Opinion | I won the National Spelling Bee. This is what it takes to master spelling.

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Dave Shah in Largo, Fla. He is in ninth grade and won the Scripps National Spelling Bee in June.

I didn’t think I would win. I’ve lost over two dozen spelling bees since I started competing in fourth grade, and I didn’t even qualify for nationals last year. If that wasn’t enough pressure, this was my last year of eligibility. This was my last shot at the spelling bee.

The annual Scripps National Spelling Bee is an incredible event. Each year, approximately 11 million students from across the country participate in the Bee Circuit. After competing with strong local bees, About 200 specialists have reached the national level, and some of them will qualify for the grand finale. Of course, only one can be the champion of the National Spelling Bee. This year, that student was me.

How did I finally get out? Almost there are. Half a million words English dictionary. Add thousands of roots and hundreds of idioms and it’s impossible to remember everything. After I realized that, I changed my training routine and started focusing on my inner beauty.

Predictability is everything. Although I can and do study words for hours on end, I know that my greatest asset is learning to guess correctly. In stressful situations, sometimes you have to breathe, calm yourself and leave things to chance.

The secret to spelling is understanding the “how” and “why” of language. Most words have syllables based on the sounds they make. For example, words from French often replace the “ch” with the “sh” sound, as in “offend.” The part of speech can make it clear how to spell the end of the word. Adjectives prefer “ous” in words such as “sad” and nouns use “us” such as “abacus”. And studying alternate pronunciations will keep you from suffering through multiple letters like “GIF” and “JIF.” The letter G can imitate the sound of J, but never copy it.

In fact, this is exactly what the spelling bee wants spellers to learn – the mechanics of words. That’s why we ask so many questions. Scripps Bee longtime speaker Jacques Bailey answers probing questions about a word. Each question plays a role in correctly guessing a word. Asking about the language of origin helps narrow down which sources to ask about next. For example in My winning word is “Psamophile”. Bailey tells me that both classes are Greek. Most of the roots are Greek or Latin, so he eliminated about half.

The translation provided further clues to the exact root in question. Pisamophilus is an organism that lives in sandy soil. Remembering the native language, I thought of the Greek roots for sand. This type of language reduction is practical, and the best spellers can do it immediately.

However, you could be the best spell caster who ever lived and still lose. Champion spellers are skilled at more than expressing language. They know how to control their emotions on stage and think clearly under pressure. They also know how to overcome with grace.

These are the skills I put into practice when I had to guess the spelling of an unfamiliar word. The word “romac” is special. It has an unknown etymology, used only in England, meaning “to play with noise”. At first I thought of the word frolic, which means close, but I knew the panelists were trying to trick me. The professional linguists who organize the spelling bee carefully select the competition words. Spellcasters want you to confuse a word with other simple words. I knew I was running out of time – so I put my money on “ROMMACK” with 40 seconds left on the clock.

Even though I spelled that word right, I’ve had a fatal assumption thrown at me many times before. It is wisdom to be defeated by grace. Imagine you’re on stage – in front of thousands of eyes and millions watching online – and after trying so hard, you get one word wrong. You hear the famous bell, and everyone claps for you in relief. It’s hard to get out if you’ve been kicked out, especially if you’re in your last year of eligibility. But the only thing you can do is walk away with grace.

Winning a spelling bee is worth more than getting an amazing line on my exam. Spelling has prepared me better for life. Competitive spelling teaches you not to be afraid to take risks. No matter how well we think we know something, eventually we all have to guess.



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