[Sharing Saturday] (kinda?)
Between school, work, and family, I haven’t done any writing that wasn’t for school, so I don’t have anything to share from my WIP. I hate leaving people hanging though (all 5 of you, lol), so I figured I would share what I’ve been working on for school instead.
Hope you guys enjoy critical analysis (analysises? analysi? What is the plural of “analysis” anyway?)
A Critical Analysis of Amy Tan’s “Mother Tongue”
In Amy Tan’s essay, “Mother Tongue”, she discusses the power of language. Both, the power that comes from having a strong grasp of it, and the stigma one faces without. More specifically, Ms. Tan addresses the bias against non-native English speakers, the effect stereotyping can have on the children, as well as the possible repercussions it can have on society as a whole.
In my opinion, Ms. Tan makes a truly valid point about the way society looks at people who do not speak “perfect” English. Her words echo an observation I have noticed myself about the way society looks at immigrants in general, but especially those who have trouble with the language barrier. She also points out that the stigma (as well as stereotypes) are often pushed onto the children of non-native English speakers, and the struggle those children face to succeed in language-based careers.
In Ms. Tan’s essay, she talks about how even the perception of a person becomes limited when faced with someone who did not speak proper English. To demonstrate her point, she admits that even her own perception of her mother was skewed because of her mother’s so-called “limited” English. In one part, she mentions that she was “ashamed” of her mother, and believed that “her English reflected the quality of what she had to say. That is, because she expressed them imperfectly, her thoughts were imperfect.”. (Tan 21)
By admitting that the lack of “proper” English affected her perception of her own mother, she reveals that the stigma runs deeper than just your “average American Joe”. Most children go through a stage where they are embarrassed of their parents, but it is usually based on their perception of what is “cool”. For a child to think of their parent as “less” because of the way society views them is a painful reminder of how impressionable children truly are. It is also worrying; if the child grows up looking down on people who don’t speak English properly, what is to stop them from passing that prejudice to their own children?
On that note, when Ms. Tan next recounts the times when professionals treated her mother subpar, could they be the children of people who were taught to look down on non-native English speakers? It’s perfectly reasonable to assume so, considering the way they treated Ms. Tan’s mother. Where else did they learn to not take her seriously, and to pretend they did not understand her, or even hear her? (Tan 22)
To be fair, I’m sure it wasn’t just their parents who taught those people to treat her so poorly, though we do have to assume that was where it started. We also have to think about where their parents learned it, and so on. This isn’t just a problem on an individual level. Our entire society pushes the belief that only people who have learned to speak English “properly” are people educated enough to count for anything, regardless of how intelligent the person really is.
I do not base that claim on this essay alone, but from my own experience as well. I worked for a Taiwan-based company, owned and operated by a woman who spoke “limited” English. Despite all evidence pointing to her being an educated woman, we often had outside “white” businessmen who would give each other looks like, “Do you understand a word she’s saying?” and laugh quietly among themselves. The woman in question used their underestimation to her advantage, but the stigma of her “broken” English was still very much present.
It is also worth mentioning that it is not only the non-native English speakers that are biased against, but also their children who are often pushed away from language-based skills such as writing, as evidenced by the next quote from Ms. Tan’s essay: “And this makes me think that there are other Asian-American students whose English spoken in the home might also be described as “broken” or “limited.” And perhaps they also have teachers who are steering them away from writing and into math and science, which is what happened to me.” (Tan 23)
I really believe that quote speaks for itself, and has some interesting implications. Like many others, I always thought that it was the parents pushing the children into those areas of study. Now, though, one has to wonder just how many future writers/actors/musicians were pushed out of those fields because of the teachers. And again, we have to ask ourselves where the teachers learned to think of those students as ill-suited for language-based careers.
In my opinion, Ms. Tan makes a truly valid point about the way society looks at people who not speak “perfect” English. Her words echo an observation I’ve noticed myself about the way society looks at immigrants in general, but especially those who have trouble with the language barrier. She also points out that the stigma (as well as stereotypes) are often pushed onto the children of non-native English speakers, and the struggle those children face to succeed in language-based careers.
Based on the experiences Ms. Tan has shared with us, it seems to me that our society needs a wake-up call. Just because a person does not speak “proper” English, does not mean they are any less intelligent than someone who does. And just because English isn’t a person’s “mother tongue” doesn’t mean that the only thing they will do any good in, is math or science. Ms. Tan, herself, is an example of this. Despite being pushed away from language-based skills, she went on to become an established author. Other examples of this include the actress Ming-Na Wen (Joy Luck Club, Agents of S.H.I.E.L.D), musician Mike Shinoda (Linkin Park, Fort Minor), and Connie Chung, a journalist who has also served as a news anchor for many of the major networks, including NBC, CBS, ABC and CNN.
It is because of Ms. Tan’s experiences, and my own, that I find it hard to disagree with the underlying message in her essay. People really do treat non-native English speakers as less. And it’s not just about salespeople not taking them seriously. It’s in the way a person will speak louder and slower when talking to someone who doesn’t understand the language. The person is neither deaf nor stupid, but it is an almost automatic response when we come across someone on the other side of the language barrier. One has to wonder if the tendency to push the children of those people away from developing language skills is also reflex, and what would happen if we were to stop and give them a chance to excel in fields other than math and science.
Tan, Amy. “Mother Tongue.” Read (2006): 20-23. Article.