No matter how many times you ask the pronouncer to repeat a word given to you to spell out, no matter how many suggestions you get from your whispering teammates sitting on either side of you, it is you who is put on the spot. And you need to know or have an idea of the correct spelling to get it right.
Having the confidence to speak up also counts. For instance, there have been occasions over the past 13 years during this competition when, by keeping their wits about them, a contestant has questioned the decision of the judges and even succeeded in getting the decision changed in their favour.
Sometimes a word has two different spellings, both of which are correct and sometimes the pronouncer doesn’t hear the spelling clearly. Referring to the dictionary or recording replays have also turned decisions around.
During the 13th Dawn in Education Spelling Bee Regional Championship finals, held at the Arts Council of Pakistan in Karachi, on Friday, October 13, there were at least nine students, three in each age category, who got it right by not just knowing the correct spellings of words but also holding their own.
Peer pressure: Rija Masroor of Generation’s School (South campus), the regional champion in the ‘15-17 age category’ shared with Young World her method of preparation for the Spelling Bee.
“The Dawn book of words and usage is what I carefully went through first,” says Rija. “For additional help, my teachers made their own list of difficult words to spell. And when I thought I had mastered those as well, there were the students of our school who had taken part in the Spelling Bee before me for advice,” she adds.
Suddenly she remembers something, which makes her laugh. “There was this word ‘ARTERIOSCLEROSIS’ that I just couldn’t spell right. It is a kind of heart disease and not being able to learn it was giving me heart attacks. Then my friends made so much fun of me and my failure to learn its correct spelling that it turned into a kind of peer pressure and challenge. If they could spell it, why couldn’t I? I just couldn’t get the word out of my head then. And that is how I eventually learnt how to spell it. Now I think I can never forget it.”
Rija says that apart from the old competitors, her teacher Miss Farah deserves special credit. “She worked as hard as I did in preparing for the competition. She also made sure that we didn’t succumb to the pressure,” she adds.
And where did her parents fit in all of this? “My parents are the ones to have inculcated the habit of reading in me. That is how I can appreciate the written word and that is how I have this photographic memory of how each word that I read is spelt,” she says.
Runs in the family: Syed Hamza Qadri of Karachi Grammar School (Middle Section), a student of class IX, the second runner-up in the ‘12 -14 age category’, says that selection for the Spelling Bee can be a stringent process.
“Whoever is interested in taking part in the competition can let the school know and then become a part of an internal competition where the students keep getting eliminated until only three people remain,” he says.
But as far as Hamza himself is concerned, he says that his spellings have always been good. “My maternal aunt is also a great speller, so maybe it runs in the family,” he says.
But Hamza also says that he has been an avid reader from as far back as he can remember. “Newspapers, books, I read them all,” he shares.
Reading and writing: Young Ali Hyder of Bay View High School (Junior Branch), the second runner-up in nine to 11 age category, in the regionals, is also a voracious reader. He may be that and a good speller, but his mother Mrs Kiran Ali is a better talker than the little man. She says he is a complete “bookworm” who also enjoys writing.
“My son is a regular contributor to magazines,” she says. “We make weekly visits to bookshops for our children. On Sundays, we also take them to the book fair at Frere Hall. Besides, they are also members of the British Council Library. Because of this, Ali has developed a good vocabulary,” she says.
Ali is only nine years old, which puts him at a slight disadvantage against his other competitors who may be a year or two older. But then, he still can compete in the Spelling Bee and represent his school there for two more years. The regional competition was a bit tough for him as he also had his school examination during the preparation period.
Ameena Saiyid OBE
Oxford University Press Pakistan
Congratulations to Dawn on the completion of the National Spelling Bee Contest 2017. As usual, schools and their students countrywide took part in it with great enthusiasm.
It is heart-warming to note that this time the reach of the event was wider than ever before. Students in many small towns shared the eagerness of schoolchildren in large cities to participate in this event. As a matter of fact, the number of participants has been growing steadily ever since the inception of this contest, which shows its great appeal.
We at Oxford University Press Pakistan are proud to collaborate with Dawn in helping children improve their vocabulary and language skills in this way, which encourages them to spend their energies in a pursuit that will raise their educational standard.
I wish Dawn ever more success in their endeavour in the coming years.
Published in Dawn, Young World, December 9th, 2017