For Sonal Raj of St. Michael’s Academy, learning new words and remembering their spellings is almost an obsession.
Sonal, who stood first in category five (class IX and X) at the recently-held Wordsworth International Spelling Bee in Kodaikanal, not only armed herself with the material prescribed by the organisers but also the Cambridge dictionary, which she calls her ‘Bible’.
She claims that though there are still words and idioms asked in the spelling bee competition which she does not know the answers to, the learning process itself has helped her expand her vocabulary. While three participants from the city stood first in the categories they participated in, one stood third.
T.M. Surjit, managing director, Wordsworth Intellectual Services, which conducted the competition, says that from 8,000 participants in the first year, the number has shot up to 21,000 in just four years.
Like Adithi K., of St. Michael’s Academy who came third in the category for classes IX and X, interest was kindled after watching the Scripps National Spelling Bee. “Every time I stumble across a word I don’t know the meaning of, I rush and grab a dictionary,” she says, adding that it has helped her improve her letter and essay writing skills.
On what the competition consists of, Mr. Surjit says: “We have both an oral and a written round and we have included idioms, one-word substitutions and jumbled words. The motive is to strengthen the vocabulary of the students, improve their communication skills, and prepare them to face competitive exams.”
The participants are divided into five categories based on the class they study in, and starting from the school level, in each stage 30 per cent of the participants are carried forward to the district, state, national and international level.
Participants are given booklets by the organisers, along with suggested reference books, says Mr. Surjit, adding that if a student makes it to the international level, started last year, she would be familiar with about 4,000 words.
Madhu Sriram, mother of Sreya Sriram from Chinmaya Vidyalaya, Virugambakkam who came first in the first category (class I), says that her daughter showed an inclination towards grammar, which is why she enrolled her. M. Rama, mother of S. Neeharika from PSBB Millennium who came first in the second category, feels that her daughter is now strong in phonetics.
“Since she is only in Class III it is too early to determine whether she will use these words in conversing and writing, but it has definitely kindled her interest,” she says.
When asked about how effective this method was in not only learning, but also using the words learnt, K. Elango, professor of English, Anna University, and national secretary, English Language Teachers’ Association of India, observes that as far as languages are concerned, rote learning is important to an extent. However, if the intention is to help students build their linguistic competence, there must be an emphasis on fixed expressions, idioms and collocations rather than individual words.
“If the idea is to encourage learning, high-frequency words must be incorporated rather than obscure ones,” he says.