As I sat with James, we look out the window at the February snow heavy on the trees. We Minnesotans think this is beautiful. During his many weeks stay, each time someone commented to him on this beauty, he said “No” with a smile. We were confused, but the next questions we asked only yielded more smiles and “yes” for a reply. What does he think? What does he understand? Finally, one day after such questions and a few weeks of English lessons, he formed his question.

I admired James very quickly as I met him. He was brave! He used what English he had, right or wrong. He tried. He was open to learning and he was open to making mistakes. He combined his hands, face, voice, and body to communicate what he could not with words. These are the building blocks of great learning, and he was a great learner!

After a few weeks of lessons, James looked out the window with resolve, and he formed his question: he thought, took a breath, and reached for pen and paper. He wrote, “Why the trees” and then he put his pen down and looked up and out the window as he finished his sentence with gestures and words, “Why die?”

Here is a great example! James was able to “say” part with writing, part with gesture, and part with speech. Combining all these ways to communicate accesses more of the brain for communicating.

After this broken question, I felt very proud of him and laughed with the joy finally understanding!! …Of course! … He has never seen intense seasonal changes as we experience in Minnesota! Our trees go dormant for months during the winter. In Haiti, trees don’t lose their leaves for 6 months! To a Haitian, this looks like death of the tree. After this realization, I tried to explain what he had no concept of. Therefore, our next lessons included seasonal pictures and calendar timeline. We compared Haiti and Minnesota in a variety of ways. His grand surprise was delightful! This was a totally new concept for him. I hope James is able to return to Minnesota and see the flowering trees in spring and the leaf colors in autumn!