“Mother Tongue” by Amy Tan

Each of us was born into our own worlds of language and each of us has a first language that our families brought us up in, our “mother tongue”. We a raised into a specific way of speaking that it will always be a part of us. Amy Tan says it perfectly, “It has become our language of intimacy, a different sort of English that relates to family talk, the language I grew up with.” She goes on to describe how she was once similar to her mother’s broken English, and how it was hard for other people to understand what she was trying to interpret. Her mother, to this day, still speaks in this broken style of the English language. 

Amy Tan has become a well known writer in some parts, and speaks both English and her first language very fluently. She speaks in front of large groups of people about the books she has written, and is very professional in the way she presents herself. In this writing, she talks about how she discovered during one of her speeches in which her mother was present. After when she got the chance to talk to her mother, Amy caught herself speaking in broken English with her mother. I found this very interesting and I tied it in with the last couple classes speaking on language dialects and how we sometimes pick up different ways of speaking depending on what kind of people we surround ourselves with. I often find myself changing up the way I speak when I am around family and then going back to something different when I am around friends. 

Amy Tan worked hard to rid her speech from broken sentences and eventually became a renowned writer for our time. I know that I have never really had a hard time speaking the English language well, but I know that this story could really stand out to those who found or still find it difficult to speak our nations language even after living here for so long. English, as a language, is constantly changing from a sociological standpoint, and it will continue to do so until the end of time. 

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19 thoughts on ““Mother Tongue” by Amy Tan

  1. I was born in America, and like most American borns, my “mother tongue” is English. I do know some Spanish, but growing up just knowing English has effected the way I learn Spanish, making it more difficult for me than say someone born in Mexico, who would have most likely grown up around the Spanish language. Like Amy Tan, if I were to try and speak Spanish to a group of people that speak Spanish, I would not sound perfect, and people may point out mistakes and stuff. Amy was basically the same way except she struggle speaking English growing up around another language.

  2. I think it is important that you pointed out that Amy Tan reverted back to her broken English without even trying to do so with her mother. It demonstrates that once someone is apart of a speech community it will always remain apart of them. An example I have that makes me think of this is my dad. My dad is from Boston and around us he just has a slight Boston accent, nothing major. However, when we go visit my family up in Boston or they visit us my dads accent and language completely change as if he has not moved from there. The family and the surroundings of him pull him back into that speech community he was in growing up all his life as if it never left him. Amy Tan does the same thing with her mother because that is what she grew up with her whole life. Although she has changed her ways to become a profound English writer, she can still fall back into that “broken” way of speaking.

  3. Your opening paragraph of this response really stood out to me. You’re right; we were all born into our own worlds that have their own languages, and it really will always be a part of us. However, you also went on to say that, while this “Mother Tongue” will forever be in us, other factors will show to be effective as well. You said, “I often find myself changing up the way I speak when I am around family and then going back to something different when I am around friends.”I personally see myself doing the same thing. I am comfortable with my family in a different way than I am with my friends. Overall, your response was strong and meaningful. You made classroom connections as well as good points. The way that you pulled everything together though, saying: “English, as a language, is constantly changing from a sociological standpoint, and it will continue to do so until the end of time.” really hit home and tied everything that you said together. Definitely a response I liked reading and connecting with.

  4. I like what you said in your first paragraph when you stated, “We a raised into a specific way of speaking that it will always be a part of us.” I find that to be very true. Being from a small town and all of my family being from the mountains and living on farms and such, I had to train myself to not talk like a “redneck”. While I know I still have a southern accent, the way I speak could be much more southern than it is today. I still have that accent, but I know how to speak educated and mask it at times when I feel is necessary since people with southern or country accents are usually looked down upon in the professional world. It is still a part of who I am even though I try to cover it up at times.

  5. I completely agree with you when you say that we are born into our own worlds of language and that these worlds of language are directly related to our class discussions of dialect. Each world and its sub categories is its own dialect in itself. I definitely change the way I speak when I go from speaking to my family to my friends. And the weirdest part about it is that I do not notice the change at all and, Amy Tan’s realization that she does the same thing points with an even more drastic change emphasizes the power of language.

  6. Your beginning paragraph is very relatable. You’re right, we are all born into our own world of language. My world is just english. I did not grow up learning a different language. I do however find myself with “mother tongue” as Amy Tan described it. The way I pronounce some of my words is different than others because it is what I picked up on from my parents. I’m like you and have never had trouble speaking the english language well, but I completely agree that this story can stand out to those who have and really inspire them. Tan shows that just because you grow up with a different “mother tongue” , you should never let it hold you back and always follow your dreams.

  7. Just as Amy spoke her mother’s broken English is how everyone does, it may not happen right away but it will over time. My sister went to Ireland for 6 months and when she returned she was not speaking her normal accent or word choice. But over time she reverted back to her “hometown dialect” that she had grown up with. I feel like many people do this even subconsciously.

  8. Strong introduction and an advantageously organized set of points. Your opening paragraph was powerful and I back up what you have said. I definitely find your response just as relatable as the passage. I am very close to my mother; however there is just some things about each other that we just don’t get. We are all born into different situations and surroundings; thus, as we take pieces of what we go through with us we develop our own world of language that is as unique as the fingerprint on our skin. This further shows how powerful the use of language can be and that speech communities can be even found within a single family.

  9. I really enjoyed reading about her struggles of learning English, but then overcoming them and becoming what she is now. She persevered and anything is possible if you put your mind to it. I can related to how she has to get used to understanding her mom, but then not using what she hears from her mom in her own every day speech. I really like the way you told the readers about our struggles with English and how you could relate to Amy. I too had a problem getting used to American English, but I persevered and now I feel as if I have reached my goal.

  10. I was also raised on broken English that my parents used to speak because we moved to the United States from Germany in 1999. My parents both have accents and speak in a broken English but I don’t. However, that doesn’t mean that at one point I didn’t speak a broken English as well I just don’t remember it because I was so young. I used to be embarrassed because my parent’s didn’t speak proper English because I wanted so much to fit in with the other kids, who were born and raised here. Over the years, I’ve come to realize that everyone has their own different way of speaking and just because my parent’s speak a little different doesn’t mean it’s bad. It’s just the thing that differentiates my family from the next one and so on.

  11. I liked how you used this quote from Amy “It has become our language of intimacy, a different sort of English that relates to family talk, the language I grew up with.” to show how each of us has their own way of speaking and it’s a part of who we are. You made a great point by saying, we are always changing up the way we talk depending upon whom we are around. I think the base of what we learn as we were growing up will always be there, but we’re ever changing in regards to the way we speak.

  12. I also liked Amy Tan’s quote, “It has become our language of intimacy, a different sort of English that relates to family talk, the language I grew up with.” I definitely find myself speaking differently around my parents and other family members. It’s comfortable conversation, but a different kind of comfort than it is, say, with my friends.
    I love how Amy Tan was able to improve her “broken” English and become a writer even though people told her that she should stick to math and science. It just shows that you can do anything with the right amount of determination.

  13. I could disagree with your first statement that everyone will always have their first way of speech forever molded into their language. I was born in South Korea where we spoke much differently. Not even the language itself but the way you spoke was much more respectful and proper. A child never spoke out of place, if he did he was to be punished for showing disrespect. Obviously that;s different now. I’m in the US and i use a completely different language with a whole new attitude about how i speak. i sure don’t speak as proper and respectful as I did in Korea.

  14. Many people say that they have their own mother tongue meaning they speak differently outside of home rather than at home, and I find that I speak the same at home and away from home. I was raised by parents that wanted to me to speak normal english and they were constantly on my back telling me to pronounciate and speak clearly. So I find myself not changing anything in my speech patterns from when I leave home and come home. My dad on the other hand changes his speech pattern slightly when he goes home so his parents understand him, and this can show us how each generation differentiates from the ones before.

  15. I think it’s amazing that Amy Tan went from speaking “broken” English to becoming a well-known writer. I’ve heard that English is the hardest language to learn because it is so complex with silent letters, mixed letter sounds, and several rule exceptions. However, Amy Tan overcame those obstacles to learn “proper” English. I also like the wife you chose. Tan is right. Even though my parents have accents and I can speak to them in “proper” English, I feel more comfortable talking to them, so sometimes I speak in broken English with them because I grew up learning how to speak English from my parents.

  16. My mother tongue is English because I was born in Pennsylvania. I have always spoken English so when I got to high school and was told I needed two language credits to graduate I was forced to pick between Spanish, French, and Latin. I chose French because my best friend wanted to be in the same class as me and he wanted to do French. I took three years of French, but I cant really speak it that well at all. I don’t remember much of what I learned because I took the class so long ago, so I speak very broken French.

  17. I do agree with you that the way we first heard how to speak is how we speak and the way that has the biggest influence over us. I do disagree with you, I talk the same way around my parents as I do anybody else. I may use certain words around my friends then I do my parents but that is the only difference. My dialect stays the same.

  18. Being an American I grew up around the English language and I speak English. I find it hard to learn and understand other languages. In high school I took French. after two years of French class I can honestly say that I can’t speak a lick of French. Besides your typical “oui” and “bonjour” I would look like a complete idiot if I were to go to France and try to understand what everyone was saying.

  19. Just like Amy Tan had to work extremely hard to get rid of her broken English and perfect her English, we all go through different processes to develop our own language. We let different things influence and guide us but inevitably we all speak English, but some are viewed differently than others. The southern accent for example is seen as uneducated and unprofessional, but the other hand, people view those from the west as surfer dude “lingo,” and very hollywood style. Inevitably we all find a way to communicate with on another as we attempt to fix our broken English.

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