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Neologisms, oxymorons and onomatopoeia will test sagacious orthographers

Nineteen of New Zealand’s top young orthographers will be challenged with difficult words as they battle to become the 2018 New Zealand Spelling Bee champion this Saturday.

Year 9 and 10 students competing at the event’s national final at City Gallery have emerged from hundreds of entries from secondary schools and colleges around New Zealand in a rigorous competition that begins with a written classroom test, followed by six regional semi-finals in which the top 200 spellers competed.

If the 2017 list is any indication (it included neologism, capricious, onomatopoeia, aesthetic, bildungsroman and Putsch), they will have their work cut out for them.

Founder Janet Lucas is expecting tough competition for the fourteenth year of the event, which is aimed at encouraging students to gain a love of the English language.

“It will be an interesting final. There are some amazing spellers, some who are in the final for the second year in a row, and many of them really want to win and have worked hard to get here.

As well as the National Spelling Bee for Year 9-10 students, the programme for the New Zealand Spelling Bee includes the New Zealand Classroom Spelling Bee for Years 0 to 8. Resources are provided free of charge for both programmes, allowing students to study word lists and learn new words, competing in classroom tests.

The programme improves spelling capabilities, comprehension and communication skills, and is very much about open access.

“One of the things that’s great about the Spelling Bee is that anyone can take part – money is no barrier, which makes it fair and equal for everyone,” says Lucas.

The assistance from the Wright Family Foundation, which has been sole sponsor since 2014, means that the finalists win airfares and accommodation for themselves and a parent or caregiver to travel to the final. Successful students don’t have to fundraise to get there.

“All the resources are free, so long-term our hope is that every school will take part as there is no cost to it. We want it to be accessible to everyone and make it easy for teachers to include spelling in their classroom programme,” Lucas said.

The New Zealand Spelling Bee Teachers’ Awards provides four awards worth $2000 each for Year 0-13 teachers, and about 800 primary schools and intermediate schools now sign up for the classroom programme every year.

The 19 national finalists will be treated to a banquet dinner and will visit Parliament and Te Papa before competing in the grand final on Saturday.

The winner will receive the spelling bee trophy, $5000 towards their academic pursuits, and the coveted title of New Zealand Spelling Bee champion.

If you can’t make it along to the final from 12.30 to 2.30pm at City Gallery, it will be live streamed from the New Zealand Spelling Bee website.

Ironically for an organisation dedicated to correct spelling, the information about the live feed on that page uses the word “boardcasting”, which serves to emphasise Lucas’ point that even in the age of spellcheck, knowing how to spell is still vital.

“It’s actually more important than ever. By widening word knowledge, children are better able to understand and enjoy language, be it online, spoken, or in print.

“Lack of communication skills is at the root of so many problems in society. The Spelling Bee aims to increase vocabulary, leading to effective communication skills and a person’s ability to express themselves.

“The fact that the Bee grows every year proves the demand for a sport with a more intellectual focus, that is competitive and challenging in a fun way.”

Teachers interested in signing up for the programme can find out more at www.spellingbee.co.nz.

And, if you were wondering, the meaning of the word “bee” when used in “Spelling Bee” has nothing to do with apian creatures, despite ubiquitous imagery for such events.

The usage derives from the Middle English word “bene”, and became popular in 18th century America as a word that meant helping others in group activities such as sewing or quilting bees.