The Spelling Bee Experience

spelling bee Feb 07, 2019

Kvelled. That’s the word that perfectly describes what I felt as I watched this year’s finale of The Spelling Bee unfold. It’s also one of the many words I learnt on Saturday and I have decided to throw it into every sentence because I like it.

For the last 12 years, young spellers between ages 8 and 13 have gathered around this time of year to contest the spelling champion title. This year’s edition started in 2018 with 4000 children across the country and by Saturday, it was down to 383 spellers. This included five spellers from the Tetteh-Ocloo State School for the Deaf. They spelled their words with the help of an interpreter and the only boy amongst the group was in the final top five. Kudos to the Young Educators Foundation, the organisation that hosts The Spelling Bee for their work on inclusivity.

The room was wrought with emotions as spellers anxiously awaited the words they would be given. They had spent months training with coaches in their schools and communities and had gone through various elimination rounds leading up to the D-Day. Over a ten-hour period, they spelt words such as “acyclovir,” “autochthonous,” “scaturiant,” “Wyandotte,” “chastushka” and more.

I watched in awe as they applied the techniques they had been taught in their training. Each time a word was given, spellers would break it down by asking for its meaning, etymology, alternative pronunciation, part of speech and an example of a sentence where it is used. All this informed the letters they chose to spell their words. Many of the adults in the room, myself included, attempted to spell the words but got a lot of them wrong. I probably got 8 or 10 out of the more than 60 words that I heard right.

13-year-old Kwabena Adu Darko-Asare from DPS International School in Tema emerged the winner. His winning word was “baldenfreude,” a German word that describes “the satisfaction derived from the misfortune of bald or balding individuals.” He also scored the highest (96/100) on the Vocabulary test. Kwabena will represent Ghana at the 2019 Scripps National Spelling Bee. in Washington DC in May.

I left the experience extremely inspired and motivated. It was a great reminder of the importance of literacy programmes like The Spelling Bee. I think every school around the country should be clamouring to get their students to participate. It teaches students how to think and solve problems by breaking them down into small bits. It teaches them discipline and gives them great public speaking skills. But, it’s not all fun. It can also be a heartbreaking experience because just missing a letter or not even hearing a word properly can lead to elimination. Nonetheless, the benefits outnumber the drawbacks. Shifa Amankwah-Gabbey, the 2018 champion said it best when she said “The Spelling Bee is not all about winning but the exposure that comes with it. It’s not just a competition but a platform to unleash one’s potential.”

The Spelling Bee was also a great reminder of the importance of our vision at Booksie. We get to nurture a love of reading and in turn will nurture amazing spellers. I cannot wait to see our subscribers and members spelling away on the big stage!

Learn more about The Spelling Bee and how to enroll at Please encourage all the logophiles in your life to give it a try and participate.

PS: Kvell is a verb that means “to be extraordinarily proud.” It doesn’t sound like it’s pronounced.

This post was written by Edem Torkornoo, Founder of Booksie. Booksie is a pan-African book subscription service and book club for 3–12 year olds.

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