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Special Report  

Monsieur Hero: Cultural Envoy to China

By staff reporter LI YUAN

SEBASTIÉN Roussillat, born in Rennes, France, 23 years ago, has been studying Chinese language in China for five years. He is now doing an M.A. in Teaching Chinese as a Second Language at Shandong Normal University.

Tall with wavy brown hair, Sébastién’s amiable, unassuming manner belies the imposing Chinese name his local friends have given him of Ying Xiong, meaning hero.

 Hero in a garden formerly part of a Qing prince’s residence.

Cartoon-Induced Sinophilia

It was Chang, Chinese friend of comic book character Tintin in The Blue Lotus, that first kindled Hero’s interest in China and its people when he was just seven years old.

With encouragement from his mom, Hero began learning Chinese during his first year of senior high school. Born on the borders of France, Italy and Switzerland, Hero’s mom is open to different cultures. When he was 12 years old she described to him the wonders of the world beyond France, urging him to take every opportunity to live and work abroad. Her work as fashion designer had brought her into contact with fashion industry workers in Chinese cities such as Taipei, Hong Kong and Hangzhou. At that time there was a dearth of French-to-Chinese translators, and Hero’s mom saw learning Chinese as an opportunity for her son both to work and travel.

“There were around 1,000 students at my high school, but only one Chinese class. After the Beijing Olympic Games in 2008, the school added three more Chinese classes to the curriculum, but there are still too few Chinese teachers in France,” Hero said.

Three of Hero’s relatives are foreign language teachers. They all told him that mastering a foreign language entails far more than the linguistic skill necessary to translate it into one’s native tongue, and that its correct use requires an understanding of the local culture and social mores. Their advice prompted Hero’s decision to go to college in China after finishing high school.

Perseverance and Tenacity

In 2007, at age 18, Hero came to China.

After completing a one-year language course he was accepted and enrolled at Shandong Normal University. There he joined a class with 58 Chinese students on teaching Chinese as a second language.

“I was one of two foreign students in our class. The teachers taught in Chinese and spoke really fast. I barely understood anything during the first few weeks,” Hero recalled.

His mom always told him that, when faced with a choice between a difficult or easy path to a goal he should choose the former. Even though it might be tiring and at times discouraging, he would learn more and gain broader experience that way. She was right. After three months, Hero’s teachers were impressed at his progress in Chinese.

Hero studied and lived in an all-Chinese environment. His limited vocabulary did not deter him from practicing his Chinese, aided by the thick French-Chinese dictionary that he carried with him at all times, with his classmates and local inhabitants. Hero’s classmates admired his pluck and perseverance. It was his valiant approach to learning their language that earned him his Chinese name.

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VOL.59 NO.12 December 2010 Advertise on Site Contact Us