Area’s top speller ready for D.C. challenge

WILLIAMSTOWN – Next week, Williamstown High School eighth-grader Iram Kingson will compete in the Scripps National Spelling Bee for the second time, but she can only rely so much on her experience.

That’s because the addition of a vocabulary component and other changes have altered the competition from the form it had just two years ago, when she participated as a sixth-grader.

“I feel a little more nervous this time because they’ve changed the rules … so it’s double the work,” said Kingson, 14, who earned her trip to the national bee in Washington, D.C., by winning the 33rd annual Marietta Times Regional Spelling Bee in March.

The vocabulary test will be administered via computer along with the preliminary spelling assessments. When Kingson participated in 2011, that was a written test.

Vocabulary will count for 50 percent of a speller’s overall score when determining whether they advance to the semifinal and championship rounds.

The focus on vocabulary may be new, but it fits in with the national bee’s goals of helping students improve their spelling, increase their vocabularies, learn concepts and develop correct English language usage, said Chris Kemper, spokesman for the bee.

“It’s a change, but it’s a natural one for us,” he said. “Spelling and vocabulary are in essence two sides of the same coin.”

Understanding the meaning of a word can help students figure out how to spell it, Kemper said.

Kingson said that’s true in some cases and she did pick up meanings of words preparing for bees in the past.

“I tried, but it didn’t seem as important then,” she said.

Another change has been made to the second and third rounds of the competition. Previously all spellers took the stage and spelled a word in those rounds, accumulating points that, coupled with their performance on the written test, determined who would move on to the semifinals. They still get points, but if they misspell a word in either of the stage rounds, they’re immediately out of the competition.

The prospect of being eliminated then and there adds pressure to the situation, Kingson said. But her experience last time will help with other aspects of the stage rounds, which can be viewed live online on the ESPN3 website.

“There’s a huge audience and I get really nervous, so I just try to focus on the pronouncer and if I know the word or have seen it before,” she said.

Kingson spends half an hour to an hour a day studying words and their meanings, with family members helping out when they can. She said words with German origins tend to present the biggest challenge for her.

“They just have a lot of silent letters that are in there that you don’t even know,” Kingson said.

Following the preliminary rounds, no more than 50 spellers will advance to the semifinal round. Those competitors will take another computer-based vocabulary and spelling test that will be used to help determine, along with two rounds of on-stage spelling, who will make up the championship field of about a dozen spellers.

The championship round will be broadcast live on ESPN at 8 p.m. Thursday.