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Kids hope to spell their way to $5k prize

SCRABBLED: Hannah Warner is spending her holidays practicing for the national spelling bee finale

Hannah Warner is hoping to spell her way to $5000 at the national spelling bee final.

Hannah, 14, who attends Villa Maria College and placed third in the regional final, will travel to Wellington this month with two other Christchurch high school students who made the cut.

Just 16 year 9 and 10 pupils from throughout New Zealand will compete in the final and Hannah says she has been studying a dictionary to prepare for it.

“I just open it onto a random page and learn the words, then my sister tests me a few days later to see if I still remember them.”

Contestants in the regional final were given a practice list of 100 words to learn. Hannah received her list the night before the final and spent the night cramming.

Another Villa Maria College pupil, Jess Charlton, 14, says she is spending up to an hour each day learning a list of 200 words provided by the event organisers.

“First of all, I just sit down with the list and I spell them in my head, then I get my parents to test me to get them stuck in my head,” Jess says.

The hardest word she had to spell at the regional finale was “diminutive”. “I thought I’d be fine but it was actually really nerve racking,” she says.

Her list also includes foreign words and Jess says she finds the German words the hardest to learn.

New Zealand Spelling Bee organiser Janet Lucas says the competition has been an opportunity for students to expand their vocabulary.

“What’s exciting to see is there is an interest in spelling. The students come to the competition very prepared,” Lucas says.

Preparation can have its limits. “If you say one letter wrong, that’s it, you can’t restart . . . but it kind of just depends on what words you get.”

Particular hobbies or interests might give certain participants an advantage.

“For example, if they play a musical instrument, they will be more likely to get words like ‘staccato’,” Lucas, says.

The competition, now in its 10th year, is a game of elimination. Pupils are knocked out if they spell their given word wrong. The winner receives $5000 for future tuition fees.

The national final will be held at the Circa Theatre in Wellington on October 18.

_Jess Pullar for The Press