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【Distinguished XMUer】Yan Xianwei: A Security Guard in His 50s Who Taught Himself French
Updated: 2020-07-15 Hits:

Yan Xianwei, a security guard in College of Foreign Languages and Cultures (CFLC), Xiamen University (XMU), taught himself French at the age of nearly sixty. At present, he can fluently greet teachers and students in French. Sometimes Yan will even greet international teachers with the French phrase "Tu es très belle aujourd' hui" ("You look beautiful today"), often catching them off-guard!

Yan is of average height with a close-cut haircut, but his energy is boundless. If you don't speak with him, there's no way you would know that this seemingly ordinary security guard can speak fluent French. Yan, who is 57 years old and comes from Sanming, Fujian Province, came to work as a security guard at CFLC two years ago. Besides security, he is also responsible for facility services. The incident that led Yan to start learning French occurred in May 2018, when a French teacher named Li Na needed to borrow a remote control from him to use in class. "Li Na taught me how to say 'remote control' in French," Yan says. After that, Li would often borrow the remote control from him before class. When Li would thank him for the remote control, Yan wanted to respond in French but didn't know how, so he asked some students how to say "You're welcome" in French in order to respond to Li's thanks. Since then, Li has taught Yan several French expressions. 

How can one learn French by oneself with no prior knowledge? Yan has a notebook which he uses to jot down French phrases and sentences, and he has recorded hundreds of them. He learns French by reading these notes over and over again, seizing every spare moment to study. His notebook is his secret weapon. Since Yan has not learned French phonetics systematically, he can only use Chinese phonetics to help him memorize French vocabulary. In order to study new words, he also downloaded an electronic dictionary. Although machine translation is convenient, it sometimes makes mistakes, leading Yan to turn to the students and teachers of CFLC who are always very willing to help him. 

More importantly, Yan is inquisitive and always eager to learn. For example, he asked Prof. Lu Jingming, the head of the French Department of CFLC, how to express "Please leave your umbrella outside" in French when he came across her on a rainy day; he asked a student how the French say "sausage" when seeing the student eating sausages; upon spotting another student having some yogurt, he inquired how to say "yogurt" in French... Moved by Yan's diligence, the students and teachers of CFLC are willing to teach him some daily French expressions.

One day, Long Jia, a French teacher at CFLC, came to give lessons. Yan greeted her in French, and she responded politely. What impressed her was Yan's following words: "Voulez-vous boire du thé?" ("Would you like some tea?"). Hearing this, Long had an even greater respect for Yan.  

Yan says, "French pronunciation is difficult to learn. If I don't review, it's easy to forget. I have to read it again and again, only then will it stick in my mind." At present, he can express all the classroom numbers in the CFLC building in French. Yan can also name all the objects in the reception office in French, a feat which impresses the teachers and students!

Yan's hard work has not only won the respect of many individuals, but also the support of CFLC. This has become a driving force in his quest to learn French. The remote control incident could be considered Yan's first moment of contact with the French language, but for him, his motivation to learn French comes from his wish to better serve the teachers and students of CFLC. Sometimes, when Yang Yunliang, the Vice Chairman of CFLC Council, walked into the CFLC building and found Yan muttering something, Yang knew that he was studying French. CFLC supports Yan in learning French because, as Vice Chairman of CFLC Council Yang Yunliang remarks, "His initiative to study sets a good example for the students."

The second floor of the CFLC building, where Yan's office is situated, also has classrooms which are often used for French major classes. "The teachers and students always greet me in French, and I cannot just reply with smiles. I should say something, shouldn't I?" Yan can greet international teachers in Japanese and Russian as well.

Everyone in CFLC knows how hard Yan works and how enthusiastic he is for the teachers and students. His little acts of kindness are appreciated by everyone. The CFLC building has a back door which is only for teachers with access cards. CFLC students usually enter through the front door. During exam periods, if some students are running late to their exam, Yan usually helps them by opening the back door and letting the students take this shortcut after confirming their identity. In addition, whenever Yan sees a teacher park at the back door and emerge from their car carrying a lot of things, he always lends a helping hand. Teachers who are younger than Yan affectionately call him "Brother Yan", and many students warmly refer to him as "Uncle Yan". When asked about Yan, they make comments like: "Yan earns respect through his attitude towards work", "He is very dedicated and willing to help others, something which warms our hearts", "Uncle Yan is really a nice person!"

"I cherish my job very much. In order to better serve teachers and students, I will continue to learn," Yan says. When at work, Yan is serious and rigorous; in his spare time, he tries his best to acquire knowledge. Although he is in a busy position, he still pursues excellence and strives for perfection, for knowledge is infinite.