Mother Tongue by Amy Tan: A Comparison of English and the Broken Language Essay

Mother Tongue by Amy Tan: A Comparison of English and the Broken Language Essay

Amy Tan, the author of the essay “Mother Tongue,” explores the powerful impact of language on our lives. In her thought-provoking and insightful work, Tan reflects on her experiences growing up as a daughter of an immigrant mother with limited English proficiency. The essay delves into the complexities of communication and the role it plays in shaping our identities.

Throughout the essay, Tan tells various anecdotes involving her mother’s struggles with the English language. She describes her mother’s broken English as a reflection of her limitations in expressing herself. However, Tan challenges the notion that language proficiency is the sole indicator of a person’s intelligence or worth. She argues that her mother’s “broken” English is not a measure of her intellect, but rather a unique way of thinking and communicating that has its strengths and advantages.

Tan explores the similarities and differences between the English she uses in her professional writing and the broken English her mother speaks. She suggests that the English language is not a monolithic entity but a fluid and ever-evolving system that can be adapted and molded to suit different purposes and contexts. The author makes a compelling case for embracing the diversity of language and acknowledging the value of all forms of communication.

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Mothers play a significant role in Tan’s essay, not only her own mother but also other individuals who have faced similar challenges with language. Tan gives voice to these mothers and recognizes the immense strength and resilience that lies within them. She highlights the struggles they face and the joy they experience in making meaningful connections through conversation, despite the limitations of their English.

The essay also reflects on Tan’s own journey as a writer and how her mother’s broken English motivates and inspires her. She realizes that her mother’s unique way of thinking has influenced her own writing style, pushing her to think creatively and use language in new and unconventional ways. Tan embraces the idea that language and communication are not simply about following the rules and norms of standardized English but about expressing oneself authentically and creatively.

An Analysis of Amy Tan’s “Mother Tongue”

Tan’s essay is not just about her own personal experiences, but also about the experiences of many individuals like her. She speaks about the variety of English spoken by Asian Americans and how it is often marginalized or seen as inferior to standard English. She states that this prejudice is not only imposed by others, but also by herself and other individuals who think that broken English is a reflection of a person’s intelligence or academic abilities.

Throughout the essay, Tan chooses to write in a conversational and informal tone, using anecdotes and personal stories to connect with her readers. She states that her mother’s broken English actually becomes an intimate language between them, a language that “fills the small part of the world I know”. Tan’s use of personal examples and reflections helps to show the connection between language and personal identity.

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Tan also reviews some academic essays, such as Arthur Schlesinger’s “The Disuniting of America”, which highlight the limitations of the English language in representing the experiences of diverse peoples. She argues that language should not be a barrier to communication or a source of prejudice, but rather a tool for understanding and embracing diversity.

To reinforce her point, Tan mentions Maya Angelou’s essay “I Know Why the Caged Bird Sings” as another example of how language should not be a measure of intelligence or superiority. She states that Angelou’s struggles with literacy did not limit her ability to speak with depth and honesty.

Exploring the Differences Between English and the Broken Language

Tan finds that although her mother’s English may be considered “broken” by some, it is still a valid and meaningful way of communicating. In fact, Tan considers her mother’s language to be full of depth and emotion, as it reflects her personal experiences and cultural identity. The author states that her mother’s language has a certain power and joy that makes it unique and valuable.

However, Tan also acknowledges that there are limitations to the Broken Language, particularly in academic and professional settings. She reflects on her own experiences of her mother’s language being misunderstood or dismissed by others. This issue stands as a critical point in her essay, as it highlights the need for understanding and acceptance of different forms of communication.

As the daughter of a mother who primarily spoke Broken Language, Tan explores the complexities of language and how it relates to identity. She compares her experiences to those of other ethnicities and peoples, emphasizing that everyone has their own unique way of expressing themselves. This reflection is not only a personal one for Tan but also a broader analysis of the power of language and its impact on individuals and communities.

Though the Broken Language may not conform to the rules and conventions of standard English, it still holds value and importance. Tan chooses to share her mother’s language with the world through her writing, demonstrating that it is a language worth celebrating and preserving. By doing so, she challenges the notion that only a certain type of language is considered valid or “proper.”

Overall, Tan’s essay provides a powerful reflection on the differences between English and the Broken Language. It encourages readers to think critically about the way we communicate and the importance of understanding and accepting different forms of expression. Through personal anecdotes and rhetorical analysis, Tan sheds light on the richness and complexity of language, opening up a dialogue on this often overlooked topic.

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  • Tan finds that the Broken Language holds emotional depth and reflects personal experiences.
  • There are limitations to the Broken Language, particularly in academic and professional settings.
  • Tan explores the complexities of language and its relation to identity.
  • Everyone has their own unique way of expressing themselves through language.
  • Tan challenges the notion that only standard English is considered valid or “proper.”
  • The essay prompts readers to think critically about communication and embrace different forms of expression.

The Significance of Language in Amy Tan’s Essay

Tan discusses how her mother’s “broken” English and her own experiences with English have shaped her understanding of the world. She acknowledges that many people may view her mother’s English as inferior or less sophisticated, but she highlights the variety and strength of communication that is possible even with “broken” language.

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Tan’s essay ultimately challenges the notion that there is one “superior” form of English. She argues that language is not simply about correctness or academic proficiency, but about conveying meaning and building connections. In her own words, “I think my mother’s English almost had an effect on limiting my possibilities in life… I’ve heard other Asian American students, and professors, voice similar concerns: they think they write with the same “broken” English that they grew up with.”

The essay also delves into the intimate relationship between Tan and her mother through language. Tan shares how her mother’s “broken” English can be seen as a reflection of her mother’s strength and resilience. She tells the story of her mother’s interaction with a stockbroker and how her mother’s words, though grammatically incorrect, were able to convey her intent with precision. Tan writes, “I had to get on the phone and say in an adolescent voice that was not very convincing, ‘This is Mrs. Tan.'” This scene highlights the power of language beyond words, where even “broken” speech can command respect and authority.

Tan’s exploration of language extends beyond her personal experiences. She discusses the issue of people with limited English proficiency being treated as “less intelligent” and the importance of recognizing the value and complexity of their language abilities. She references Maya Angelou’s experience with being videotaped while giving a speech and how the focus on her “broken” English overshadowed the powerful messages she was conveying. Tan argues for a more positive and inclusive view of language, emphasizing that there are multiple ways of communicating effectively.

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Similarities and Differences in Language

Amy Tan’s essay also highlights the similarities and differences between her experiences with English and her mother’s “broken” English. She reflects on times when she would speak on behalf of her mother and how she realized that her mother’s voice was being ignored. Tan realizes the impact of language on social spaces and recognizes that her mother’s language abilities were often disregarded due to the perception of “broken” language.

Despite these challenges, Tan recognizes the power of her mother’s language. She writes, “I think my mother’s English was the language that helped shape the way I saw things, expressed things, made sense of the world.” Tan’s essay illustrates the complex relationship individuals have with language and the impact it can have on their identities.

The Author’s Club

Tan uses the metaphor of the “Author’s Club” to describe the language of educated individuals. She explains that being part of the “Author’s Club” grants access to certain privileges and opportunities. However, Tan suggests that this club is exclusive and often disregards the experiences and language abilities of others.

The essay concludes with Tan reflecting on her own journey as a writer and the importance of embracing diverse forms of language. She states, “I spend a great deal of my time thinking about the power of language – the way it can evoke an emotion, a visual image, a complex idea, or a simple truth.”

Amy Tan’s Use of Personal Experience to Highlight Language Issues

Tan talks about the topic of language in multiple contexts, using her mother’s broken English as an example. She cites her mother’s difficulty in expressing herself and the prejudice she faced because of her limited English proficiency. Tan believes that language is an important issue as it affects one’s identity and how others perceive them. She shares an anecdote about how she once Googled her mother’s name and saw that “the second listed site is the ‘Amy Tan club,’ where the main topic of conversation is ‘Mother Tongue.’”

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Amy Tan then analyzes her own relationship with the English language and how it relates to her mother’s broken English. She feels a strong connection to her mother when they speak in their mother tongue, which she describes as the language that “gives us our identity, the meaning of our lives.” Tan reveals that despite her fluency in English, she sometimes feels like an outsider in American society because her language is perceived as different. She compares this feeling to that of a “foreign student, coming to learn English, feeling good and bad because he can’t speak it well.”

In addition to her personal experiences, Tan also highlights the experiences of other individuals who face language barriers. She mentions Maya Angelou, an author who faced prejudice because of her African American identity and her use of the English language. Tan draws a parallel between Angelou’s experience and her own, showing that language can be a powerful tool for both oppression and empowerment.

Through her personal anecdotes, Tan effectively shows how language can shape a person’s identity and their understanding of the world. She illustrates the power dynamics that exist based on language proficiency and challenges the notion that “broken” or non-standard English is inferior. Tan’s essay speaks to the importance of embracing and celebrating different languages and the people who speak them, rather than imposing limits and prejudices based on language proficiency.

Citing Amy Tan’s “Mother Tongue” in Academic Work

A simple way to cite “Mother Tongue” is to include it in the Works Cited section of your paper:

Tan, Amy. “Mother Tongue.” The Norton Reader: An Anthology of Nonfiction, edited by Linda H. Peterson and John C. Brereton, 14th ed., W. W. Norton & Company, 2016, pp. 32-40.

Incorporating specific quotes or ideas from the essay into your own writing can add depth and support to your arguments. For example, if you are discussing the limitations of Englishes spoken by Asian immigrants in the United States, you might use a quote from Tan’s essay:

“I think my mother’s English almost had an effect on limiting my possibilities in life as well. Sociologists and linguists probably will tell you that a person’s developing a variety of language is shaped by several factors: family background, economic status, social status, and education” (Tan 35).

Citing “Mother Tongue” in your academic work allows readers to access the essay and verify your claims. Moreover, it shows a critical reflection on the topics discussed by Amy Tan, such as the experiences of individuals who speak English as a second language and the prejudices they may face. By citing the essay, you are engaging with Tan’s ideas and contributing to the scholarly conversation surrounding these issues.


What is the main idea of Amy Tan’s essay “Mother Tongue”?

The main idea of Amy Tan’s essay “Mother Tongue” is the power and importance of language and how it can shape our lives and our identities.

What does the phrase “broken language” mean in Amy Tan’s essay?

In Amy Tan’s essay, the phrase “broken language” refers to the imperfect English that her mother speaks, which is often seen as unconventional or less refined compared to standard English.

How does Amy Tan feel about her mother’s English?

Amy Tan feels a deep sense of admiration and respect for her mother’s English, despite its imperfections. She recognizes the richness and complexity of her mother’s language and appreciates the way it has shaped her own identity.

What is the significance of the title “Mother Tongue”?

The title “Mother Tongue” is significant because it represents the language that Amy Tan’s mother speaks, which holds a special place in her heart due to its connection to her family and cultural heritage.

What is the difference between “perfect” English and “broken” English?

The difference between “perfect” English and “broken” English lies in their adherence to standard grammatical rules and conventions. “Perfect” English is the language spoken and written according to these rules, while “broken” English deviates from them, often resulting in unconventional and non-standard usage.

What is the main idea of the essay “Mother Tongue” by Amy Tan?

The main idea of the essay “Mother Tongue” by Amy Tan is the power of language and the ways in which it can shape an individual’s identity and their relationships with others.

Alex Koliada, PhD

By Alex Koliada, PhD

Alex Koliada, PhD, is a well-known doctor. He is famous for studying aging, genetics, and other medical conditions. He works at the Institute of Food Biotechnology and Genomics. His scientific research has been published in the most reputable international magazines. Alex holds a BA in English and Comparative Literature from the University of Southern California, and a TEFL certification from The Boston Language Institute.