Mother tongue takes a firm hold on one’s mind from the very beginning. In true sense it is intermingle with our lives and consciousness. In Mother Tongue Amy Tan, A chinese American novelist calls her mother’s English her “mother tongue”. Throughout the story Amy highlights the consequences she and her mother faced because of speaking a non-native variation of English which she referred to as “broken” and “limited” English. There are many people in our society like Amy’s mother who do not speak English as perfectly clear as people want. It is difficult to live abroad with the inability to speak English fluently and clearly. Mostly, people with different family and cultural background feel the necessity of speaking standard English perfectly at every step. The reason is because people have assumptions regarding other languages and it plays an unconscious role in limiting our ability to perceive the world. However, it is not necessary to strive to speak language as correctly as possible in order to communicate clearly and to show our intelligence because with non-standard English a person can still be successful in life.
Generally language is the medium of communicating our ideas, thoughts and feelings to others, yet the language we grow up hearing can effect on our life path. In Mother Tongue, Tan highlighted an internal conflict she had with English in education because people’s perception of her is based on her language use. This is shown when she said, “the answers on English tests were always a judgment call, a matter of opinion and personal experience”(Tan, 1990, P.164). She emphasize that her achievement tests are being affected by the non-standard English language she grow up hearing because the test measure her ability in English rather than giving value to her creativity or imagination. Tan’s mother simple English helped her to understand the world in a different way which does not mean she is bad at English and she is unaware of what happening around her. But English tests judge our ability of understanding things that we imagine differently than they want us to do. This is important because every person have a different perspective of thinking and language does not effect on their knowledge of the world.
Like Amy, I also think my language has affected my academic achievements because in SAT I also got higher score in math than English. I still remember one of the common dialogue I heard from my classmate, “Damm! You got high score in math because you Asian”. This highlights a stereotype that Amy and I faced because our way of understanding English affect on people’s perception of us. These stereotype are not always true because definitely the reason of getting higher score in math is not the lack of standard language. It is because math is more of problem solving than critical thinking where we need more time to analyze the way we think, and standardized tests are not the best way of measuring our intelligence. This kind of racial stereotype or misconception made by others become obstacle in many students life. It constrict our aspirations and shape future goals. People’s perception push us towards a field where we are already good at and where we do not have to worry about using perfect English. Although, Amy broke this assumption and stereotype by not choosing math related fields but by choosing creative field to represent her mother’s broken tongue.
The issue of stereotype greatly effects Amy Tan’s mother but it also influenced her as a writer. She grew up seeing external conflicts between her mom and other native English speakers, who mistreated her mother with attitudes because of her poor English. Her mother is being neglected in the society because people judge her as unintelligent and unimportant. Thus actually impersonated Amy’s stories which focus on the audience whose English is limited like her mother tongue. Amy highlights that she accomplish her goal of being a writer when her mother read her book and said, “So easy to read”(Tan, 1990, P.166). This is important because Amy shows empathy towards her mother by not using standard English that people expected. This is also a way of showing respect to her mother’s broken English which is not only sufficient for family life but also sufficient for daily communication. Beyond people’s perception, Amy’s mother tongue become a source of creativity that she find useful for her own writing. Her empathy and respect toward her mother prove that a non-standard English speaker can succeed in literature.
In her literature she did not only show empathy and respect to her mother but also show it to other immigrants like my mom. My mom and Amy’s mom are related because they both want their daughter to pretend they are the one who is talking on phone. The reason they don’t feel comfortable speaking in non-standard English is because they don’t feel respected by others. Unlike Amy, I was always embarrassed of my English. I use to hesitate a lot while having a conversation with people on phone because I was still getting confused about proper grammar and sentence structure. That effected on my self-esteem because their English pronunciation and sentence structure is way better than mine. At a moment I realize that I felt more comfortable talking in English without worrying about what other people think. The reason I came to this realization is because I knew people actually understand my English. It’s not perfect but it is sufficient for communication and understanding complicated stuff.
Usually, English is a very tough language to become highly skilled but speaking English like a native is not essential to show our intelligence. Throughout the story, Tan illustrated how much she loves her mother’s unique broken English which led her to success. In the United States, it is common that many immigrants family face false assumptions because of their linguistic capabilities. But it is important for everyone to avoid criticizing people who cannot speak a language correctly and fluently because they have their own unique way of expressing themself which is enough to be successful in life.