I have written before that I am not a fan of the national Spelling Bee contest. One reason is that the format is inherently unfair and needlessly nerve-wracking to the children taking part. The second is that it results in students pending enormous amounts of time memorizing the spelling of esoteric words that they are unlikely to ever even encounter again, let alone use them.
This year’s contest that ended yesterday produced a telling example of the latter problem. During the final rounds, a student was ousted after misspelling the word ‘kabaragoya’. What was particularly poignant was that he initially excitedly thought he had nailed it and must have been devastated to be told he was wrong.
Although most of the words used in the final rounds of these bees are ones that I have never heard of, I would have been able to spell that particular word easily because it refers to the large Asian water monitor that is commonly found in Sri Lanka and that everyone there is familiar with. What bothers me is that the animal is found only in that country and the word is the Sinhala name for the lizard and Sinhala is also spoken only in that country.
It seems pointless and harsh to ask students to be able to spell in English words that are from other languages, especially languages that are not widely used, of obscure items found in remote parts of the world.