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Beijing girl advances in US bee

Updated: 2013-05-31 07:26
( China Daily/Agencies)

11-year-old makes it to semifinals of nation's top spelling competition

Forty-two contestants advanced on Wednesday to the semifinals of the top US spelling contest, the first to also ask competitors to know what the words mean.

They were among 281 youngsters from eight nations who gathered at the Gaylord National Resort outside Washington for the three-day Scripps National Spelling Bee, an enduring institution in the United States.

Beijing girl advances in US bee

Chinese student Katharine Wang, of Beijing, (2nd L), congratulates Audrey Bantug, of San Ramon, California, in the semi-final round of the 2013 Scripps National Spelling Bee at the Gaylord National Resort and Convention Center at National Harbor in Maryland, May 30, 2013. [Photo/Agencies]

Those who made the cut included New York's Arvind Mahankali, 13, a four-time contestant who placed third last year and in 2011, and 11-year-old Wang Taoran, or Katharine Wang, from the Beijing Fangcaodi International School.

Wang is one of only two Chinese students who were selected to go the US to fight for the top prize.

Her winning word in the qualifying contest was "subaqueous", which means found or occurring underwater.

The other Chinese competitor was a 14-year-old boy, Wang Qingyi, from Beida Resource Middle School in Beijing.

Wang Taoran participated in the 2012 Scripps National Spelling Bee and also won through to the semi-final round, but did not win a prize.

With a strong interest in foreign languages, the sixth-grader is studying German and French. She also plays piano and listens to music in her spare time.

Lisa Sun, Wang's teacher at the Qooco English Training School, said she is a little quiet, but hard-working.

Sun added the contest can help students become more courageous and confident in facing tough challenges.

"But the competition largely improves the students' interest in studying English."

Stumbling out of the 86th edition of the competition was this year's youngest hopeful, Tara Singh. But the event's official Twitter feed noted that the 8-year-old from Kentucky has "many years ahead" to return to the finals.

Organizers had initially announced 41 semifinalists, but later added eighth-grader Nikitha Chandran from Florida after determining that her spelling for "virucide" - "viruscide" - was an acceptable alternative.

'Fantastic event'

The finals take place on Thursday, televised on ESPN sports channel, following the semifinals in the afternoon.

For the past five years, the annual National Spelling Bee has been clinched by youngsters of South Asian heritage - a reflection, some say, of the overriding importance their families place on educational excellence.

"I don't think anything in particular makes them so special besides hard work and a culture that is obviously encouraging them," said Jacques Bailly, the 1980 champion who now is the event's chief word pronouncer.

"This is a fantastic event," the University of Vermont classics professor said. "There are no quotas. These (contestants) are winners, and they look to me like a wonderful cross-section of America. It inspires me."

Fifteen contestants were knocked out in Wednesday's first public rounds that began with "glasnost" and "perestroika" - Russian words from the final years of the former Soviet Union when none of the competitors had yet been born.

The competition kicked off on Tuesday with computer-based tests and reaches its climax on Thursday with nationally televised finals producing a winner who goes home with $30,000 in cash and other prizes.

More than 11 million children have taken part in qualifying spelling bees over the past school year, with the best of the best advancing stage after stage toward the nationals.

Seven weeks ago, organizers caused a stir when they declared that for the first time in more than eight decades of competition, this year's contestants would have to prove their ability to not just spell obscure words, but also define them.

The reaction has been "very enthusiastic", said National Spelling Bee Executive Director Paige Kimble, the 1981 champion.

"I've had many parents and spellers approach me this week, thanking me (because) they realize that this raises the prestige of the achievement of making it to the Scripps National Spelling Bee."

China Daily-AFP

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