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Champion S-P-E-L-L-E-R

13-year-old Sameer Mishra is the 2008 winner of the National Spelling Bee

By Aaron Broder | null null , null
Sameer Mishra, 2008 Scripps National Spelling Bee champion. (Photo: ©Mark Bowen/Scripps National Spelling Bee)
Sameer Mishra, 2008 Scripps National Spelling Bee champion. (Photo: ©Mark Bowen/Scripps National Spelling Bee)

Appoggiatura. Autochthonous. Pococurante.

These probably aren't words you use in your everyday life. You may not have even heard of them before. (If you haven't, look at the bottom of this article for how to say them and what they mean.) But these and others like them have been leading kids to victory in the Scripps National Spelling Bee since it was launched in 1925. That year, Frank Neuhauser won first place with the word "gladiolus."

This year, the National Spelling Bee had 288 competitors—a far cry from the seven other kids who competed with Frank in 1925. The 2008 winner is 13-year-old Sameer Mishra, from West Lafayette, Indiana. He won by correctly spelling the word "guerdon." I had a chance to speak with him about his experiences related to the National Spelling Bee.

Scholastic News Online: How old were you when you participated in your first spelling bee?

Sameer Mishra: I was 9 years old and in the fourth grade when I participated in my first spelling bee.

SNO: How did you get involved in your first spelling bee?

SM: Well, my sister had done the spelling bee for three years, and she had gone to nationals, and I met a lot of interesting people. I was amazed and inspired to do the spelling bee, so when I was old enough, I did it.

SNO: How many times have you participated in the national competition?

SM: I have competed in the national competition four times. [This is Sameer's first time winning the national competition. For the two years before his win, he managed to make the list of the top 20 competitors.]

SNO: How do you prepare for the National Spelling Bee?

SM: In past years, I have studied lists that have been made by other people—and I would try to memorize those lists. But in June last year, I decided I would make my own list. So I went through the dictionary and wrote down each word I didn't know and I would write down the definition, part of speech, and language of origin. I also like to study language patterns, how different sounds are written in different languages.

SNO: How long did that list end up being?

SM: When I was done, the list ended up being somewhere between 70,000 and 80,000 words. Maybe 85,000 at the most.

SNO: What is the most challenging word that you have ever been asked to spell?

SM: The most challenging word I had to spell was on the written test last year, and it was bewusstseinslage. It is a state of consciousness, and it comes from German.

SNO: What was it like when you went back home after winning the Spelling Bee?

SM: It felt really great. I was done with the Spelling Bee so I was a little bit happy that I could spend more time studying, but I was also a little sad because it was my last year doing the Bee.

Frank Neuhauser, winner of the first, national spelling bee, at the 2008 spelling bee.
Frank Neuhauser, right, winner of the first Spelling Bee in 1925, signs an autograph for Brent M. Henderson, left, before the start of the finals of the 2008 Scripps National Spelling Bee. (Photo: ©Pablo Martinez Monsivais/AP Images)

SNO: What is your favorite part about competing in spelling bees?

SM: My favorite part about competing is being up onstage and seeing so many people that are wishing that you would do well, and trying to spell the difficult words.

SNO: What are your plans now that you are too old to compete in the national competition?

SM: I really don't know yet. So far, since I've gotten back, I've just been relaxing and playing video games. But I'm going into high school next year, so I'm sure there are going to be some interesting opportunities.

SNO: What advice do you have for kids who want to try to do their best in the National Spelling Bee?

SM: I want to tell them that they should keep on working hard. The Spelling Bee is a long process, and you have to study a lot of words—but in the end it is all worth it.

Pronunciations and definitions of words used in this article:

Appoggiatura (noun)
Definition–an accessory embellishing note or tone preceding an essential melodic note or tone and usually written as a note of smaller size

Autochthonous (adjective)
Definition–native, indigenous (used especially for floras and faunas)

Pococurante (adjective)
Definition–not concerned, indifferent, nonchalant

Gladiolus (noun)
Definition – a plant of the genus Gladiolus found mostly in Africa, with a few native to Europe and Asia that have sword-shape leaves and spikes of brilliantly colored irregular flowers
(Webster's Third New International Dictionary, Unabridged. Merriam-Webster, 2002.)

Bewusstseinslage (noun)
Definition–a state of consciousness or a feeling devoid of sensory components (used in psychology)

Guerdon (noun)
Definition–something that one has earned or gained; a reward

All information above from Webster's Third New International Dictionary, Unabridged. Merriam-Webster, 2002.


Read today’s story and answer the following question.

blog it In 2008, 288 kids competed in the Scripps National Spelling Bee. But all across America, thousands of kids took part in spelling bees at their schools. Have you ever participated in a spelling bee at your school? How well have you done? What was the hardest word you had to spell?

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About the Author

Aaron Broder is a member of the Scholastic Kids Press Corps.

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