In the essay " Mother Tongue," Amy Tan acknowledges the difficulties that exist for a for a child growing up in a family that speaks non-standard or limited English which becomes their family language. She also learned the formal standard English from school and books. She realizes that she is automatically switching between these two kinds of English when she talks with certain people. She uses the limited English with her mother and the formal English when she talks with society.
The writer also tells about how intelligent her mother is, despite of her lack of knowledge on speaking formal English. Her mother often to use Tan as a translator, and people often not getting the actual feeling and expression that her mother wants to come out with. This situation becomes an obstacle for the author's mother. People tend to limit their perception about Tan's mother. Thinking that her mother does not understand English very well, the doctor, that her mother visits, refuses to give the information about her diagnosis until Tan shows up.
Throughout her academic and career life as a writer, Tan often encounters situation where people have misconception about her, for being Asian, about her English writing ability. It becomes a kind of challenge for her to prove that she can write well. Her mother becomes her inspiration to write. She wants her writings reflecting how her mother usually talks with her broken English, which is described by the writer as simple, expressive, and full of passion. Tan writes stories using a simple English that she grew up with. At the same time, she also wants to prove to herself and others, that just because she is Asian, and was raised in a family that does not speak English properly, does not mean she cannot master the formal English and presents herself in American literature.