Rhetorical Reading Response: Amy Tan’s “Mother Tongue”

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Amy Tan’s essay “Mother Tongue” (1990) delves into her mother’s use of “broken English” and the various “Englishes” she encounters in her daily life. Tan highlights the challenges her mother has faced as a result of her English proficiency and the diverse forms of English that surround her. Through sharing examples, Tan effectively communicates the difficulties her mother has encountered due to her language abilities.

Within her literary work, Tan delves into the different manifestations of spoken English and seeks to emphasize its wide-ranging nature. She sheds light on the obstacles encountered by individuals, including her own mother, who grapple with learning and expressing themselves in English. This composition is aimed at those who may not have a complete understanding of the multitude of languages and intricacies involved in mastering a new language like English.

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Although I did not grow up in a family that spoke a language considered “broken,” I am able to comprehend Tan’s mother. My attempt to learn Spanish presented difficulties in speaking, reading, writing, and comprehending the language. This encounter led me to recognize that acquiring a new language is akin to navigating through a thick forest. Consequently, I wholeheartedly endorse Tan’s assertion that numerous individuals discriminate against those who do not possess flawless English-speaking skills.

In my observation, America possesses a mentality similar to that of “fast food,” where individuals tend to respond unkindly, judgmentally, or rudely when confronted with minor inconveniences. This behavior can manifest in the form of unwarranted comments or disregarding others. To illustrate, during my employment at a grocery store, I have noticed a significant change in my colleagues’ demeanor when someone who is not fluent in English approaches their register.

Despite the customer’s effort to maintain a positive attitude, it is clear that they are deeply affected by the experience of discrimination. Tan offers valuable insights into the challenges that arise from language differences. Her informative writing prompts readers to reconsider their tendency to make quick judgments about individuals struggling with English, emphasizing the importance of avoiding discrimination under any circumstances.

Tan states on page 65 that her mother is aware of the limitations of her English. While it may initially seem positive that she understands the limits, this perspective can also be seen as negative. The author’s mother is resigned to the fact that there are limitations, but she shouldn’t have to settle for this. America should be a land of equal opportunity, not one where opportunity is determined by circumstances. Tan further recounts the difficulties her mother faced in getting doctors to take her seriously.

Both her mother’s struggles with speaking English and Tan’s own experiences with the language affected their lives. Tan acknowledges on page 63 that the English she uses when lecturing and the English she uses with her mother are different, possibly explaining why she excelled in math and science. Tan supports this idea by noting that “Asian students, as a whole, always do significantly better on math achievement tests than in English” (67). Unlike English, math relies on concrete facts and has only one correct answer.

English relies on judgment. Growing up with “broken” English at home could potentially affect one’s judgment, but Tan embraced the challenge and pursued a career in the field of English. Despite recognizing limitations, she set a higher standard and that choice has been significant.

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Rhetorical Reading Response: Amy Tan’s “Mother Tongue”. (2016, Dec 29). Retrieved from


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