Blog: Latino Ed Beat

Spellers Gather in New Mexico for Annual Spanish Bee

Source: Flickr/ Josep Ma. Rosell (CC BY 2.0)

The list is long, and the words don’t look easy. 

That is, the list of more than 2,300 words participants in the fifth annual National Spanish Spelling Bee were given to study in advance of the competition, which kicked off Thursday in Albuquerque at the National Hispanic Cultural Center. 

This bee is much smaller than its ESPN-televised English-language counterpart, the Scripps National Spelling Bee which takes place in Washington, D.C. every year, but organizers told Education Week earlier this month that participation has grown to almost 30 since 2011, when 11 students competed in the inaugural event. 

The competition is open to fourth- through eighth-grade students of all backgrounds — not just Hispanics or native Spanish-speakers. Though a non-native speaker has never won the national competition, students whose first language is English have performed well at local and regional contests

“It’s the same as with the Scripps (National) Spelling Bee,” Annie Azarloza, a world languages instructional leader in Foxborough, Massachusetts recently told Fox News Latino at a regional spelling bee. “Just because you might be a native English speaker doesn’t mean you will be a great speller.”

Spanish is a phonetic language, so in theory, spelling words would be much easier to master for non-native Spanish speakers than words in English would be for those learning it as a second language, Azarloza said. But accent marks, diéresis (two dots placed over the second of two adjacent vowels to indicate that they should be pronounced separately) and silent h’s are what trip students up. 

Fox News Latino and Education Week report that Spanish-language bees are popping up all over the country, as bilingual education becomes more accepted and popular. 

Education Week quotes Florida International University English and linguistics professor Phillip Carter: “People are more comfortable with the idea of globalization and globalized economy, the idea that bilingualism is going to help their kids get a foothold in college or the job market.”

Organizers promote the national bee by telling parents the event lets the young participants “learn and apply new vocabulary, increase speaking skills, develop better language pronunciation, and improve communication abilities.” 

Plus, spelling — in any language — is just a good life skill to have.