One interesting bee. Such was the case in the Friends of Dinosaur Ridge's (FODR) first Scientific Spelling Stomp. I had the opportunity to curate the word list and pronounce for this bee, which took place on October 1 to raise money for FODR. Although this bee was in many senses normal, there were a few twists.
Firstly, instead of individual spellers, teams took part in the bee. They discussed and agreed on a spelling, and then one of them spelled the word for the judges. If they were eliminated before the 5th round, each time had the opportunity to buy back into the bee for $10.
Arguably the most significant twist, however, was that all of the words in the bee were related to either geology or paleontology. With words ranging from minerals to dinosaur genus names, the teams (many of whom boasted experienced geologists and paleontologists) "stomped" their way through the bee, with Dr. Scott Isaacs, Cameron Keith, and Suzanne McClung as judges (anyone familiar with the world of competitive spelling will likely recognize at least one of the first two names). Within a few hours, a winning team had been named--the three-person "Rock"ettes, who won a $500 prize by correctly spelling "facies." This was immediately followed by a dramatic spell-off for the second place $100 prize, clinched by the Colorado Geological Survey's team with the word "paramo."
A week later, I find myself able to reflect on the bee a little more than I was able to in the moment. It definitely provided me with an opportunity for growth with respect to running bees, as I had to write out the rules, make the word list, and pronounce for the whole bee. I also became more accustomed to dealing with appeals--not being a judge, I had no actual say in the final decision, but I had to field the initial request for an appeal. The bee also fulfilled another part of its purpose which was to encourage scientific literacy. The precision of science works because we have exact terms to describe things, and knowing how to spell those terms is very important when communicating about scientific concepts.
Perhaps the best part of the bee for me personally was how people relatively unaccustomed to the world of spelling were introduced to it in a somewhat unconventional way. Adults and kids competed together, and teams rather than individuals were the players, but it still provided a glimpse into the eccentric microcosm that is the world of competitive spelling. For anyone interested in such an event, I highly recommend that you attend next year's event!
The first sign of a new bee season has recently been released--the 2017-18 School Spelling Bee Study List (I'll post a link or file for it on this site as soon as I can). This list has 450 words in it, from which most school bees will draw their words. If you're new to spelling, a 450 word list can seem a little daunting. Here are some ideas on how to break it up and get it learned by the time your school bee rolls around!
Decide on a number of words to do each day. If this is your first time studying for a bee, you might not want to take on a ton of studying to start with, so something like 50 words per day could be a reasonable goal--or, if you're more ambitious, you could of course do more.
Have someone quiz you through all of the words. Have them pronounce the word for you, and you can spell the word. Mark all the words you miss--circle them, put an "x" next to them, or do something else. Just make sure that whatever you do, you can easily identify which ones you missed. Keep doing this until you've gotten through the entire list once.
Go over the entire list twice. This seems like it will just take more time, and it will, but it's worth it. It gives you a chance to make sure you know the words that you got correct, and didn't just get them right the first time on a lucky guess.
Once that's done, make Quizlets (quizlet.com) with the words that you missed. Include your misses from both the first and second times through. Once you've added the words, definitions, and diacritics or pronunciations, do each Quizlet (in the "speller" mode) twice.
Write down every word that you miss from the Quizlets. Then have someone ask you over those words until you've gotten them all right twice in a row.
If you have time, go over the whole list one last time for good measure.
Then there's the bee itself. Here are some tips for handling the competition:
Make sure you know when and where the bee will take place. When I was in fourth grade, I failed to do this and ended up not knowing when it was until two days in advance, which left me scrambling to learn as much of the list as I could before the bee. I did end up winning, but I wasn't as prepared as I could have been.
Understand the format of your bee. Is there a written component? Do you need to know definitions? Get these questions answered. Also, find out if there will be an audience and, if so, how big the audience will be (this applies especially if you struggle with nerves).
Be a good sport. Applaud the efforts of your competitors, regardless of their placement. Don't try to intimidate other students or act like you're certain to win. If you get out, do your best not to be jealous of those who have beaten you--this was something I definitely did not do well in my first bee in third grade.
Tune out everything except the word. Ignore the people in the audience. Ignore your competitors. Ignore everything except yourself, your word, and the pronouncer or judges.
Don't freeze up. Even if you don't know your word or forgot it, you still have a chance at getting it right. Don't despair.
The first school bees aren't for another two months or so, but it's never too early to start preparing. Good luck to everyone at the first stage of competition this year!
A week and four days ago, 60 Second Docs came out with a (as might be expected, one minute long) video about me. The video was excellent and overall accurate--it covered my coaching, competition experience, and some of my other work in assisting with the running of bees. As expected, it got a mix of responses; some were very positive, some very negative. By now, I have forgotten most of the comments, positive or negative, but one of them still sticks out in my mind: "I would like to know where, especially in this modern digital world, a spelling bee is important."
The answer: it is important everywhere. There is not a day that goes by where I don't encounter a situation where I use something that I learned from the bee and my studies. In my classes at school, I can understand concepts more easily because I studied the word for the concept in spelling. It helps me in learning languages--I can recognize Latin and Greek roots that I've learned in spelling in words that I'm learning for French and Spanish. I don't get as stressed when I have a busy schedule because I know that I have handled an even fuller schedule when I was studying for the bee, and my time management skills were improved. Believe it or not, bee experience helped me to not be as perfectionist; because of the bee, I know that success isn't necessarily defined by being the best--it's defined by giving it your all, pushing your limits, and being better than you were before.
However, even if I hadn't learned a thing from the bee, I would still be glad that I did it. Ultimately, for most spellers, the bee is not about the prize money, the work ethic, or any of the "lessons." The bee is about the words, how so many intricacies and nuances can be put together with 26 letters. The bee is about the countless hours spent--usually by choice--getting lost in the paths that words took to come to be how they are today. More than anything, the bee is about the sheer thrill. When you get up to the microphone, suddenly you forget everything that came before this moment and everything that might be coming after. Somewhere in your brain, you know that millions of people are watching, so you're nervous, but in the moment you forget why. For the two minutes you have to piece your word together, it's just you, the judges, the letters, and the lights. Everything else falls away, time distorts itself, and you live a dozen lifetimes in a single second. At its core, that's what the bee is about. So of course spelling is important and the bee is important, but it wouldn't matter if it wasn't. That's just not what it's about.
Everyone struggles with time management. It doesn't matter what you do or don't have in your schedule, it always feels like there's not enough time, and the temptation of procrastination is always looming. It's definitely not specific to spelling. So why am I writing about this on a spelling blog? It's around that time of year where students start school--some may have already started, many are about to start. Back in middle school, when I was eligible for the spelling bee, the hardest thing about starting school was managing my busy schedule while keeping up with the studying that I wanted to do for spelling. For many spellers, time management during the school year can be difficult. Many spellers are academically advanced, meaning that they have a lot of schoolwork and homework to get done. In addition to that, many of them have other extracurricular activities--sports, musical instruments, etc. Also, spellers who want to be highly ranked national contenders have to find time for dozens of hours of orthographic study every week. So that's why I'm writing this post--to share some of what I learned about managing a full schedule while having to study spelling in addition.
Prioritize. Which of your homework do you HAVE to get done today? What can you do later? Decide what's important so that you can spread out your work. This will help you maintain a steady schedule for your spelling studies (because your other work is spread out temporally) while keeping your other work stress-free instead of freaking out every day because you have so much stuff to do and you're not sure where to start. (Note: while you should prioritize your work, don't procrastinate. Just because that essay isn't due until Friday doesn't mean you should wait until 10 pm on Thursday to start it just so that you can do more spelling earlier in the week--you'll end up tired on Friday and you won't get the spelling you need to done on Thursday or Friday).
Make a schedule every day. Many spellers make calendars for their spelling so that they have a plan of what they want to have done when. I recommend doing just that, but on a smaller scale, and include your other obligations. At the start of every day, set aside time for spelling, but also set aside specific times when you will do the other things you need to do. Like prioritization, this helps you know where to start and what to do next instead of just having a muddled "list" in your mind. It also helps you set deadlines for yourself, which is great for productivity.
Alternate between spelling and other things. Sometimes in middle school, I would get home from school and try to do all of my spelling before starting homework, or do all of my homework before starting spelling. This always damaged my focus and productivity because I ended up trying to think about the same thing for hours on end. Instead, do some spelling, then some homework, then some spelling, and so on. Break up your time into hour-and-a-half long chunks so you'll get something substantial done without getting too tired of the task at hand to continue focusing. Then, once you finish that block of spelling time, do some schoolwork so that you get a break from spelling while still being productive and doing something you need to do.
Take (timed) breaks. No, I don't mean "do homework instead of spelling for a while," although that can be a good way to get your mind off spelling on a particularly busy day where real breaks are hardly an option. Take short breaks from working on things altogether--go outside or read a book for fifteen minutes. However, make sure to time these breaks so you don't find yourself still reading three hours later when you should have been studying.
Minimize distractions. Don't study with your phone right next to you. Need I say more?
Whatever your spelling goals are, following these guidelines will likely produce the results you seek. More importantly, they are good, disciplined study and work skills that will carry over into other parts of your life and create other successes too.
Occasionally in my everyday dictionary-perusing and word-collecting, I come across a word whose origin is so delightfully fascinating that I can't help but to share it. Recently, I did a closer investigation of the etymologies of the words gardyloo and zydeco, both words listed in Merriam-Webster Unabridged as "perhaps from French," and what I found was intriguing. They both come from French words or phrases that seem very far off from what the English word is today.
Gardyloo, according to Merriam-Webster Unabridged, is an imperative verb that was ". . . used as a warning shout in Scotland when it was customary to throw household slops from upstairs windows." This word doesn't look or sound particularly French, but if you scroll down beneath the definition, you find out that the word possibly came from the French phrase garde à l'eau, meaning "attention to the water." Upon being adopted into English, Anglicization made the elegant-sounding French into a more sloppy and clumsy English word. The eau, meaning water, apparently became oo, and the word referenced slop--usually human waste, specifically--instead of water. L'eau is also thought to have been the origin of the English word loo.
Zydeco, although being much more pleasant than gardyloo, has--in some ways--a similar origin story. It's a type of music popular in Southern Louisiana combining French dance tunes, Caribbean music, and blues. It's named after a Cajun dance tune called Les Haricots Sont Pas Salés--or, in English, "the beans are not salty." Specifically, the word is from les haricots, which, like with gardyloo, was Anglicized by lazy tongues once English picked up use of it. Although \ˈzīdəˌkō\ sounds quite different from \lāz ärēkōz\ (approximation of the French pronunciation of les haricots), some remnants of the sounds in the word can still be heard in zydeco, like the \z\ and \ō\ sounds. It truly is enthralling just how much language can change over time.
This past weekend, spellers upon spellers traveled from all over the United States and China to Riverside, California, to compete in the Spelling Bee of China's NASCC (North America Spelling Champion Challenge), and it turned out to be(e) quite an impressive show of talent and word knowledge.
The bee began on Saturday, although many of the spellers had already been there since the beginning of the week for a "spelling camp" involving not only spelling classes but other activities as well. Only the preliminary rounds, for which I had the honor of being a judge, took place on Saturday, narrowing the spellers in each of three age groups to only ten finalists. The next day, the competition got rapidly more intense in the finals for each age group; the words moved off of the study list before the championship finalists from each group could be declared. The finals for the 7th and 8th grade group culminated in a duel between Shourav Dasari and Rohan Rajeev, Scripps National Spelling Bee 4th and 2nd place finishers (respectively), in which they were declared co-champions.
Once the championship finalists from each group were declared, it was time for all of them to compete together, regardless of age group. Although the first three rounds were perfect and thus held no eliminations, spellers began missing in Round 4. The first elimination occurred when a speller began "cynology" (the scientific study of dogs) with an errant "s" instead of a correct "c." However, increasing eliminations did not stop the finals from being a tense 18-round spectacle. When 6 of the 11 finalists were left, it seemed like it was going to be a very long time until a winner was declared. However, a killer round was in store, eliminating three (Alex Iyer, Rohan Rajeev, and Rutvik Gandhasri) all at once with the mind-boggling words "tradescantia," "languedocian," and "phiz." This left Cameron Keith, Shruthika Padhy, and Shourav Dasari. Cameron was eliminated in the next round by "auximone," leaving Shourav and Shruthika to duel for the trophy. The two went back and forth for five rounds before Shruthika spelled "glycocoll" with one too few L's, and Shourav had the opportunity to win. His anticipated championship word? Anisakiasis, a type of intestinal infection that you can get from eating undercooked fish. He asked no questions, he didn't even repeat the word back to the judges. He rattled off the (correct) spelling in five seconds flat and left the stage without waiting for confirmation in another iconic mic drop that equaled (or maybe even topped) his rapid spelling of "Mogollon" at this year's Scripps National Spelling Bee. The spelling of this word ultimately earned him a standing ovation, a massive trophy, and $2000. He will also travel to China in a few weeks to compete in GCSCC (the Global Champions Spelling Challenge of China).
After an amazing competition, I would like to say congratulations to all the spellers who competed, especially to the top 11 championship finalists--doing well in a bee is no easy feat!
A kid trudges into his house for the first time in over a week. He's just returned from his second competition at the Scripps National Spelling Bee. He's been studying so much recently that he's absolutely exhausted and sick of spelling. He'll try again next year, but first, some time off. That's how it goes, right? No.
For many serious spellers, the Scripps National Spelling Bee just marks the beginning of the summer season. Only a week after the conclusion of nationals, the summer season begins. Spellers who train year-round often participate in summer bees such as NSF (North South Foundation, which runs numerous academic competitions each year), the South Asian Spelling Bee, or the Spelling Bee of China's NASCC (North America Spelling Champion Challenge). Perhaps the most largely unheard of component of the summer season is Internet mock bees.
These internet mock bees are not official competitions, and are run very informally. Most of them take place on a Google group of Bee veterans. Anyone who wants to run a mock bee simply has to send an email to the group announcing the bee and explaining the format, and then organize the participants. The average bee has anywhere from 30 to 40 participants--a mix of spellers who are still eligible and "retired" spellers. Due to the high caliber of the spellers in this group, the words are generally very difficult; trademarks and Polish geographical names are examples of typical fare in these mock bees. There are no prizes or officiality about these bees, but they are considered an important part of the summer for many of the spellers in the group.
Both types of summer bees--mock and real--have several functions. Firstly, they help eligible spellers get practice for the Scripps season, which is typically the most important bee for many spellers. Many of the words given at Scripps have been used in past Internet mock bees as well as in SASB, NSF, etc., such as 'gyttja,' which was used in Shiv Dewan's (11th place in 2016) mock bee during the summer of 2015, and was then used in the night finals of the 2016 Scripps National Spelling Bee. The actual bees instead of the mocks are probably slightly more useful for practicing for Scripps, but both are quite helpful. They also provide statistics from which to formulate predictions for the following years. Those who perform highly in mock bees and more official bees like NSF often perform well at Scripps as well. In the end, though, the ultimate reason for any bee, mock or real, is the same--spellers genuinely enjoy spelling, and a long break from it is not necessarily something they want. Summer bees are another way to stay involved in what you love, even after the "regular season" is over.
Apologies for a three-days-late post. On Thursday, the 90th annual Scripps National Spelling Bee concluded with as dramatic of a finale as ever. There were some record-setting statistics, too. There were only 40 finalists announced for Thursday morning, the lowest number since the institution of the Preliminaries Test over a decade ago. However, there was a record high number of nighttime finalists; 15 spellers participated in the prime time conclusion of the Bee on ESPN, whereas the previous highest number of championship finalists had been 13. The Bee finally ended after more than three hours of competition on Thursday night, much of which was a duel between Ananya Vinay of California (the eventual winner) and Rohan Rajeev of Oklahoma. Finally, Rohan missed "marram" and Ananya spelled "gifblaar" and "marocain" to secure the title. Ananya is a very deserving speller who clearly worked incredibly hard, as is Rohan. There were, however, many other spellers (many of them eighth graders) who also worked intensely for years and years and just couldn't win because in the end, there can only be one (or sometimes two or three) winner(s).
Siyona Mishra of Florida won the national South Asian Spelling Bee in 2016 and tied for 9th place at Scripps in 2015. Going into the competition, she was seen as a favorite, but was eliminated in the fifth round by the word "Corriedale," arguably the hardest word given in the entire morning portion of the finals. Rutvik Gandhasri was eliminated by "auteur" in the fourth round; he spelled its homonym, "hauteur." As soon as Rutvik voiced the H, the entire audience seemed to let out a collective sigh, as Rutvik was considered something of a favorite for the competition. Dr. Bailly did not specify that the word was a homonym. Approximately 10 spellers walked together to the back of the ballroom to appeal Rutvik's elimination, but his appeal was denied since he had been provided with the definition of the word. A couple rounds and several more eliminations later, the remaining spellers were declared nighttime finalists.
As the night finals started, myself and everyone around me began to feel nervous for the fifteen spellers who were about to compete for the title. There were too many people to root for, and we knew even before it began that that night would hold some heartbreaking eliminations. A row in the Maryland Ballroom began to fill up with former spellers and spellers who had been eliminated earlier in the week. It was so packed in this row that not everyone had a chair, but the spelling soon began and we forgot our lack of space. Many other favorites were eliminated after several rounds. Tejas Muthusamy placed 8th at Scripps in 2014, 7th at Scripps in 2015, and 22nd at Scripps in 2016 (although this seemed to be a product of bad luck, he says he knew all the words in the 2016 competition except for two, one of them being "salele," the word he received in Round Four). Tejas came away from this week's bee ranked in fifth place, and general consensus seems to be that he is one of the best spellers to never have won. A similar phenomenon occurred to Rutvik's elimination--as soon as he replaced the second "s" in "saussurite" with a "c"--the entire audience sighed in sorrow for the end of Tejas' four-year Bee career. Shourav Dasari, the 2015 South Asian Spelling Bee champion and 11th place finisher in the 2016 Scripps National Spelling Bee, was another favorite. He placed fourth after an incredible run involving both suspenseful clutch moments and amazing displays of confidence. He received the word "Mogollon" in the twelfth round. He spat out the letters in under five seconds and was halfway back to his seat before head judge Mary Brooks could confirm that he was correct, earning him a standing ovation (he got another one later on, too, when he was eliminated by the word "Struldbrug.")
Alex Iyer of San Antonio had become a crowd favorite earlier in the day, due to his ecstatic reactions when he spelled correctly. In the ninth round, Alex received "savate" and quickly spelled it as "savat," ending his run, although he says he knew many of the words after his elimination. He tied for seventh, though, which is certainly an incredible finish. Sreeniketh Vogoti, after tying for seventh last year, was eliminated in the first round of night finals. He received the tricky "clafoutis" and made a good guess--clafoutie--but a good guess in the spelling bee, unfortunately, doesn't keep you in unless it's completely correct. As more and more spellers were eliminated, the people in our row found them. congratulated them, and invited them to sit in our row and watch the rest of the finals with us, which did nothing to help how crammed we were, but it was enjoyable to have these people with us nonetheless. By the end of the bee, there was about three people for every two seats in the row. As the final duel between Rohan Rajeev and Ananya Vinay unfolded, we all watched with bated breath, and when Ananya emerged victorious, the ballroom filled with the cheers of the entire audience.
The Bee is always great to watch, and this year was no exception. Congratulations to everyone who competed!
Happy Thursday! Yesterday was the preliminary rounds of the Scripps National Spelling Bee. Round 2 began very early yesterday with 291 spellers. The round came from a 400-word list that spellers had been able to access in advance, so only 32 people misspelled. However, Round 3 was the first "offlist" round, and many more misspelled. After that, the finalists were announced. Between Tuesday and Wednesday, a speller had to accumulate 29 out of 36 points in order to qualify for today's finals, which begin in 35 minutes.
One thing that many found interesting yesterday was how uneven the word difficulty was in Round 3. Some spellers received words such as "mourning" or "corrosive"; however, some spellers received far harder words such as "mackinaw" or "parcity." Many feel that it would be better for Scripps to streamline the difficulty of these words instead of letting it fluctuate as much as it did.
Now that the 40 finalists have been announced, they compete for the trophy. Good luck to all the finalists--see you onstage in 33 minutes!
Happy Tuesday! I'm here at the Scripps National Spelling Bee near Washington, D.C., and today was the first day of competition. There was no onstage spelling, only a written spelling and vocabulary test that, combined with the oral spelling words from rounds 2 and 3 tomorrow, determines who will move on to the Finals, which commence on Thursday morning at 10 AM EST.
The spelling portion of this test, in general consensus, was much easier than last year's spelling portion. There were words such as "achromatopsia" and "canaille," but that was about as hard as it got, as opposed to last year's spelling section, which contained long and obscure words like "lachsschinken" and "Nynorsk." The vocabulary section, however, was much, much harder than last year's, with definition questions such as "gaufrette" and "dulcet."
There is one item of controversy on this test--the aforementioned word "dulcet." The question asked which of the options was the best example of something dulcet, and out of the four options, two seemed to be correct. One of the choices was "a cinnamon roll"; the other was "a popular lullaby." However, since one definition of "dulcet" is "sweet to the taste" and another definition of "dulcet" is "pleasing to the ear." Both of these choices fit one definition of the word "dulcet," so no one knows exactly what will be done. Hopefully, Scripps will accept either--that seems to be the only fair way.
The preliminary oral rounds are tomorrow--good luck to all competing spellers!