Contest leaves audience spellbound

PUBLISHED : Wednesday, 21 January, 2004, 12:00am
UPDATED : Wednesday, 21 January, 2004, 12:00am

How good is your spelling? Can you spell HELLEBORE without looking in the dictionary?

What about PALIMPSEST? Could you manage to spell that without any help?

Even a short word like BANNS can be tricky. Does it have one or two Ns? It's time to get your spelling thinking cap on.

The National Spelling Bee held annually in Washington, DC is one of America's toughest and most eagerly followed public competitions. It is a cut-throat, nail-biting affair that begins with nine million contestants and ends with one winner.

The finals are held live on television and viewers sit on the edge of their seats, cheering on their favourite. Dreams are built up and dreams are shattered by the National Spelling Bee. The teenagers who take the test are a unique breed of intellectuals fascinated by words. The training for the competition is as gruelling and arduous as the training for any physical race or challenge.

It is a tough business being a spelling athlete and training takes a great deal of time and effort.

The National Spelling Bee usually starts with competitions in schools. The winners go on to local and regional contests. Then 250 regional winners gather for the National Finals in the American capital and spell it out until there is one winner.

Each student is given a word to spell out aloud and if they get it wrong, they are out of the competition.

Spellbound is a brilliant, award-winning documentary by Jeff Blitz that follows the attempts of eight intelligent, driven teenagers as they compete for the top prize.

It takes us into their private lives as they train for and compete in the ultimate intellectual showdown. We get to know their individual personalities, share their obsessive training routines and then sweat it out in the finals with them.

Angela's spelling success is amazing because her parents are Mexican immigrants in the United States who speak no English.

April spends eight hours a day during her summer vacation preparing for the spelling bee. Ashley is the oldest daughter of a single mother and she uses spelling to give a focus to her life. But will her determined efforts and invented spelling games be enough to help her realise her big goal?

Emily has a very full school and social life but still finds time to practise spelling with her mother. Last year she got to the national finals but was placed 10th.

Harry is a hyperactive young man who has to face words like CEPHALAGIA in the finals, but in the fourth round he is given the seemingly simple BANNS. Will he manage to get this one right?

Neil's father is the driving force behind his son's dedication to spelling. Nupur was knocked out in the third round in 1998, while Ted is quietly determined to show everyone that he can be the champion.

Which of these determined young people will win the competition?

The American National Spelling Bee is not a competition that pitches student against student.

It is all about student versus word and that is why it is fascinating and unique.


1.What is a Spelling Bee?

2.Where are the finals of the American National Spelling Bee held annually?

3.Spellbound follows the fortunes of how many spellers?

4.How many competitors take part in the finals?

5.How have they got there?

6.Why is Angela's spelling success remarkable?

7.Who is the driving force behind Neil's success?

8.How does April master her spelling techniques?

9.Who helps Emily with her spelling?

10.How far did Nupur go in the 1998 competition?


1. A Spelling Bee is a spelling competition based on a knock-out basis.

2. The finals of the American Spelling Bee are held in Washington, DC.

3. Spellbound follows the fortunes of eight teenage spellers.

4. About 250 competitors take part in the finals.

5. They have won regional competitions.

6. Angela gets no help from her parents because they don't speak English.

7. Neil's father drives him towards excellence.

8. April learns her spelling by studying eight hours a day during her vacation.

9. Emily's mum helps her with her spelling.

10. Nupur was knocked out in the third round in 1998. (By the way, Nupur was the winner this time!)