Amy Tan’s “Mother Tongue”

Words: 842
Topic: Literature

In the story, Mother Tongue, Amy Tan, the author, highlights the problems that children raised by immigrant parents go through as they grow. Having born just a few years after her parents settled in California from China, Tan grew in an environment where spoken English was different from the conventional version of the same language. Learning English for immigrants, especially those coming from nations where the language is not taught in public schools like China, is almost a challenging task.

Eventually, these immigrants end up speaking some form of ‘simple’ or ‘broken’ English, which in turn affects their children’s linguistic development. Tan’s article presents a problem, viz. the challenges that children, which are born of immigrant parents, undergo in the process of learning the English language. This paper also gives the solution that Tan offers for such problems. In addition, the paper gives the perceptions that children develop towards themselves and those speaking the ‘broken’ English.

As children grow under the care of immigrant parents who cannot speak proper English, they end up affecting their linguistic development. Tan posits, “…the language spoken in the family, especially in immigrant families, which are more insular, plays a large role in shaping the language of the child” (509). Tan arrives at this conclusion from experience.

She admits that her mother’s version of the English language affected her performance in school in areas like IQ tests, the SAT, and achievement tests. These areas require an individual to have strong grounding on the English language by understanding its different constituents in sentence construction and other grammar elements.

This problem explains why Tan scored higher marks in mathematics and science as compared to English. This challenge is common amongst students of Asian origin studying in American schools. Tan argues that the majority of these students end up taking engineering as opposed to English courses.

Undeniably, the version of the English language spoken in the homes of these students is broken or limited. Therefore, they cannot understand the basics of the proper English language, and thus they opt to study engineering because it deals with concepts that do not require prowess in grammar.

Unfortunately, the challenge transcends home setting, and it spills over to education institutions, which compounds the Asian students’ challenges in American schools. Some tutors are not convinced of these students’ capability to perform excellently in English. However, instead of encouraging them to improve their skills, the teachers simply say it to the students’ faces.

Therefore, the teachers push the students into engineering courses, albeit indirectly. In addition, the Native American society thinks the same concerning these students’ English capabilities.

For instance, Tan recounts a case where her boss noted that perhaps one of the worst decisions she had made was to pursue writing because her skills in that area were horrifying. On the contrary, the boss felt that Tan should probably pursue accounting. These stereotypes hurt students of Asian origin studying in the United States. Therefore, they end up shunning English courses to pursue science and mathematics.

Another problem of having ‘limited’ English in their homes for students of Asian origin is the issue of perception. Mostly, these students have self-limiting perspectives. Tan posits, “…everything is limited, including people’s perceptions of the limited English speaker” (508). Tan believed that her mother’s thoughts were limited because whatever she had to say was incoherent and imperfect. This perception elicited feelings of shame in Tan towards her mother.

However, Tan’s feelings towards her mother were not simply abstract or unfounded. People surrounding her mother confirmed these feelings because they never took her seriously, no matter what she said. Apparently, Tan’s mother was also ashamed of her shortcomings, which explains why, at times, she had to use her daughter to communicate in her position. Conventionally, children look to their parents for inspiration.

However, if children cannot find such motivation and inspiration from their parents, they end up developing self-limiting perceptions, which might affect their future lives. Therefore, the pertinent question is what should be done in a bid to counter such shortcomings that are associated with students of Asian origin studying in the United States. Even though Tan does not give a direct answer to this question, students facing these challenges should follow her example.

Perhaps students of Asian origin studying in the United States should become rebellious. Tan notes, “Fortunately, I happen to be rebellious in nature and enjoy the challenge of disproving assumptions made about me” (510). Therefore, the solution for these challenges lies in disapproving the stereotype that immigrants speak broken English, and they cannot excel in the language.

Just like Tan, students facing this predicament should strive to rise above the baseless stereotypes and believe in their capabilities to become what they want. The mind can be trained to familiarise themselves with anything, and thus such students need to understand this principle and endeavor to achieve their goal of excelling in the English language. Tan is a living example that individuals of Asian origin can excel in studying and pursuing a career in the English language.

Works Cited

Tan, Amy. “Mother tongue.” A Writer’s reader. Eds. Donald Hall and Donald Emblem. New York: Longman, 2001. 506-510. Print.