The first appearance of this essay that I have found through my research, was in 1987, in the publication College English, Vol 49, No 4, published by the National Council of Teachers of English.

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Aimed at teachers of English, the essay takes a narrative stance, using Min-Zhan Lu’s own experience growing up in China during a period of radical change. Lu had to protect herself and her intellectual family by not revealing her knowledge of the English language and by conforming to the style of Standard Chinese in school., while at home meeting her parents’ requirement to read, write and speak in English to a very high standard. She demonstrates how her struggle to manage and apply opposing voices in her use of language ultimately led to a fuller and more expressive use of language.

The essay is captivating in its style and reflects the very precise and culturally informed use of English that Lu’s parents wanted her to have.

The purpose of the essay is to encourage teachers to take their students beyond what is necessary to conform and meet the standards being set, and to expose them to different genres and voices. Instead of protecting the student and making it simple for them to pass, Lu recommends challenging their language development so that they might achieve a whole new level of understanding and expression. She reflects on this in the final section of her essay: “I am almost grateful for the overwhelming complexity of the circumstances in which I grew up. For it was this complexity that kept me from losing sight of the effort and choice involved in reading or writing.”

The language and sentence structure of Lu’s essay reflects the high standard of English that she had achieved. Her writing includes less common words like “reify” (to make real) and her style is almost poetic.

The basic tenet of the essay is valuable. It is to allow and encourage students to recognize and accept the struggle between the required language in different aspects of life and to use these differences. In this way they can attain a richer level of communication, and the struggle is worth it.

  • Lu, Min-Zhan. “From Silence to Words.” College English, Vol 49, No 4 (1987): 437-448.