Indian-American spelling whiz shares her tips to beating the competition: Steady discipline, not a blitzkrieg

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Ananya Vinay of Fresno, California celebrates after winning the 2017 Scripps National Spelling Bee at National Harbor in Oxon Hill, Maryland, U.S., June 1, 2017. REUTERS/Aaron Bernstein

If you heard “Scherenschnitte,” could you spell it? What about “cheiropompholyx” and “xanthosis”?

Ananya Vinay can. She is last year’s champion of the Scripps National Spelling Bee, which returns next week to Washington, D.C. Since her big win, Ananya has not slowed down. She spent the past year prepping and training kids who are competing at the national bee. What better way to learn than from the champ herself?

Ananya doesn’t focus on memorizing how each word is spelled. Instead, her process is thought-out and incredibly organized. To correctly spell a word, she suggests, find a deeper meaning.

“There is an ocean of words to study from for the bee. There are different languages, roots and tons of stuff in the Merriam-Webster dictionary,” Ananya said. “But you can’t just memorize 470,000 words in the dictionary. That is impossible.”

The eighth-grader partnered with the online learning tool Quizlet to share her tips and tricks for spelling. She created sets of words and divided them by phonetic pronunciation, part of speech, language of origin and definition. Through Quizlet, anyone can practice the words with games, quizzes and digital flashcards.

How would Ananya remember the spelling of “blitzkrieg”? She would first read the definition and then figure out the language of origin, which is German.

“So we know the first word, ‘blitz,’ means fast – it is common usage. And you know in German the ‘i-e’ sound is spelled ‘I-E.’ So in German, ‘krieg’ means war. If you take the word apart, you can understand it more,” she explains. (“Blitzkrieg” means a surprise attack met with speed and force.)

By understanding the roots, stories and patterns of each word, you can think critically, learn new languages and keep the words in your brain for the long-term. Ananya spent one to two hours each day studying definitions and roots to prepare for the spelling bee last year. Over time, she could spell hundreds of words in an hour.

But it wasn’t always easy for Ananya. Words with French and Middle English roots were tricky for her and took practice.

“The spelling bee teaches you discipline,” she says. “If you lose once, you can’t just say that you are done. Get up and try again and see if you can do better.”

The 91st Scripps National Spelling Bee will be held May 29 at the Gaylord National Resort and Convention Center in Oxon Hill, Maryland. You can watch the finals May 31 on ESPN 3 at 8:30 p.m. More than 11 million spellers started their spelling journey in hopes of winning the $40,000 grand prize and appearing on ABC’s “Jimmy Kimmel Live!” There will be 519 spellers at the national bee, and more than 20 of them are from the Washington area.

Ananya is excited to see how future spellers use her online study sets and keep up with this year’s best spellers. She will be opening the ceremony and cheering on the contestants.

“Bee” sure to watch and spell along!