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ENGL 1301

Date

Language Barrier without Barriers

For one to say that non-English speakers are inferior to those speak English is to engage in stereotyping. Unfortunately, this is a misconception that many Americans have, and many have been victimized by this way of thinking. Included in this category is successful writer Amy Tan. Born in Oakland, California, Tan was raised in a society surrounded by English speaking people. This is not how she was raised, however, as her mother was a Chinese immigrant who spoke broken English at best, a very rudimentary lingo that only a few could understand. As a result of this language barrier, fluent speaking Amy Tan was exposed to the injustices that her own mother faced in aspects of life that others never had to go through. As a result of the discrimination that she witnessed, “Mother Tongue” found its way into the literary magazine The Threepenny Review, in 1990. This article provides an account of many of the inequities Tan’s mother faced, and how it affected both herself and her daughter. The story was written for a friendly audience, one that is open to the idea of her writing and ideas. By using comparison and contrast, description, characterization and personal anecdotes, Amy Tan effectively conveys the need to be tolerant towards non-English speakers.

Amy Tan uses comparing and contrasting as a mode of discourse to help convey her message of neutrality to all of those with a difficulty of speaking English. An example of this is when Tan’s Mother, recently diagnosed with a benign brain tumor, revealed that, “the hospital did not apologize when they said they had lost the CAT scan.” Contrary to the treatment of Tan’s mother, however, Tan “had assurances the CAT scan would be found, promises that a conference call on Monday would be held, and apologies for any suffering my mother had gone through for a most regrettable mistake.” These quotes are significant because they demonstrate just how different a patient can be treated at the hospital simply from the fluidity of one’s English alone. Comparing and contrasting Amy Tan’s treatment as a citizen to that of her mother’s throughout the text helps to draw attention to the difficulties that her Mother faces on a regular basis as an immigrant with crude English speaking abilities. By using a relatable example such as this, the author establishes a secure emotional connection with the readers to help them understand the implications of such discrimination on a personal level, revealing the need to be tolerant towards non-English speakers. 

The use of description as a mode of discourse helps the reader to grasp the many problems that Amy Tan’s mother regularly faced in her time. Examples of this are when Amy Tan’s mother “used to have her daughter call people on the phone to pretend she was her mother,” as well as mentioning that her mother “reads the Forbes report, listens to Wall Street Week, converses daily with her stockbroker, and reads all of Shirley MacLaine’s books with ease.” This is representative of the description mode of development because it enhances the detail of the situations. By including these extra details, the reader has the opportunity to see the problems that even the most educated of foreigners can face in America, where those with broken English have to resort to extreme means to get their messages heard.  This helps to create a personal appeal from the reader to the author, allowing her message to be heard and providing an example of how one should behave towards those incapacitated by English grammar. Along with descriptions in the text, there also many instances of character development.

The inclusion of characterization as a literary device means that more detail can be included within the text. Characterization is defined as the method in which an author portrays a character, and is especially prevalent in the way in which Tan’s mother is described.

Characterization as a literary device is prominent in many plot-heavy novels and readings, and helps to develop an understanding of many of the people involved. An example of this is when Tan mentions that “Her mother’s language, as Tan hears it, is vivid, direct, and full of observation and imagery. This humanizes Tan’s mother, a character who did not get equal treatment from many people, and adds detail to the type of person that she is. When Tan’s mother tells her daughter that her book is “So easy to read,” it is not only ironic, but also a staple of how her relationship with her daughter. 

The personal anecdotes as a technique in the reading comprise most of the article, and it is included to give the reader an account of someone who is credible and knowledgeable about the subject. A personal experience can be anything that involves the author’s life, and it can be used as a tool to help convince people to take a certain position on a given topic. An example of this is when Tan writes that “she thinks her mother’s English almost had an effect on limiting her possibilities in life as well,” listing her lower English grades as evidence for the claim. This helps to validate not only Tan’s claim that her Mother’s English might have had an effect on her academic performance, but also the assertion that it might have possibly hindered her ability to succeed in American life. When Tan mentions that “she finally began to write fiction,” it serves as a stark contrast to the limited education that she thought she was receiving. The inclusion of this statement demonstrates the capability of those who have limited English, and helps the reader to understand toleration of people in these situations is the best way to allow them to

reach their full potential. The inclusion of this along with everything else effectively conveys this message to the reader. 

Between the expansive inclusion of detail and the personal emotional appeal, Amy Tan highlights the sheer injustices that come with being a foreigner with broken English. With the positive light she has shed upon this group of people, however, the future surely looks more promising than before. It is surely a strong possibility that with time and effort, people’s acceptance will lead to a future free from this sort of discrimination. A future without these barriers is certainly a future of promise.

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