expression skills.

This is the main problem Tan claims in her essay in this citation, showing how different the inner world and the one expressed through language are: “I wanted to capture what language ability tests can never reveal: her intent, her passion, her imagery, the rhythms of her speech and the nature of her thoughts” (Tan 3-4).

It is clear from Amy Tan’s essay that the human inner world is much broader and richer than one can sometimes show, and it is the disadvantage of using a language not native to the speaker. Which type of essay is Amy Tan’s “Mother Tongue”? The essay is persuasive, and its main maint is that it is only through the mother tongue that one can reveal everything he or she has in the soul or the mind; this is the main root for under-estimation of skills of Chinese, African Americans, Mexicans, and other immigrants coming to the USA for better employment and living conditions.

Thus, it is necessary to provide better educational facilities to give immigrants a chance to realize themselves better and to be understood. However, the first step of high importance is undoubtedly the refusal from stereotypes, and the wish to listen to them, and to hear them.

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""Mother Tongue" by Amy Tan." IvyPanda, 10 Dec. 2019, ivypanda.com/essays/mother-tongue-by-amy-tan/.

1. IvyPanda. ""Mother Tongue" by Amy Tan." December 10, 2019. https://ivypanda.com/essays/mother-tongue-by-amy-tan/.


IvyPanda. ""Mother Tongue" by Amy Tan." December 10, 2019. https://ivypanda.com/essays/mother-tongue-by-amy-tan/.


IvyPanda. 2019. ""Mother Tongue" by Amy Tan." December 10, 2019. https://ivypanda.com/essays/mother-tongue-by-amy-tan/.


IvyPanda. (2019) '"Mother Tongue" by Amy Tan'. 10 December.

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