“Babka. B-A-B-K-A. Babka.” And with that, the correct spelling of a Polish sweet bread made with dried fruit, Fugman Elementary fifth grader Ananya Vinay earned her spot at the Scripps National Spelling Bee.
Ananya, the 2015 California State Elementary Spelling Bee champion, confidently spelled her way through the March 15 Fresno County Spell Off held at Fresno State, defeating more than 40 students in the elementary competition that morning and then out-spelling the top two junior high winners in the Scripps competition later that day.
Ananya’s mother, Anupama Poliyedath, laughed about the winning word, recalling her daughter’s final word at last year’s state championship.
“Her winning word was ‘stroganoff,’” she said. “So she always wins with food words.”
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The 11-year-old’s technique was different from her competitors — and it worked.
Before spelling each word, Ananya grabbed the microphone and asked the moderator several questions: Definition, please? Can you use it in a sentence? Language of origin? Part of speech? Are there any alternate pronunciations?
Sometimes she wrote the word down on a piece of paper, studied it, crumpled up the paper and then responded.
“I knew the word right away,” Ananya said after winning the elementary competition by correctly spelling “piazza,” an open public area in a town or city. But she still ran through her questions for the moderator. “Just to make sure,” she said.
She knew “babka” right away too, Ananya said. The only word she struggled with was “bolero,” a Spanish dance, which she spelled in the third round of the elementary competition.
The straight-A student spends about an hour each day studying spelling words — on top of her usual homework — to prepare for the Spelling Bee.
Her favorite subject in school has nothing to do with letters.
“I like math,” she said.
But she also has a passion for reading.
“I’ve read all seven Harry Potter books,” Ananya said. She even finished “Lord of the Flies” during the lunch break between competitions. Ananya and her family celebrated the win by attending an open house at Fugman Elementary and, of course, the school’s book fair.
Ananya will represent Fresno County and try to defend her title at the state championship next month in Stockton. Then she’ll head to National Harbor, Maryland, to compete in the national competition for the first time.
“It’s like a different ballgame,” Poliyedath said.
Ananya said she is excited to meet the nation’s top spellers and be on national television. Willem Kuenen, an eighth-grader at Clay Elementary School in Kingsburg, is the alternate if Ananya is unable to attend the national championship.
Ananya was presented with a dictionary, a year’s subscription to Encyclopaedia Britannica, and a paid trip to Washington D.C. for herself and one family member. Luckily, Ananya won’t have to choose who she’ll take across the country, her mother said.
“We’re all going to go,” said Poliyedath. “We’re going to turn it into a family vacation.”
Are you smarter than a fifth-grader?
Quiz your friends and family by reading just a dozen of the words that Ananya Vinay spelled correctly to win the Fresno County Spell Off. Can they spell them?
Cachet \ka-ˈshā\ (noun) a seal used especially as a mark of official approval
Julep \ˈjü-ləp\ (noun) a drink of bourbon, sugar, and mint served with crushed ice
Arachnid \ə-ˈrak-nəd, -ˌnid\ (noun) a kind of animal that has eight legs and a body formed of two parts
Megalopolis \ˌme-gə-ˈlä-pə-ləs\ (noun) a very large city
Succotash \ˈsə-kə-ˌtash\ (noun) a dish consisting of corn and lima beans that are cooked together
Subterfuge \ˈsəb-tər-ˌfyüj\ (noun) deception by artifice or strategem in order to conceal, escape, or evade
Segue \ˈse-(ˌ)gwā, ˈsā-\ (verb) proceed to what follows without pause —used as a direction in music
Hypocrisy \hi-ˈpä-krə-sē also hī-\ (noun) the behavior of people who do things that they tell other people not to do
Asana \ˈä-sə-nə\ (noun) any of various yogic postures
Antipasto \ˌan-tē-ˈpas-(ˌ)tō, ˌän-tē-, -ˈpäs-\ (noun) any of various typically Italian hors d’oeuvres;
Pogrom \ˈpō-grəm, ˈpä-; pō-ˈgräm, pə-\ (noun) the organized killing of many helpless people usually because of their race or religion
Chassis \ˈcha-sē, ˈsha-sē\ (noun) a frame upon which the main parts of an automobile are built
Definitions from www.merriam-webster.com/dictionary.