New Delhi, May 29: The 86th edition National Spelling Bee competition in the US has 281 contestants and of them 50 are of Indian origin. Adding to the Indian record is Tara Singh of Louisville. She is the youngest speller in this year's competition at tender age of seven.
The Scripps National Spelling Bee competition has been around since 1925, when the winning word was "gladiolus."
The public portion of the spelling bee that begins today at Gaylord National Resort near Washington has a twist this year. In addition to spelling the words, competitors must also define them. The vocabulary evaluation is going to account for 50 percent of a speller's overall score.
Indian record at Spelling Bee
But the spice provided by the Indians is a stuff made for folklore. The 1999 champion Nupur Lala was featured in the Oscar-nominated documentary "Spellbound." Since then, 10 of 14 national bee winners have been Indian-Americans, five consecutive since 2008.
Sameer Mishra won it in 2008, Kavya Shivashankar in 2009, Anamika Veeramani in2010, Sukanya Roy in 2011 and Snigdha Nandipati in 2012.
Earlier this month, 12-year-old Indian-American Sathwik Karnik won the National Geographic Bee contest in the US.
In 2008, Akshay Rajagopal from the community won the geographic bee contest while the 2012 edition was won by Rahul Nagvekar.
Vanya Shivashankar, an 11-year-old California Trail Middle School sixth-grader from Olathe, has competed in spelling bees since she was 5. She tied for 10th place in last year's national bee contest. Her sister Kavya Shivashankar won the 2009 national bee trophy.
The success of Indian students is because of the way they tackle this tough competition. According to Vanya, they study root words and the derivations and where they come from, like the etymological patterns. This helps them to understand how to build another word using a rule. Vanya's favorite word is "taoiseach" (the term for an Irish prime minister).
Another Indian favourite is Arvind Mahankali (in pic on left). He had finished third last year. How will he tackle the new angle to the Bee contest? He took vocabulary test and was grateful for a trick everyone learns at school: the process of elimination.
"It was good that they gave multiple choice, so that you could eliminate incorrect answers," says Arvind.
The youngest Indian contestant Tara is currently learning Latin and Greek at school and is studying Hindi at home. Tara Singh loves Disney and her favourite words are baccalaureate and weissnichtwo. Tara won her regional round after she spelled laterigrade and deglaciation. He radiologist father Dr Anand Singh has also been a contestant at National Spelling Bee competition.
New format to encourage child's knowledge
Since 2002, the competition has a computer portion and this involved spelling. But it will now feature vocabulary.
"Spelling and vocabulary are, in essence, two sides of the same coin," say contest director Paige Kimble in a news release. "As a child studies the spelling of a word and its etymology, he will discover its meaning. As a child learns the meaning of a word, it becomes easier to spell. And all of this enhances the child's knowledge of the English language."
The champion will win a $30,000 cash prize, a $2,500 U.S. savings bond, collections of dictionaries and encyclopedias and an engraved trophy.
Yesterday, the competitors took a 45-minute preliminary computer test that probed their knowledge of both spelling and vocabulary, with the results to be combined with Wednesday's onstage round to determine who advances to the semifinals on Thursday. There was also a blind speller who took her test in Braille.
There will be another vocabulary test for those who make it to the semifinals, but Thursday night's finals will look the same as always - with spellers taking turns tackling incredibly difficult words under the bright lights of prime-time television.
The finals will be broadcast live on ESPN starting at 8 pm on Thursday (US local time).