My Expressions

Date : 20 January 2021

  • Young Voice
  • Diya Barmecha

‘Yes, I Can Communicate.’

Amy Tan, the author of Mother Tongue, has found a way to oppose themes that usually go hand in hand. These themes are literacy and language. This short story talks about her journey to becoming an author and her thoughts and struggles. Often literacy is shown as the ability to communicate or read and write. Where we are born and the language used in our home often affects the accent we have or the way we talk. It may change around our priorities when it comes to language. However, it can’t measure or shape our successes. Never have people thought about the role of language in literacy. With most of the world using English, learning English has become a benchmark. In India, we say that children are illiterate. However, most of them can read and write. It’s just in a local language and not a language that people often associate with being well-off or “cool”. However, language and our roots don’t define our literacy or success.

Language is a way of communicating and understanding, it does not have to be understood by everyone. Throughout Amy’s life, she has felt that she is the only one able to understand her mother. Eventually, she realizes that it doesn’t matter. “Some say they understand 80 to 90 percent. Some say they understand none of it as if she were speaking pure Chinese. But to me, my mother’s English is perfectly clear, perfectly natural. It’s my mother tongue. Her language, as I hear it, is vivid, direct, full of observation and imagery. That was the language that helped shape the way I saw things, expressed things, made sense of the world” (Page 1). People across the world have different languages. Yet, we can understand what the other person is trying to say most of the time without a translator. The art of expressing is present in everyone and we are able to comprehend what the other person is trying to say. Making assumptions out of language or the accent makes no sense. Everyone has a different way to communicate.

A simple analogy to understand this is. Everyone is riding towards the sun, the only difference is the car they are taking. While the language is the car that takes us to the sun. Our company affects how we speak, it could be friends or most of the times it is family. It is almost never a bad thing but many think it is. As did Amy as a child, “ I think my mother’s English almost had an effect on limiting my possibilities in life as well” (Page 2). Listening to a certain type of English can certainly affect the way a person feels about English. The author didn’t care about the English language as she thought her mother having “broken” English, gave her fewer opportunities. Amy goes to school and constantly gets low grades because the English she is assessed on at school are not the English she hears at home. Her mother’s so-called “broken” English sure held her back. However, as the story progressed, she realizes how it doesn’t affect her being successful. Amy can be good at English unlike her mother and that is completely okay. This is when she decided to be an author and share her story. A story of being a Chinese immigrant in America and the constant judgment and stereotyping she used to feel. Later she realized that the only thing that was limiting her was her lack of confidence. Getting approval from her teachers and peers is what she thought was the most important at that time.

Getting approval from a qualified person doesn’t feel the same as getting approval from someone you wanted it from. As mentioned before, in Amy’s school years all that mattered to her was her teacher’s approval. However, in the end, she realized what was actually important to her. “Apart from what any critic had to say about my writing. I knew I had succeeded where it counted. When my mother finished reading my book and gave me her verdict, “So easy to read “ ”(Page 4). Usually, for all writers, the achievement would be getting a good review from someone. However, to her, it was getting approval from her mother, a person who has always supported her. Being literate gives you intelligent stuff to say. Although Amy’s mother had intelligent stuff to say, she didn’t have the “intelligent” way to say them, which is why nothing can compare to advice or the opinion of someone who has always guided you.

Mother Tongue is a great example to show growth and arrive at things that really matter. Amy Tan has shown her growth as a person by narrating her story of immigrating and fighting the battle of stereotypes. Everyone assumes that talents come from your parents. Things that are in your roots are what you can be good at. Fortunately, that is not the case. People can be good at whenever they want and it doesn’t affect them in any way. As soon as the author realized it, she wrote a story to help others who feel like her. This is a very common story but not everyone comes up with a way out. Not everyone is able to live after the stereotypes.

Mother Tongue is a story everyone should read, as it is applicable to every culture and every person. Being literate is something everyone wants to be, and it has nothing to do with what other people at home do or what language you are literate in. Being able to communicate in any way is a blessing.


Diya Barmecha

9, Ascend International School, Mumbai

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