Getting the Best From Both Worlds


In this essay ‘getting the best from both worlds, I will explore the use of native language in an English-speaking country, and will seek to find whether they must learn “proper English”. The basis for this analysis will be from “Mother Tongue “by Amy Tan and “Why and When We Speak Spanish in Public” by Myriam Marquez. I will examine the lives of these two people from different cultures where both parents and families speak their native languages, and how they view language and ethnicity.

In Amy Tan’s “Mother Tongue” she talks about how she lives in two worlds because she translates English into Chinese to her parents who are Chinese immigrants. She depicts mastering the English language, which she learns at school and the broken English which she speaks at home with her mother. She does not have a problem understanding her mother at all; however, other people find it difficult. Amy explains how people did not take her mother seriously at hospitals, restaurants, and banks, and she gives an example of mistreatment at a hospital based on her mother’s broken English. Her broken English made people leave her helpless because they were not interested in understanding her (Tan 46).

Tan says, “I think my mother’s English almost affected limiting my possibilities in life as well” (53). As Amy grew up, her English class was affected by her mother‘s broken English; nevertheless, she now appreciates that. She points out that it is okay to speak in a different English language because it makes the person who they are. Amy Tan compares the different tests they took in school, and she found math easier as an immigrant since the answer was easy to get as compared to English, which needed one to understand. She feels that every Chinese person is smarter in math than in English. For this reason, she decided to major in languages. Amy describes how she wants her mother to speak and read well in English while in public.

On the other hand, from “Why and When We Speak Spanish in Public” by Myriam Marquez, she talks about speaking a different language around certain people. “Being an American has very little to do with what language one uses during free time in a free country” (Marquez 89). This means that people should not feel pressured to speak in English in public since it is a free country. She considers speaking Spanish in public as a symbol of respect for her culture, and for this reason, her family has not adopted English as a first language. However, she considers it disrespectful to speak English to people who do not understand it, and it is only under such conditions she feels obliged to use this language.

I support Tan’s and Marquez’ positions in where they advocate for being proud of whom one is; however, I believe learning proper English is very important. As Marquez notes, we should speak a language that most of the people around us speak. Learning proper English or at least enough would help a lot, especially in social situations. For a person like Amy’s mother, she will not always have Amy around to translate for her. Parents should ensure children practice reading and understanding English as depicted in Amy’s mother who reads and understands English through practicing (93). To speak well, one needs to speak more to improve the language. Involving oneself in activities such as reading newspapers, watching news online, and reading books can improve one’s communication skills.

Human beings are not islands, and in most circumstances they need assistance, and if they are not able to put the points across they might not get helped. Therefore, I support the idea that parents should learn proper English; however, this does not mean they should abandon their heritage. I believe that everyone has a right to speak whichever language they feel comfortable with. This is as long as one is speaking to people who understand the language. As Marquez advocates, one must not stop speaking one’s native tongue, even when one is not communicating with people speaking a different mother tongue. So I am for speaking in a native language to the relevant people and proper English to the world or those speaking a foreign language (99).

Language is very important in society and acts as a uniting factor; however, at times language can be a barrier when there is no common understanding. I feel that not speaking proper English impedes the life of immigrants in this country, is because they are unable to get their messages across in most situations, and if the person they are talking to is unable to understand, they tend to ignore them. I understand that learning a new language especially at an older age is easier said than done, but in life, we struggle through everything particularly for the first time. Learning the English language has more advantages than disadvantages, which reinforces the importance of learning it. Learning the English language helps speakers fit in the society, and opens a world full of opportunities. By this, I mean that nonnative speakers can get along in public because of the understanding amongst people of different cultures. To get jobs, one has to know the language of the majority in the surrounding population. They will also get the services they need in public places such as in banks, restaurants, and hospitals, without being aided by someone else. For instance, I once overheard a conversation between a store assistant and a customer; speaking broken English the customer was trying to ask for some assistance, but the assistant and I both could not understand what she was trying to say. This situation shows why it is important to learn proper English is very. Therefore, they can learn English but keep their heritage alive by speaking their native language to people who understand it. This way, they will not be losing their native language in either a small or large way.

In conclusion, “Mother Tongue” by Amy Tan and “When We Speak Spanish in Public” by Myriam Marquez both try to express and expose the difficulties encountered by non-English speakers. They both value language and think it is an important part of society. Even with their different cultural backgrounds, they both feel it is important to be in touch with their cultural roots. As much as society considers it disrespectful to speak native languages in public, I think it is not because America is a free country with people of diverse cultures. People should feel proud of whom they are, and not lose sight of their heritage. Consequently, one should strive to find the balance between the two. By doing this, they will not only better themselves but get the best out of the world.

Works Cited

Marquez, Myriam. “Why and When We Speak Spanish in Public.” Orlando Florida: The Sentinel, 1999. Print.

Tan, Amy. Mother’s tongue. CA: The Threepenny Review, 1990. Print.