The Theme of Judging of People in Amy Tan’s Mother Tongue

Category: Book Review
Last Updated: 11 Mar 2023
Pages: 4 Views: 67

No matter who you are or how accepting you claim to be, everyone makes the mistake of “judging a book by its cover.” In today’s society, judging people based on the way they look or talk happens every day, even more than it should. I am guilty of the same thing and have learned a lot about judging people by the way they look or talk from reading Amy Tan’s “Mother Tongue” The point that Amy is trying to convey in her essay, is that not everyone speaks the same. The English language that can be construed in many different ways. Amy Tan didn’t realize at first the many different ways she spoke in English, until she started writing.

She is trying to explain, that there are many different ways to do things, especially in the English language, and she wants us as readers to understand that there is not just one way. I have to agree with her and her views on judging others. Amy is trying to teach her readers, that sometimes all you need to do is put all of your information out in a simple way. You don’t always need to make everything so complicated that the common person can’t understand. Prejudice based on the way someone looks or speaks is not right; people should first get to know someone before making assumptions about them.

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In theory we live in a world full of different languages and there is not a set language; there are many different ways to interpret the English language today. After reading the essay it was clear to see how Amy Tan realizes that she uses a different “English” when she talks to different people. Amy realizes that she speaks a different “English” when she is talking to her mother and husband than she does with the rest of the world. During the course of the essay the Amy talks a lot about how there are different “English’s” that she uses with different people in her life. Amy states in her essay, “I remembered one major difference that made the whole talk sound wrong. My mother was in the room. And it was perhaps the first time she had heard me give a lengthy speech, using the kind of English I have never used with her” It is human nature to dim or heighten the way you speak to a person based on the way they speak, that is the way we as humans have worked for years.

This great country we call home, is a melting pot of many different people and even more languages. But just because someone speaks English a little different than you, doesn’t mean that same person is any less intelligent, and this is what Amy is telling us all in her essay. As I continued reading, Amy states how incredibly smart her mother actually is, even though there is a language barrier between her and most of the world. This quote from the essay, “You should know that my mother’s expressive command of English belies how much she actually understands. She reads the Forbes report, listens to Wall Street Week, converses daily with her stockbroker, reads Shirley MacLaine’s books with ease—all kinds of things I can’t begin to understand. Yet some of my friends tell me they understand fifty percent of what my mother says” really shows how smart Amy’s mother is. I have caught myself making the same assumptions that others make when it comes to judging people intelligence based on the way a person talk, and I’ve learned that it is not okay.

I find that sometimes taking the simple path is the best way to go. In the essay Amy decided that she wanted to broaden her audience by not just writing highly sophisticated stories, but stories that everyday people can read. Amy describes, “So with this reader in mind—and in fact she did read my early drafts—I began to write stories using all the English’s I grew up with: the English I spoke to my mother, which for lack of a better term might be described as “simple”; the English she used with me, which for lack of a better term might be described as “broken.” Amy tells that just in her life, there are many different English’s and that doesn’t even begin to include the rest of the world. This made her realize that by making her writings simpler, she can reach more people now then she ever could if she continued to write for the smaller percent of scholarly readers. I find that Amy and I agree that by simplifying your writing you have a greater chance of reaching out to a greater amount of people.

If I have learned anything from reading Amy Tan’s essay, it is that the English language can be spoken in many different dialects. Just because a person’s language barriers are different, doesn’t mean that a person in dumb or can’t understand you. Lastly it is okay to use more than one kind of English, you don’t have to either be super smart on really limited with the way you express yourself in language and writing. My initial reaction to this article was that it was going to be about a mother who didn’t speak English the way most others would and that is exactly what it was. Amy knew first-hand what it was like to live and grow up with a mother who’s English wasn’t perfect. So with all of the differences in the world and everything that I have learned from Amy, I now have come to the realization that I should not “judge a book by its cover” without know more about a person.


Tan, A. (2006, October 06). Mother Tongue. Retrieved June 6, 2016, from

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The Theme of Judging of People in Amy Tan’s Mother Tongue. (2023, Mar 11). Retrieved from

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