Preparing for an Adult Spelling Bee
Bill Long 11/22/06
An Effort that Repays You Every Day
I have been participating in Adult Senior (over 50) Spelling Bees for three years. In that time I have learned a lot not only about words but about how one might best prepare for such a Bee. Here are what I call Bill's Eight Rules for Preparing for an Adult Spelling Bee. You may have other ideas, and I would happily receive your suggestions (email@example.com). I would hasten to add that I refined these rules in connection with developing a word list of nearly 1200 words in preparation for a celebrity Spelling Bee in Portland, OR on January 25, 2007. Others who develop spelling bees might have a different philosophy of making word lists. I presume, in most instances, that people have no real "philosophy of a list." But mine is embedded in the following guidelines. Enjoy yourself, and good luck in your word mastery!
Congratulations to you for having the interest (and courage) to participate in an adult Spelling Bee. I have drawn up the following rules or guidelines for you to assist you in preparation for the Bee. My goal is that the preparation be a time of learning for you, an occasion for you to deepen your own knowledge of the language and of the concepts to which the words point. I am assuming that you will BEGIN (and maybe END) with the list of about 1150 words that are attached. I selected these words with care and tried to combine some familiar words, some words that you know but have forgotten how to spell and some words that will stretch you a bit. I am not, at this juncture, particularly interested in finding words that few know and no one uses. Good luck on your preparation!
1. Get a partner for the task. The role of the partner is to read you the words, make sure you are spelling them correctly, and give you insight as time goes by as to what you seem to be "picking up" on and what seems to be your obstacles. If you work alone, you can easily deceive yourself because you look at the word correctly spelled and think, "Well, THAT word isn't difficult!" when, in fact, you might not have worked through the mental process of putting the letters of the word together in your mind. As to who your partner will be, that is your choice. Some have found that a teenager, actually, is one of the best helps. They often can be attentive to the precise task before them if given a task, and they will learn a thing or two, too. And, if they are your teenager, they probably owe you, big time.
2. Establish a routine that you do at least five, and preferably six, days per week. My suggestion is to take 20-30 words a day, work through them, make additional lists of words that gave you trouble and then add them to the list of 20 or 30 of the next day until you "get them." You need not follow the alphabetical order. Sometimes people like to start with the obscure letters, perhaps to give the impression that you are mastering the alphabet far quicker than you actually are! You may find it helpful to set aside only a specific amount of time per day, such as 20 or 30 minutes. Discipline, therefore, is key to learning how to spell well.
3. Make sure the words are pronounced out loud and are pronounced correctly. Visual as well as aural learning helps emblazon them on your brain. If there are two or three pronunciations (which is frequently the case), take time to hear all of them. "Secretive," for example, can be pronounced with the accent on the antepenult (look it up!) or the penult.
4. Look up some of the words that you don't know. The great difference between a kid's Bee and an adult Bee is that adults are wise enough to know that the words given them to spell actually have meaning in various contexts and can be very useful to accomplish certain tasks. You are the adults here, which means that for you the words are avenues into deeper understanding of life. Take a moment when you don't know a word, then, to look it up and try to make use of it. You may want to set up a sort of "rule" for yourself in this (one word a day), but you may just want to "go with the flow." For example, as the committee I was working with in preparing the list was talking about some of the words, one person said, "Hm..what is 'deicide?'" It provided an opportunity not simply to understand that concept but to open up an entire world of "cide-type" words. Even though the "cide" endings suggest activities which I don't recommend, knowledge of these words enriches.
5. On occasion just take the dictionary from the shelf (or the CD-ROM) and browse it. Each Bee ought to tell you which dictionary will be used as the basis of your competition. If you are organizing a Bee, I would suggest that you not use the unabridged. Too many obscure words. Pick a dictionary like Merriam-Webster's Collegiate. You may find on one occasion that you just want to work through some words beginning with the prefix "im." You can have lots of pleasure doing that, and you will find some brilliantly helpful words to you as well as learn some words you might not know.
6. Be more aware of the words you are reading each day. Every day you run across words in your reading (or in others' speech) that are difficult to spell. Have your "word-antennae" up for this. When someone uses a word you don't know, ask them to stop, write the word down, look it up and commit it to memory. When you run across such a word in your reading, either of the newspaper, a book you have, etc., add it to a list. You will be surprised how many words you come up with in this way. Just as pregnant women (I have been told!) suddenly notice how all the world seems pregnant when they are with child, so the speller notices words wherever he/she encounters them. Make that part of your daily mindset and you will never look at words, books, newspapers, etc. the same again.
7. Ask a friend for a word! You might be surprised how much benefit this produces. When I began spelling in earnest several years ago, I let friends know I was doing so, and each one of them brought me words in the next few weeks. People find words and are fascinated by them, but in general don't have the time or interest to develop their knowledge of words. But they always remember one or two that are particularly interesting to them. Invite people to give you a word for Christmas! Your cheap friends will think you are a prince(ss) for suggesting this novel idea; they won't have to shop so much, and THEY might end up learning something they didn't know.
8. Make if fun, but make it work. As Mary Poppins told us, in every job that must be done there is an element of fun. You find the fun, and snap, the job's a game. Well, there is some truth in that. Find the "fun" in the task, but realize also that it is a task, and it will not simply be fun. But that is why few adults do it and fewer do it successfully. If dunking a basketball were really easy, we would yawn at dramatic slam dunks.
Good luck to you all your Bee and, even more, good luck to you in the long task of spelling mastery. I hope to see some of you at the 2007 Adult Senior Spelling Bee in Cheyenne, WY in June.
Copyright © 2004-2007 William R. Long