“Education belongs to everyone,” Spelling Bee of Canada founder Julie Spence explained at the 2012 Ontario Championships on Sunday. When Spence, who is originally from Jamaica, started the competition in 1987, most participants had Caribbean backgrounds.
Since then, some things haven’t changed: Prior to competing last weekend, pre-teens sat in the halls of the Delta Chelsea hotel, reviewing the official word list and reading the Canadian Oxford Dictionary. Parents were reminded that the mouthing or signing of words is strictly forbidden. With bragging rights and $8,600 in prizes up for grabs, many parents looked as nervous as their children.
Other things are different: While the Bee is still an important event for first-generation Canadians, most of the 91 children who competed this year are from South Asian families. For many, English is their second language.
“When we’ve had literacy hearings, we’ve found that 21st-century immigrants are much more prone to investing time and money in ESL courses,” said councillor Maria Augimeri, who spoke during the opening ceremonies. “This new group of immigrants is starved for greater academic achievement.”
For participants, family support was invaluable. Romiasa Arifeen, 8, who placed fifth in the six-to-eight-year-old division, studied with the help of her 17-year-old sister, Sheeba. “We try to relate them to other words and we connect them to the definition,” said Sheeba of their training methodology. Arifeen aced “mathematics,” but was stumped in the 12th round by “consonant.”
In the afternoon, after a brief pause in the competition, thanks to one child’s stress-induced nosebleed, 12-to-14-year-olds successfully spelled “piscatorial,” “marchioness,” “faience,” “gneiss,” and “plesiosaur.” David Chan, 13, from Kingston, Ontario, took the championship title when he correctly spelled “concerto” during the final round. Chan will go on to compete in the Canadian Invitational Spelling Bee this July, where children from around the world will gather to spell English words.