"If you speak a different language, come see Andre, he can talk to you," said McLean resident Eileen Jackson as she smiles and motions over to checker Andre Wye, 41, at the McLean Safeway.
Wye has been checking groceries and making people smile for the past 19 years while working as a cashier. "It's is amazing to hear him talk to his customers. He touches each one in our diverse community with a special hello in their language," said customer Kristi Helfrich of McLean.
His art is his ability to reach out and touch people by speaking their language. When asked how Wye explains his ability to acquire so many languages he said that he loves talking to people. "I always seem to meet people that don't speak English. It's nice to have something to say to them." Wye adds, "I started learning languages at age 7. My mother spoke English and Arabic. She told me to try and learn other languages so that I could communicate with everybody." And that he did. Andre said that if he told people just how many languages he speaks that no one would believe him. So he admits to 6 or 7 to most people, then lets it slip that he really knows about 60 different languages.
Andre's secret to learning language, he revealed, is to pick a region and then try to learn the most popular languages from that area. "After learning Zulu, Swahili and Afrikaans, I moved on to Nigeria to learn Ebu," he said. He said that basically he’s self-taught, outside of the year he spent in California taking language classes while visiting an aunt and the five language classes he took in high school. "I would get it in my mind that if they could do it so could I. So, I started trying to learn languages," said Wye.
He admitted that his brain has always worked in a peculiar way. "Ever since I was little I used to remember little things like a house number of someone we'd visit or the floor of a hotel that we stayed on. I was always really good in math, too."
Although his 15-year marriage ended in divorce, Wye feels blessed to have his two children. When asked if he was passing the gift of language on to his children, he said, "My son, Andre, Jr. is really picking up language. He is 5 years old now and when we are together we seldom speak English. My daughter, Andrea is 3 years old and is learning Spanish."
His love for children and language has led him to start a tutoring business where he tutors local children in several different languages including Chinese, Japanese, Vietnamese, Korean and Spanish.
Wye, the youngest of nine children, grew up in and around the D.C. area. He said that growing up was a little rough. "I lost my grandma at 8, my grandpa at 9 and my father at 25." He said he got into trouble, but "it wasn't my fault…I was teased and picked on because I was into martial arts and because of my stutter. I stuttered real bad. I've heard all the names from Tin-man to Squeaky." With some help from a speech therapist and subsequently earning a second-degree black belt he claims that he "never loses a fight anymore."
He’s considered a celebrity to the local residents. As Mora S. Lavin of McLean said, "Everyone knows Andre in McLean. He's a treasure."
He said that the secret to his happy demeanor is that he always remembers his mom telling him not to be in a bad mood. "Don't let life conquer you," he said with a big laugh and his trademark Cheshire smile.
Andre said that he is having fun being single. He wants the world to know that he is sensitive, loves to sing and used to be a closet rapper. He loves all kinds of music from Alan Jackson to Biggie Smalls to Reo Speedwagon. In his spare time he reads books, mainly, Chinese and Japanese. He loves ice-skating, chess and no one can beat him in a video game. Most of all, his true passion is to become a well-known comic. "I want to be discovered as the funniest comedian that ever said paper or plastic for a living."