Spelling bee

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A spelling bee at an elementary school, with a speller addressing an audience and a judge, with a table of contestants behind them

A spelling bee (also sometimes a "Spelling B"[1][2][3]) is a competition in which contestants are asked to spell a broad selection of words, usually with a varying degree of difficulty. The concept is thought to have originated in the United States,[4] and spelling bee events, along with variants, are now also held in some other countries around the world. The first winner of an official spelling bee was Frank Neuhauser, who won the 1st National Spelling Bee in Washington, D.C. in 1925 at age eleven.[5][6]


Historically the word bee has been used to describe a get-together where a specific action is being carried out, like a husking bee, a quilting bee, or an apple bee. Its etymology is unclear but possibly derived from the Old English word bēn, meaning prayer.[7][8]


"Cousin Reginald Spells Peloponnesus." (Norman Rockwell, 1918)

The earliest known evidence of the phrase spelling bee in print dates back to 1850, although an earlier name, spelling match, has been traced back to 1808.[9] A key impetus for the contests was Noah Webster's spelling books. First published in 1786 and known colloquially as "The Blue-backed Speller," Webster's spelling books were an essential part of the curriculum of all elementary school children in the United States for five generations. Now the key reference for the contests is the Merriam-Webster unabridged dictionary.

The United States National Spelling Bee was started in 1925 by The Courier-Journal, the newspaper of Louisville, Kentucky. In 1941, the Scripps Howard News Service acquired sponsorship of the program, and the name changed to the Scripps Howard National Spelling Bee (later simply "Scripps National Spelling Bee"). As well as covering the 50 U.S. states, several competitors also come from Canada, the Bahamas, New Zealand and Europe.

In the United States, spelling bees are annually held from local levels up to the level of the Scripps National Spelling Bee which awards a cash prize to the winner. The National Spelling Bee is sponsored by English-language newspapers and educational foundations; it is also broadcast on ESPN. Since 2006, the National Spelling Bee's championship rounds have been broadcast on ABC live. In 2005, contestants came from the Bahamas, Jamaica, Guam, the U.S. Virgin Islands, American Samoa, Canada, New Zealand, Puerto Rico and a German military base, as well as the United States. This was the first year that spellers from Canada and New Zealand attended the competition. The final authority for words is the Merriam-Webster unabridged dictionary, the Webster's Third New International Dictionary. The annual study list is available from Scripps, either online or in print.

The National Senior Spelling Bee started in Cheyenne, Wyoming in 1996. Sponsored by the Wyoming AARP, it is open to contestants 50 and older. Maria Dawson is the only contestant to ever win two back-to-back titles at the National Senior Spelling Bee.

The South Asian Spelling Bee is another spelling bee platform in the US. This annual contest takes place across the US each summer in search of the next South Asian-American spelling champ between the ages of 8 and 14 years old. Launched in 2008, the South Asian Spelling Bee will tour 10 US cities in 2011 and is broadcast globally via the satellite channel, Sony Entertainment Television Asia.

Spelling bees are typically in English as other languages have much more regular spelling.[10]

In other regions, countries and communities


In Asia, a spelling bee is being conducted up to the international level by MaRRS Spelling Bee. The competition involves learning the correct spelling of words, their use in sentences and in multiple contexts.[11] Currently, it is being held in India, Abu Dhabi, Ajman, Bahrain, Dubai, Fujairah, Ras-al-Khaima, Sharjah, and Umm-Al-Quwain.[12] Also in Bahrain, an annual spelling bee contest named Spellbound Bahrain is conducted for the school children by KEEN4, an association of Kerala Engineers.

In Taiwan, the National Spelling Bee Championship is a contest held by Bugstation.tv for young English learners. Thousands of young applicants join this contest each year. Another organisation that promotes the love of the English language is Horizons Unlimited, which in 2011 organized an India Spelling Bee contest for children in the southern state of Kerala in India.


In Africa, spelling bee is promoted by a company Gift People Limited, which currently organizes the Annual National Spelling Bee contest for children between the age of 7 and 14 in Egypt. This effort commenced in 2008 when the first National finals was held in Cairo. It is popularly referred to as SPELLIT! in Kenya at a school called Rusinga, their annual spelling bee contest is between the team houses. There is one called St. John, St. Luke, St. Mathew and St.Mark.


In Western Australia, a spelling bee is held by the State Library Foundation of Western Australia, for children in school years 5, 6, 7 and 8. The early stages of the competition are held online, and the final spell-off in front of a live audience.[13] Two major prizes are awarded: one for a Junior Winner (Years 5-6) and the other for a Senior Winner (Years 7-8). Further prizes are given to the teacher and school class of each major prize winner, and to the most improved speller each week.[14]


Bangladesh's most renowned English daily, the Daily Star and Champs21.com, is organizing (as of March 2012) a televised spelling bee for students from Bengali and English medium backgrounds, who compete through an online system with the winners making it through to the television show. The competition is the first such arrangement in rapidly developing Bangladesh. The champion will be rewarded with five hundred thousands and a trip to Washington, the city of spelling bee. Now Bangladeshi students are having a spelling revolution. Because of such initiative, the curiosity of learning English has spread out in the whole country.


The Postmedia Canspell National Spelling Bee is the only Scripps affiliated Canadian spelling bee held annually nationwide in Canada since 2005. The bee is affiliated with the United States-based Scripps National Spelling Bee and uses similar rules and word lists, and competes in all 10 Canadian provinces to provide a Canadian National Champion for the penultimate Scripps competition.

It should not be confused with another organization, calling itself the Spelling Bee of Canada, which started in 1987 in Toronto, Ontario, and is now celebrating its 25th anniversary, and hosting a Canadian Invitational Bee in 2012, as well as organizing Provincial Bees across Canada, and the world.


In the school year 2008-2009, Mrs. Wijdan Alawadhi (senior teacher) and Mrs. Mona Yehia (teacher of English) started the spelling bee contest in Mubarak al-Kabir Educational Area (one of the biggest Kuwaiti Governorates). They started the contest as an experiment contest in their school (Thabet Bin Zaid Primary School for Boys) with the fourth and fifth grades. It was a successful experiment which was faced with a lot of appreciation from Mrs. Aisha AlAwadhi, ELT Senior Supervisor of English Language supervision. Then they decided to hold the competition among the whole educational area (Mubarak Al-Kabeer Educational area). In 2010-2011, the contest was held with 27 schools (12 schools for boys and 15 for girls - around 2700 pupils). Each school nominated a pupil from the fifth grade to participate. In 2012-2013, 30 schools participated. All the 30 pupils participated anxiously to win the competition with 200 words. It becomes officially an authorized contest in Mubarak Al-Kabeer Educational Area (Kuwaiti Spelling Bee) in Kuwait. In the school year 2013-2014 the competition was held in AL-Imam AL-Shafie primary school for boys with 31 schools and the words list contained 260 words. In 2014-2015 with the patronage of Mr. Talaq Al-Hiem the director of Mubarak Al-Kabeer Educational Area the competition held with the participation of 33 schools (16 girls, 15 boys and 2 LD) in Sabah AL-Salem Primary school with the help of its principal Mrs. Amira Baqer. Mrs. Aisha Al-Awadhi and the success of the competition convinced the ELT General supervision to decide the competition as Kuwait National Spelling Bee for the coming year 2015-2016.


In Pakistan, the spelling bee competition is promoted by Dawn, and it happens every year in October. There are three states district, regional and national. National is held in Islamabad.

United Arab Emirates

Sylvan Learning Center, a supplemental education organization from the United States, has organized an annual competition for Dubai, Abu Dhabi and Sharjah-area schools. The Sylvan Spelling Challenge is held annually in December and February for students in grades 3-8. The Sylvan competition expects to attract nearly 1,000 participants from 30 schools in its inaugural year.

Abu Dhabi University sponsors the largest Spelling Bee in the United Arab Emirates, attracing students from both public and private institutions for the past three years. The Abu Dhabi University Spelling Bee is heralded as the most challenging and well-known spelling competition in the United Arab Emirates.

United Kingdom

In 1876 there were newspaper reports of spelling bees in a number of towns in the United Kingdom. Since 2009 a spelling bee for schools has been run by The Times newspaper.

Community: Muslim Spelling Bee

In 2011 Chicago based social entrepreneur Tausif Malik established Muslim Spelling Bee competition, which emerged as America's Largest Community Bases Spelling Bee and America'sSecond Largest Spelling Bee competition. In 2015 Indian Edition of the Muslim Spelling Bee was launched, and new global locations will be added.

US National spelling bee

Serious spelling bee competitors in the United States will study affixes and etymologies, and often foreign languages from which English draws, in order to spell challenging words. Several preparatory materials have been published, including some in connection with the Scripps National Spelling Bee and those created by independent organizations not related to Scripps.

For the first several decades of publication, the Scripps annual study booklet was named Words of the Champions, which offered 3,000 words in a list separated into beginning, intermediate & expert groupings. In the mid-1990s the annual study list changed to Paideia (from the Greek word meaning education and culture), which ultimately contained more than 4,100 words, then again in 2006 to the shorter list, entitled Spell It!, the 2009 edition having 1155 words (911 basic words and 244 challenge words).

The Consolidated Word List, also published by Scripps and available on the National Spelling Bee website, consists of all words used in the National Bee as far back as 1950. It is organized into three sections: Words Appearing Infrequently, Words Appearing with Moderate Frequency, and Word Appearing Frequently. Nearly 800 pages and 24,000 words long, the Consolidated Word List is intended for those who have mastered the basics and already gone through Spell It!.

Spelling bee participants in the United States also use other reference books, notably the Hexco Academics series of spelling books, which feature strategies, methods and lists to further develop spelling skills. Tutoring materials are also becoming available on the web.

School spelling bees

US Spelling bee students usually start competition elementary schools (primary schools) or middle schools. Classes compete against other classes in the same grade, or level, and the winning class is determined by the score of each class. On an individual level, school spelling bees determine which child will represent his or her school at district, state and national competitions.

In popular culture

In television

  • A British television show called Spelling Bee, featuring adult contestants and broadcast by the BBC on 31 May 1938, is generally held to have been the world's first television game show.[15]
  • The Price Is Right features a pricing game called "Spelling Bee" which is played for a car and the object of the game is to spell "car".
  • A game show on the former Black Family Channel cable network, Thousand Dollar Bee engaged children in a spelling bee-like competition.[16][17]
  • The 2004 game show The Great American Celebrity Spelling Bee featured four teams of four celebrities playing for charity. The show was hosted by John O'Hurley, and help for the celebrities was provided by Scripps National Spelling Bee participant Samir Patel.
  • Five episodes of the ESPN show Cheap Seats presented and satirized the taped television coverage of the 1994, 1995, 1996, and 1997 Scripps National Spelling Bees.
  • The NBC game show The Singing Bee is like a spelling bee but instead of spelling words, contestants have to identify lyrics to popular songs.
  • "Spelling Bee," a Saturday Night Live comedy sketch in which Will Forte's character delivers a 75-letter misspelling of the word "business" that includes 12 consecutive q's
  • Spell-Mageddon
  • A spelling bee contest was sponsored by Brazilian TV host Luciano Huck, on his weekly show called Caldeirão do Huck, since 2007.
  • "The Great Australian Spelling Bee" premiered in August 2015.[18]

Fictional television episodes

In film

In theatre

In literature

  • A novel Bee Season, in which Eliza Naumann participates in the final of the national Spelling Bee.
  • A spelling bee features as pioneer family entertainment in Little Town on the Prairie by Laura Ingalls Wilder, in which Pa 'spells down' the whole town.
  • The 1878 Bret Harte poem "The Spelling Bee at Angels" describes a spelling contest held at a California gold mining camp.
  • A character in The Phantom Tollbooth, a novel by Norton Juster, is named the Spelling Bee.

See also


  1. http://www.unesco.org/csi/YV/projects2007-08/dominica-creole/dominica-cr-spellingB.pdf
  2. "Marlborough Primary School: 5th Annual Spelling B Competition". marlborough.cheshire.sch.uk.<templatestyles src="Module:Citation/CS1/styles.css"></templatestyles>
  3. "Two Miles Primary wins Spelling B competition". Guyana Times.<templatestyles src="Module:Citation/CS1/styles.css"></templatestyles>
  4. "RTE.ie". RTE.ie.<templatestyles src="Module:Citation/CS1/styles.css"></templatestyles>
  5. Fox, Margalit (2011-03-22). "Frank Neuhauser, a Speller's Speller, Dies at 97". New York Times. Retrieved 2011-04-03.<templatestyles src="Module:Citation/CS1/styles.css"></templatestyles>
  6. Brown, Emma (2011-03-21). "Frank Neuhauser, winner of first national spelling bee, dies at 97". Washington Post. Retrieved 2011-04-03.<templatestyles src="Module:Citation/CS1/styles.css"></templatestyles>
  7. [3], noun Merriam-Webster: bee [3]
  8. [1] bee - Wiktionary
  9. Barry Popik, "Spelling Bee (Spelling Match)," The Big Apple (Apr. 13, 2013; accessed Apr. 16, 2013).
  10. McWhorter, John. "English is not normal". Aeon (digital magazine). Retrieved 13 November 2015.<templatestyles src="Module:Citation/CS1/styles.css"></templatestyles>
  11. "Tamil Nadu / Chennai News : Being a spelling bee pays off". The Hindu. 2010-05-12. Retrieved 2010-10-26.<templatestyles src="Module:Citation/CS1/styles.css"></templatestyles>
  12. [2] Archived May 11, 2010 at the Wayback Machine
  13. "About Spelling Bee". spellingbee.org.au website. State Library Foundation of Western Australia. Retrieved 2013-06-01. External link in |work= (help)<templatestyles src="Module:Citation/CS1/styles.css"></templatestyles>
  14. "Prizes". spellingbee.org.au website. State Library Foundation of Western Australia. Retrieved 2013-06-01.<templatestyles src="Module:Citation/CS1/styles.css"></templatestyles>
  15. "Spelling Bee (1)". UKGameshows. Retrieved 2010-10-26.<templatestyles src="Module:Citation/CS1/styles.css"></templatestyles>
  16. "Thousand Dollar Bee (TV Series 2004– )". IMDb.<templatestyles src="Module:Citation/CS1/styles.css"></templatestyles>
  17. "1000 Dollar Bee". Youtube. Retrieved 2010-10-26.<templatestyles src="Module:Citation/CS1/styles.css"></templatestyles>
  18. "OPINION: Spelling Bee creates buzz for family TV". Toowoomba Chronicle.<templatestyles src="Module:Citation/CS1/styles.css"></templatestyles>
  19. setistars (29 February 2004). ""Walt Disney's Wonderful World of Color" The Girl Who Spelled Freedom (TV Episode 1986)". IMDb.<templatestyles src="Module:Citation/CS1/styles.css"></templatestyles>

Two boys from Vadodara have won the state final round of the Marrs International Spell Bee. They will now participate in the International prelims to be held at Hyderabad, India