Spelling Bees


Valued Senior Member
Spelling bees are a useless waste of effort and time. What is the point of putting kids under pressure to spell “alopecoid”? Shouldn’t their time be better spent learning something useful or just playing? I mean if a thirteen year old kid memorizes every word in the dictionaries, is he/she set for life? I wonder where are the spelling bee champions of 10 or 20 years ago. With all the time they spend learning to spell words they’ll never use, they could probably master a second (and third) language. Am I right?
NO, because thats an opinion. It isn't right or wrong.

Besides speeling bees are good memory practice and kids today lack vocabulary to impress. Its another form of mental sport. Whats the point of sitting there and playing chess? None really except honing mental finess but they could use that time to teach themselves a new software to keep up to the fast paced buisness world.

Spelling bees are merely outlets for smart kids, not their existence and profession. I bet most spelling bee champions of yesteryear are somewhere holding a goodjob.
sargentlard responded before I did but I agree with him

I've been wondering about that too in the past. I never really understood the point of a spelling bee except the fact it promotes competition. Most of those words they spell will probably never be used in their everyday conversation later in lfe.

However, now when I think about, subjecting young kids to memorizing complicated words may have an intellectual advantage. Not only they have to know how to spell those words but they must be able to recognize its definition to spell it properly. It stimulates some parts of the brain (like the memory centers) to think critically and have them think on their feet. Maybe that's why parents subject their kids into it ... either that or it's for the heck of competition and they just want to show off to their neighbours that their kids are better then theirs.
Besides speeling bees are good memory practice and kids today lack vocabulary to impress.
I can spell lots of words, i dont know the meaning of a lot of them, spelling is useless without teaching the meaning of the word, and even then sometimes its just too soon to teach kids some words, perhaps the reason kids lack the vocabulary to impress is because they spend more time spelling and less time learning actual meanings of words.
One of the chief public entertainment of the early pioneer days was the spelling bee. It was looked forward to with a great deal of anticipation and anxiety. When the time came, entire communities gathered for the intellectual contest. The young people choose sides and the teacher, who was master of ceremonies, pronounced the words to be spelled. It was a great honor to win and a main social occasion for the area.

All That You Can Bee

Geoff Nunberg

"Fresh Air" commentary, May 14, 2003

Mark Twain claimed that the ability to spell well was an inborn talent like a photographic memory. If that's true, God seems to have distributed the gift pretty democratically, with no regard for more general intellectual capacities. Or at least that's what I like to think, being one of the mass of people who are never quite sure about the "-ible" vs "-able" business.

But Americans have always placed a singular importance on spelling. In fact the spelling bee was the original American game show, and often the only entertainment in town. It was born in colonial times, when the attainment of correct spelling was regarded as a symbol of cultivation -- back then the contests were called "spelling schools" or "spelling matches." Horace Greeley reminisced fondly about his successes as a spelling prodigy when he was a boy in New Hampshire around 1815 -- as he put it, spelling was a natural strength for "a child of tenacious memory and no judgment." And whatever Mark Twain's reservations about the value of spelling, he prided himself on having been a champion speller as a youth in Missouri.

By the mid-nineteenth century, the contests had become an adult pastime, as well. Bret Harte recounted a spelling competition in the California mining camps that ended in a fight with bowie knives when two constestants disagreed over whether "eider-duck" began with an i or an e.

The phrase "spelling bee" itself entered the language in the 1870's, when the competitions became a popular mass entertainment. More than 4000 people attended one bee at the Philadelphia Academy of Music in 1875, and a disturbance broke out when the audience judged that one contestant had been unfairly eliminated for misspelling "receipt."

After a period of eclipse, the bees were revived again in the 1920's as a way of encouraging the civic virtues of literacy among schoolchildren. One enthusiast described them as "an antidote to jazz and frivolity." The first national bee was held in 1925, and for the last 60 years the event has been sponsored by Scripps-Howard.

Jeff Blitz's "Spellbound" is an engaging and surprisingly moving documentary that follows the fortunes of eight contestants in the 1999 national bee held in Washington, D.C. Some of the kids are motivated by pure competitive spirit, but for most of them, the bee stands for the struggle to move up and on in American life. Angela is a Texas girl whose father came to America from Mexico as an undocumented immigrant. He still speaks no English, and his trip to Washington to watch his daughter compete in the national seems to seal his life's accomplishment. Ashley is a black girl from the Washington D.C. projects who describes herself as a "prayer warrior." And Neil from San Clemente, California is the son of a successful Indian immigrant with a boundless faith in the American dream. "In America," the father says, "If you work hard, you'll make it."

The kids are all bright and winning and incredibly dedicated, and you feel their anguish as they're eliminated one after the other, in a cruel prototype of "Survivor." But while that experience would have been familiar to Greeley or Twain, this is not your father's spelling bee. Back in the first decades of the national competition, the contestants were given the sorts of words that an ordinary literate citizen would be expected to know, like "promiscuous," "intelligible," and "fracas." In 1932, Dorothy Greenwald from Des Moines, Iowa walked away with the laurels when she was able to spell "knack."

But like a lot of other competitive events, the spelling bee has become a lot more specialized and intense over the course of time. In recent years the winning words in the national bee have included such bower-bird treasures as "xanthosis," "vivisepulture," "euonym," "succedaneum," and "prospicience."

That inevitably changes the significance of the exercise. At this level, in fact, the competition isn't really about the capriciousness of English spelling. It has more to do with the indistinctness of English pronunciation, which merges p's and b's and t's and d's, and which reduces every unstressed vowel to a blurry "uh." That isn't much of an impediment when the word is one you already recognize, like "intelligible" or "fracas." But it makes it impossible to pin down the spelling of an unfamiliar word, particularly when its derivation is obscure. In fact I often had the feeling that the pronouncer was making an effort to keep the pronuniciations as uniformative and ambiguous as possible.

You can sense the contestants' perplexity as the pronouncer feeds them words like "apocope," "hellebore," "clavecin," and "alegar" -- items that most people can happily live their lives without ever encountering. Occasionally the kids' faces brighten when they recognize a word that happens to be on their cram lists, but usually they're reduced to mere guessing. I felt a special sympathy for the kid who was eliminated when he blew "opsimath," a word for someone who begins learning late in life." "O-B-S-O...," he started, not recognizing "opsi-" as the Greek root for "late" -- as anyone would know who sees the connection to that other household word "opsigamy."

Yet even if spelling ability isn't a very good indicator of intellectual capacity, you have no doubt that most of the kids profiled in "Spellbound" will succeed in later life. America still rewards dedication and hard work, just as it did in Horace Greeley's day. And the modern spelling bee rewards something else: you have to have an instinct for understanding indistinct commands to perform arbitrary and often pointless acts, and somehow figure out what's expected of you. In today's America, that's another talent that serves you well.
English is an unusual language. You can speak it (or write it) very badly, yet still be understood almost perfectly. That's not true of most languages. If you speak French or Japanese poorly, people will stare at you and honestly not be quite sure what language you're trying to speak. If you write Chinese poorly, well then, you're not even writing Chinese.

So mastering English's ridiculously complicated but irrelevant grammar ("Mammals breathe air," but "The air smells good today"), and its even more bewildering spelling rules with all the excess letters, is a rite of passage. You don't need to master it to use it for reasonably effective communication. Mastering it is simply a sign that you are a diligent person who completes things you start. That you respect traditions and established structures. That you have a high level of verbal acuity. Believe me, knowing how to spell properly and how to say "lie" instead of "lay" or "ask" instead of "axe" is an indication of intelligence, respect, and ambition.

Spelling bees are a way of introducing children to this concept. Mastering something that appears to be merely an intellectual pastime is an exercise for their brain that helps hone their learning skills and a rite of passage into the peculiar world of anglophones.
i liked spelling bees. i usually stayed in until close to the end although i don't remember ever winning one.
my elementary school had bees up the wazoo. math bees, history bees, science bees, what i had for lunch today bees. also speech and story telling contests. kids were always on a stage talking. i never did it though. fear of speaking in public. the spelling bees were in the classroom with no stage so it was ok.
I feel that spelling bees aren't just about spelling and vocabulary but by learning the spelling and vocabulary it increases curiosity towards that word. For example, people seeing a new word like "didactic". They might not want to only learn the spelling of the word since its meaning is not to most people inherently obvious but will also make a basic effort to learn the etymology and gain knowledge of the word's background and how it arrived in English. Foreign borrowings of English might help even help in learning other languages.

Learning how to spell "Weltanschauung" might just get a kid interested with German knowing that "Welt" is cognate with "world" and so on...
meh, i have a vocab of about 25000 words and no use for it, spelling bees giveme somewhere to put it to use
I think spelling bees are gifted, they have the rare talent to find (or memorize) the relations and patterns between words and their prounciations, thus being able to spell them, and that's a skill that should be praised. Spelling bee competitions are just a way for these children to show off their talents.
However, I do not believe that the skill of being able to spell is not that important or necessary in today's world, we have electronic dictionaries and spell checkers
and yes I do think that being able to USE and UNDERSTAND the words is much more important than being able to spell them