The battle to be New Zealand’s best speller is on again, with 250 Year 9 and 10 students around the country gearing up for the New Zealand Spelling Bee regional finals starting on August 5.

On November 2, the top students from each region will face off at the tension-filled national final in Wellington – with the winner receiving the Spelling Bee trophy and $5000 towards their academic pursuits.

Organisers are hoping it doesn’t turn out like the Scripps National Spelling Bee final in the United States in May where it overran by 90 minutes when they were unable to separate the top eight competitors after 20 rounds and 47 correctly spelled words.

The New Zealand Spelling Bee has been held since 2005 and the 2016 final was televised by TVNZ as Spellbound, presented by Toni Street.

Thousands of students around the country had the opportunity to learn the 2019 New Zealand Spelling Bee word list earlier in the year, with the top 250 qualifying for the semi-finals after a test in June. Students were tested on 50 words from the word list and 50 words they hadn’t seen.

Two students correctly spelled all the words, four correctly spelled 99 words and six correctly spelled 97 words. Forty-one spellers, or about 16 per cent, correctly spelled 90 words or more. About 150 spellers got above 80.

Organiser Janet Lucas said she was prepared for a drop in participation this year due to teachers being involved in industrial action but that didn’t happen.

“Once again the teachers showed their commitment to the event with more than 100 registering and about 80 schools administering the test to their students.

“I was extremely touched by the feedback I got from the teachers. One school has extremely low literacy and is working with a university to turn this around. It is so excited to have a student make the semi-final.

“Equally I received a letter from a teacher saying her students’ low results in the test did not reflect the enthusiasm her students had for learning the words and they are all looking forward to doing it again next year.”

Lucas describes the event as “a competition against the dictionary”. It is aimed at encouraging students to develop a love of language and help them improve their spelling, comprehension and communication skills.

“It’s a sport with an intellectual focus and an exciting learning journey for students to learn words they can use with confidence for the rest of their life.”

Lucas said the event would not be possible without the sponsorship and support of the Wright Family Foundation and its chief executive Chloe Wright, who is also patron.

Wright says the vision of the foundation is to create articulate readers and writers who go on to higher education with confidence.

“The event has the goal of expanding children’s vocabulary and encouraging a love of language – which is something we are passionate about fostering,” she says.

Abbas Nazari, a Tampa boat refugee who made the top three of the 2009 New Zealand Spelling Bee, was recently awarded a prestigious Fulbright scholarship to study in New York and wrote to Wright recently.

“The lessons I learned from Spelling Bee, such as commitment and memorisation, helped with studying, and eventually graduating from the University of Canterbury with a 1st Class Honours in Political Science. I’m now undertaking a Masters at Georgetown University on a Fulbright scholarship.”

As well as the New Zealand Spelling Bee competition for Year 9 and 10 students there is a classroom programme for Year 1-8 students and awards for teachers whose innovative and effective programmes instil a love of language in their students.



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