When asked what he would do if he won the National Spelling Bee, Tommy said he hasnt really thought about it, but would probably scream and faint a few times. He thinks it would be shocking if he won because all these people have studied their whole lives for it and heres little old me.
This prompted a quick discussion of some of the other contestants. There are 273 this year, including Vanya Shivashanker, the younger sister of last years national champion, Kavya Shivashanker.
Tommy is calm about the competition and seems to be confident in his abilities. He devotes approximately half an hour every day to studying words, using the same techniques used by most spellers. He has spent time studying Latin and Greek roots and pays attention to language of origin when hes learning new words.
Language of origin is important, he says, because certain sounds are spelled differently depending on the language where the word originated. For example, he says, In French the S-H sound is made with C and H, but in German its made with S-C-H.
Tommy memorizes most of the words he learns and when he gets stuck, he and his mother find a trick to remember how a word is spelled. Recently, Tommy had difficulty learning the word sapajou (another term for a capuchin monkey, pronounced s?p??-jo?o), so he made up a song to remember certain words.
The grown-up Fosters are proud of their son; Chris says that the experience of winning the trip to D.C. is extra special for her because it wasnt a major goal. But even though the National Spelling Bee wasnt part of the plan before, Tommy and his parents are already making plans for next year. Now that hes had a taste of success, Tommy (who laughed when I asked him to spell successful) is angling to be a champion.
Chris says that as proud of her son as she is, its difficult to watch him compete because she wants Tommy to do well and gets worried that he will blurt (when a speller gets over-excited about a word and begins to spell before they are ready, making a mistake on a word that he or she knows). So she and Tommy have been working on ways to slow himself down.
One of the most important techniques Tommy uses to figure words out, but also to slow himself down, involves spelling words with a finger on his forearm. He does this to make sure that it looks right in his head before he begins to spell.
I ask him to spell some words for me.
I think, he says, I should start all the way on my shoulder for that one.
The National Spelling Bee will be conducted June 2-4 in Washington D.C. Preliminary rounds on Thur. June 3 will be broadcast on ESPN3 at 1:15 PM eastern. Semifinals will be broadcast on Fri. June 4 on ESPN at 10 AM eastern. Finals will be broadcast on Fri. June 4 on ABC at 8 PM eastern. For more information www.spellingbee.com
June 3 4:30 PM
Tommy has successfully made it through the computer based round of testing yesterday as well as the first two rounds of competition. Here are his correctly spelled words:
Round 1: chrysalis
Round 2: biauriculate