A spelling bee contest in Canada sounds like a lot of fun, doesn’t it? While we may have watched them in American TV shows, they do in fact happen across Canada, and Canadian kids attend these spelling competitions in the U.S. In case you didn’t know, Canada’s ‘big’ spelling bee competition is run by the 30-year-old, Toronto-based non-profit, Spelling Bee of Canada (and it has regional competitions too).
So what makes spelling bees fun in any country? Kids get to show off their ability to memorize the spelling of words, and achieve status at the end. Parents are proud, and popularity is won! Or is it that appealing? Some may argue that there are cons to spelling bee contests, just as there are pros. In this two-part article, we’ll debate the question of whether children should join a spelling bee contest.
The pros of Canadian kids joining a spelling bee competition
Of course, Canada bears two official languages: English and French (in addition to some unofficial First Nations languages, which we should also credit). We’ll be covering English spelling bees here.
They encourage vocabulary development in a language that demands memorization
English is a tough language. Vocabulary development takes practice, and memorization techniques.
See related: 4 interesting ways to encourage vocabulary development in young minds
As this article in The Atlantic explains, English is not as orderly or sensical as other languages. It’s a mish-mash of words from different languages, and with different spellings that evolved over many years. That article posits the ‘illogical language’ fact as a con to learning. However, one could also argue that events like spelling bees are conducive to making word-learning a fun, challenging activity.
They open doors to better literacy skills and language enjoyment
Education.com published an article praising spelling bee contests for their ability to do more than encourage dull, meaningless remembrance of words. To quote their adequate statement from a Merriam-Webster editor and spelling bee judge:
The way the children learn the words is…through etymology and learning roots, pronunciations, and multiple definitions….Once children learn to break down words, they can decipher meanings of related words…and become better readers and writers overall…with better reading comprehension, comes greater literacy, and greater enjoyment of reading, literature and language.”
Spelling bees help some kids develop confidence and character
When the CBC reported on a 2016 spelling bee contest in B.C., the parent of the winner noted, rather wisely, the reason he got his child involved. To quote the article’s interview,
It is not just about spelling, it is about character building,” said Jas Bhatia. “How to be patient, wait for their turn and if they spell it wrong to cheer for their friends.”
Another participant’s parent said,
Competition of this nature is positive because it lets them explore more avenues of themselves and shows the result of that commitment.”
In the lead up to the 2017 national spelling bee contest in Toronto, the CBC also reported on parents and participant’s attitudes towards the benefits of spelling bees. One child was entered into the game to overcome stage fright, and to be able to learn to interact with peers. It worked! Reflecting on an 1988 competition, a winner testified that the experience helped build her confidence.
Plus, at least where U.S. spelling competitions are concerned, the prizes can be extensive for winners. This can show kids the result of dedication to perfecting a skill, and the rewards that could result.
They are helping to break down race barriers for Indians and South Asians
This point may be one that some can argue around. But it is notable, and noted by multiple journalists, that winners of spelling bees lately are dominantly from India or South Asia (or have that heritage as Canadians and Americans). The aforementioned CBC article stated that 14 of the past 18 winners in America were Indian. This author even compared the Indians’ skill in spelling to that of running talents among Ethiopians and Kenyans. So, could this be a way to let the South Asian community shine?
There is another side to spelling bee competitions!
Our Canadian kids may not all be suited for spelling bee contests, and parents and teachers may disagree with their existence altogether. Stay tuned for our next article in this series, outlining some cons of spelling bee competitions.