Sweet spell of success

Indian-American spellers are kings and queens of the bees, reports the New York Times.

For many American contestants, the most uncommon words at last week’s national spelling bee were not appoggiatura and onychophagy, but the names of the top four finishers: Anurag Kashyap, Aliya Deri, Samir Patel and Rajiv Tarigopula. All were of Indian ancestry.

Five of the last seven winners have come from Indian immigrant families. Though Indian-Americans make up less than 1 percent of the population, 11 percent of this year’s national bee contestants were of Indian ancestry. The tradition started 20 years ago with the first Indo-American winner.

By 1993, the North South Foundation, based outside of Chicago and devoted to making sure Indians here do as well in English as in math, set up a parallel universe of spelling bees. Now 60 chapters around the country hold such contests, according to its founder, Ratnam Chitturi.

They become a minor-league training ground for the major league 80-year-old Scripps National Spelling Bee, which was started by The Louisville Courier-Journal as a way to promote “general interest among pupils in a dull subject.”

The enthusiasm has spread. There are now chat rooms and blogs where Indians discuss spelling. Stories about the contests are featured prominently in community newspapers.

Students from immigrant families also do very well in the Intel Science Talent Search and the National Geography Bee. They try harder.

About Joanne


  1. superdestroyer says:

    Maybe the Indian kids just don’t waste their time on the Soccer team, the little league team, basketball team etc.

    Remember, India, a country of over 700 million usually does not win more than a single medal in the Olypmics.

  2. That, and Indian kids (or at least Indian-American) are more interested in being “kings and queens of the [spelling] bees”, rather than social queen bees.

  3. maribeth says:

    Great — now American gradeschoolers can start outsourcing their spelling.

  4. SuperSub says:

    Its simple. Even in two worker households, the parents spend a lot of time with their kids… instead of taking the “me-time” that is fashionable among the rest of the US now. They read to their kids, play games, play outside… they make it seem as if they really do care about their children’s happiness and welfare.