Amy Tan’s essay “Mother Tongue” is about Tan’s experiences with different types of English. She mainly focuses on her mother’s “broken” or “limited” English that impacted her own understanding of the English language as a student and writer. This essay is written from a first-person perspective and is directed towards people who would judge Asian Americans based on their version of spoken English. Tan stresses that her mother’s version of spoken English is not a better or worse language than the grammatically "perfect" English that is expected of language learners.
At the start of the essay, Tan defines her perspective. She writes,
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. Language is the tool of my trade.
Tan views English and language in general to be a tool that can be wielded. Her mother’s English contains “her intent, her passion, her imagery, the rhythms of her speech and the nature of her thoughts.” Therefore, Tan spends the essay exploring the power behind her mother’s version of spoken English, which is perceived as “broken”.
With this essay, Tan wants to convince those who judge her mother’s English, including herself, that there is power in this version of the language. Although her mother’s English may not follow every grammatical rule, it does communicate what it is intended to communicate and does so in the way that her mother intends. Tan wants the readers of this essay to realize that her mother’s English, Tan’s “mother tongue,” is a valuable method of communication.