Interview with Astrid Evensen-Flanjack

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My name is Aastrid Evensen-Flanjak. My sign name is “A-E” here in Canada but in England, I was given a new sign name (gestures "red cheeks"). Okay. I’ve been asked about how I got immersed into reading. As I was growing up, I’d read books with pictures and stories and carried along like that until I was 7 or 8 years old.

I attended a mainstreamed classroom in hearing school. My teacher taught us the usual and then she handed me a book called Rainbow’s End. It was a collection of poems. As is skimmed through its pages, I became fascinated. I realized this was not the same as the other reading I had done before. This was uniquely different. That’s what lead me to read more and more from that point on.

Also, my family is very hearing. I am the only deaf person in my family. They said that they “were not supposed to learn sign”. At that time, the deaf school told them: “You can’t sign to your deaf child. You must speak”. They followed those so-called words of wisdom, as they believed the professionals were right. So, I communicated with my family by writing notes back and forth on paper.. We’d also correspond by writing letters to each other and I’d read them to keep up with the news. Over time, that’s how I got hooked on reading and became a bookworm. But I also became so enthralled with stories and novels. I read book after book. I got lost in the stories. I loved stories and enjoyed them a lot. Pictures of each story would fill my mind.

Walking about in everyday life you don’t notice the minute changes from moment to moment. Sure once in a while, you notice a plant emerging from the ground. But in books, there’s a whole different world. Books allow you to delve into the imagination of fiction and are able to see this subtle occurances. It’s like painting a picture on canvas and seeing the whole story happen right in front of my eyes. Plus books teach me a lot. For example, I read a book about the history of Japan and was fascinated with what I learned. It gave me a sense of their country and their rich history. That book allowed me to imagine what it was like.

Through books, you get to know many stories, history, facts, true life experiences, there’s such a wide variety. Like science fiction. Rockets blowing up. Or scary ones like The Brave New World. Oh. I wouldn’t want that to happen.

Reading helps you go below the surface, think, analyze and go deep and immerse yourself. I love it. I still read today when I have some free time and nothing to do. When I fly, I bring along a book, my minds gets absorbed in the story and soon the plane is landing. Back to reality and off to do my traveling. Books are fascinating and important.

Part 2

For example, you read many words but sometimes, there is a word that I am not familiar with and I don’t know it’s meaning. I remember one teacher who was a university professor herself. She wanted to chat with me. We sat down and she started firing off a bunch of questions about words. She fingerspelled the word “insult” and asked me what it meant. I just stared at her. I had seen the word many times but didn’t know what it meant. She was in disbelief. “You don’t know?! Come on, you know” she insisted. I said that I didn’t. I was ten years old at the time. Then she showed me the sign for “insult”. Oh! I knew that sign. I was familiar with the sign “insult”. I had seen the sign used often but had not yet connected it to its written form. I then realized that I already knew a lot of signs but did not know their corresponding written counterpart until she did that. I was utterly amazed at this discovery. Right there and then, the light went on and I made the connection. She continued to give me word for signs over and over again as I nodded to each one in amazement. After that, I started to pay greater attention to written words themselves and match them with their corresponding signs. I made the sign-written word connection constantly and consequently, my ability to read English soared.

Also, I struggled to write well. It was not easy. The grammar, vocabulary and making the right connections. I struggled with this process until I entered Gallaudet University. Everyone there signed fluent ASL. The rich ASL discourse was everywhere to be found. Again, consequently, my English writing really took off.

Suppose there is a small group of signers. The ASL discourse is somewhat limited which in turns affects your reading. But when you’re interacting with many and more different deaf signers, the ASL dialogue is more diverse, and more stimulating. It makes a big difference.

Important, too, if you are alone. That’s totally fine. Go ahead and read. Enjoy reading. Keep reading and your ability to read will accelerate.

Reading will lead you to new directions, new possibilities. If you don’t read, you’re mind will not grow and will stay the same as it is. But if you read, your mind perculates with the stimulation and then your expands. That’s important.

Signing ASL facilitates reading. Yes. And it facilitates writing, too.