Spelling Bee Champions and the Value of Classical Languages

Does spelling matter? The New York Times offered this question to young readers, having recently printed a piece defending President Trump’s loose approach to spelling. Other publications have not been so charitable or sympathetic. Several writers in the popular media have assured us that spelling matters outside of the classroom, while academics have found that one’s spelling ability does indeed have strong connections to reading fluency.

But how do spelling bee champions refine their skills? There’s no single strategy, but there seems to be a common thread:

“How I know different types of words, I just look at roots. I look at different roots and stems, from different languages like Latin, Greek and French.” – Dina Miranda

“I’ve practiced the 600 words on there, and I’m also going through the Greek and Latin roots, prefixes and suffixes. I’ve made flash cards – there’s 1,700 flash cards. That’s a lot.” – Ananya Bommineni

“Of course, I’ve been studying different language patterns, how different languages and their words are spelled and I’ve been studying Greek and Latin roots for different words so I can make a best guess for how to spell words.” – Sebastian Shields

“I’ve also been studying Latin roots and the roots of other languages so that instead of completely memorizing everything, I’m also learning more about language. That way I have a better chance of spelling correctly a word I don’t know.” – Penny Moore

“I realized that I needed to study Greek and Latin roots and language patterns so that the process of learning words and recognizing patterns becomes easier. Using your root knowledge and using your context clues to figure out what a word can mean is really vital especially when you really want to do well in the competition.” – Gokul Venkatachalam

“I learned a lot about the English language, such as how to decipher the meaning of a word through its Greek and Latin roots. I also learned a lot of fun and funky words and expanded my vocabulary.” – Maggie Sheridan

Perhaps Latin and Ancient Greek are dead languages, but awareness of and access to them has certainly benefited these young adults.

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