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Super Spelling Bees

March, 2012
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spelling-bee-wangWhat do the following set of words – hazard, graffiti, libretto, notochord, coffle, Fahrenheit, nurturance, iambis, aberrant, quotidian, tungsten, iridaceous – have in common?

Well, these were the 12 words that 10-year-old Katharine Wang of Qooco Training School spelled correctly to win her championship trophy at the 4th Annual Spelling Bee China Regional Competition held in Shanghai Community International School (SCIS) Hongqiao campus on March 10th, 2012.

The Spelling Bee is an annual English language competition founded by the E.W. Scripps Company in America, but its China regional competition was organized and sponsored by Community Center Shanghai and Qooco.

As all 32 regional finalists gathered on stage, they were been called up to the microphone, standing one by one as they took center stage. Each contestant was given a word by the judges and had to spell it out orally within a limited time frame. There is no room for misspelling. Those that spell correctly advanced to the next round, while those that misspelled were eliminated from the competition.

Katharine Wang went through 10 rounds of grueling elimination until she finally edged out 31 other top spellers to win this year’s competition. Although Wang appeared nervous at times on stage, she always found a way to spell out the words correctly and advanced to the next round. She followed the rules of the competition by always repeating the given word before and after she spelled the word, and she also applied the tools given to the contestants. They were allowed to ask four questions to help them figure out the correct spelling of the words: 1) Ask for word definitions, 2) Ask for the part of speech, 3) Ask for the word origin, 4) Ask for the word to be used in a sentence.

“I just hoped that I wasn’t the first one out,” says a very happy Katharine Wang. “Before I started spelling, I was really nervous, all the random negative thoughts kept popping in my head like what if I get a word that I don’t’ know, what if I misspelled, then when I got past the first word in the opening round, I got the level of difficulty and got comfortable and started settling down.”

Despite Wang’s win and her display of quick wit and ability to maintain composure under pressure, she wasn’t the only contestant that stood out in this star-studded event. Among the long list of outstanding spellers, Austin Feng of SCIS Hangzhou, who was only 9 years old and one of the two youngest contestants in this year’s competition, made an amazing impression. Standing at barely four feet tall, Austin’s stage presence and natural swagger was second to none and quickly made him a crowd favorite from the start. He spelled every word with confidence and charisma, impressing the judges and audience until he was eliminated in round 8, falling to the word “polarizable.”

“The level of their vocabularies was truly amazing,” says Ryan McKean, one of the judges for this year’s competition. “Spelling Bee is a big part of American culture and it’s great to see people get together and be interested in learning the English language.” Not surprisingly, Ryan himself was a contestant in the Spelling Bee competition in Wisconsin many years ago when he was only a 5th grader in elementary school, so now participating in the event as a judge truly brought back many fond memories he had with the Spelling Bee.

Perhaps the only people that may be more nervous than the participants are none other than their parents. They cheered loudly when their child advanced and sighed deeply when their love ones were eliminated from the competition. They were just as much of a vital part in the competition as their children were. Many parents helped their child prepare in the days leading up to the competition. They sat and read with their children from day till night going through a long list of study words. Regardless of the result, every parent was proud of their child for his or her effort and participation and found Spelling Bee very useful to their children’s future study.

“It’s the best way to get them interested in the language,” says Sophia Lang, the mother of Lisa Li, who was one of the two youngest contestants in the competition. She is only 9 years old. “I see that she (Lisa) learned a lot on stage. When she first started her preparation, she thought it was easy and got careless but now she pays attention to every word and developed a very detailed and meticulous study behavior.”

spelling-beeAnother proud parent that made great noise in the crowd was Deepender Rana, the father of the 2nd place winner, Arushi Rana of Shanghai Community International School, Hongqiao. Mr. Rana was storming through the crowds taking snapshot photos of his daughter on stage and was constantly seen cheering, congratulating, and motivating her between rounds during the competition. After the award ceremony, Mr. Rana shared his view on the Spelling Bee competition with other parents.

“It leads to a love for the language and a better knowledge of the world,” exclaims Mr. Rana. As he proudly watched his daughter advance through each round and overcoming each given word as the level of difficulty increased, Mr. Rana broke out in a warm smile and urged other parents to encourage their children to participate in future Spelling Bee competitions.

Teachers were the unsung heroes of Spelling Bee as they constantly worked to inspire and help the kids to learn not just for the competition, but on a daily basis. To help students prepare for the Spelling Bee, teachers worked with the students and practiced spelling using “Spell It,” a booklet provided by the Community Center Shanghai (CCS), which consists of a list of words in English that have origins in Latin, Greek, French, German, Scandinavian, and many other origins. For the teachers, it was a proud moment for them as they witnessed their students shine brightly on stage.

“I wanted all competitors to do well, and it was great to see everyone doing their best even under stressful circumstances,” says Michael Gustafson, a Middle School teacher from SCIS Hongqiao. 2012 marked the fourth annual milestone for the Spelling Bee China regional competition and it was no easy task organizing and introducing this unique event to China. It wouldn’t be possible without the hard work and dedication of Stella Si, the executive director of CCS, and the sponsorship from Qooco. Stella Si has worked hard on organizing the Spelling Bee China Regional Competition in Shanghai since 2009. It was definitely a long road to success, as initially many parents and students weren’t familiar with the concept of the competition.

“The most difficult part was trying to run this program between International Schools and local Chinese schools. We get different levels of English proficiencies and different expectations,” says Si. However, with her strong work ethic and great personality, Spelling Bee China began to take form and gained more and more support from students, parents, and schools all over China. 

As the 4th Annual Spelling Bee China Regional Competition came to its conclusion, the long road to the world championship final is far from over. The 2012 Chinese Spelling Bee Champion, Katharine Wang, will represent China to enter the National Finals in Washington D.C. to vie for the prestigious World Spelling Bee championship title against top spellers from all over the world. The grand champion will receive a cash scholarship from E.W. Scripps Company and be considered by Ivy League schools on their college applications. 

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