Amy Tan’s Messages in “Mother Tongue” Essay

There are three important messages that we all can understand and learn from in Amy Tan’s “Mother Tongue”. Firstly, and most importantly, Tan wants to convey the message that words are more than just words and sometimes we must read between them to fully understand their meaning. Another message conveyed in this essay is that just because someone is using “broken” English, does not mean they do not fully understand what is going on. Finally, another important message is that standardized tests only test for standardized thinking.

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Throughout this essay, Tan describes the different kinds of English she uses with her family, friends and colleagues to show us how there are more important things than the structure and word choice of our language. What really is important in our language is effectively communicating our ideas, conveying our feelings without explicitly stating them, and the rhythm of our thought process. Tan uses an example of her mother going to New York to yell at her stockbroker, after not receiving her check from cashing out her portfolio, to show us that even though her language skills were sub par, she could still very effectively communicate her feelings and ideas.

All of these qualities of our language seem to get lost when someone speaks in a “fractured” language, even though their thoughts are as well structured as someone who was born speaking the language. This gives us, the readers, the task of deciphering exactly what message they are trying to convey, or the imagery and passion being used. Tan wants us to focus on the words behind the words, the meaning as it was meant to be understood, and the feeling or passion of the author. Although Tan uses many different kinds of English in her life, some may be called broken, fractured or simple, the messages being communicated all have equal value. This is why one message we can all understand and learn from as a result of reading “Mother Tongue” is that words have a deeper meaning that must sometimes be searched for behind the words written on the page.

Another important message is that even though someone is using “broken” English, they do fully understand the situation. Tan fills the first half of her essay with examples and illustrations of when she needed to talk for her mother because the people who they were dealing with were being rude, unhelpful and not giving them good service. In all of these examples, Tan would speak to the people working in “department stores, banks and restaurants” and would receive the help her and her mother so desperately needed. It is a shame that so many people in this country believe that because someone “expressed themselves imperfectly [their] thoughts were imperfect”. Tan wants us to recognize this fact because when we think about it, we realize how true it really is. Suppose there is a scholar from one country who moves to another where they do not speak the same language. This person would not lose their scholarly credentials just because they cannot communicate their ideas effectively in the new language. It would be noted that this scholar speaks in a different language but does not have any less mental capacities than a local scholar. Speaking and thinking are very similar but, as Tan hopes to convey, not directly linked to each other.

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