RHB NEW STRAITS TIMES NATIONAL SPELL-IT-RIGHT: All aboard the SIR-ship
FIFTH SEASON: The RHB New Straits Times National Spell-It-Right Challenge starts April 21
WITH the spellchecker and auto-correct being ubiquitous features in word processing programs and mobile phones‘ short messaging systems, you might think that spelling is an antiquated skill.
This could not be further from the truth — in a competitive job market, making spelling mistakes in a curriculum vitae is “the quickest way (to) getting a rejection” (www.bbc.co.uk/news/business-15573447).
The reasoning is that if you are not concerned about turning in a flawless application, you are probably going to be as careless with your work.
English teacher Amuthavalli Sandaran explains: “There are things that even a spellchecker does not catch. Spelling is just one component of your language abilities. It goes together with vocabulary, writing skills and even speech.”
And there is no better time to gauge your spelling skills than during the annual RHB New Straits Times National Spell-It-Right (SIR) Challenge, which kicks off its fifth season in Pahang and Perak next weekend.
Over 5,000 students have vied for the title of champion speller since it started in 2008.
From humble beginnings, the competition has gone from strength to strength.
Initially, it was open only to teams of four from government primary and secondary schools.
Last year marked the first time the SIR Challenge welcomed to the competition up to 10 entrants per school on an individual basis.
The fourth season was also the first time participants from private schools using the national curriculum were eligible to enter the contest.
Aside from the main event this year, a radio version of the contest was launched last month to get more people to spell.
The radio contest, which ended its run on Friday, saw Fly FM callers pit their skills against last year‘s winners for RM100.
An online contest, which starts next month, will enable students to challenge their friends and post their scores on Facebook for weekly cash prizes.
The spelling bee promises to be more exciting for the braver ones who have signed up for it. No doubt preparation for their turn in the SIR spotlight is already underway.
After all, it is not going to be easy to take home top honours at the nationals, along with the grand prizes of RM10,000 (primary) and RM15,000 (secondary).
In 2008, Bessima Jamal encountered words such as “idiosyncrasy”, “querulous” and “phenomenology” on her way to becoming the first national secondary winner.
Last year, Kenneth Wu Min Jin tackled gems such as “succotash”, “darmstadtium” and “triskaidekaphobia” to win the national secondary title.
The words that these two spelling whizzes had to spell show how high the stakes have become.
The competition has always been all about raising students’ interest in learning English.
And, up to a point, it has.
Teachers have noted that over the years students have gained a better appreciation for learning the language because of their experience at the state rounds.
During the state legs, which are mostly held in shopping centres, contestants go on stage to spell in front of an audience consisting of the judges, their peers and curious passers-by.
SK Taman Uda, Alor Star, Kedah teacher Pagjono Kaur, who has been grooming SIR hopefuls — two of whom went on to win the state titles — since its first year, has seen positive changes in her pupils.
“Those who take part tell me how it is such an unforgettable experience. Going up on the SIR stage gave them the confidence to try other things,” she says.
Pagjono places importance on the exposure the contest gives her charges, not on winning or losing.
Those involved have fun picking up new words, testing each other on spelling and using newly discovered terms in their schoolwork.
The contest has also made them more aware of the differences between British and American spelling.
In the first two editions, only British spelling was accepted.
A number of capable spellers were eliminated because they spelled “authorize” instead of “authorise” or “color” instead of “colour”, among other words.
The acceptance of both types of spelling from the third season onwards acknowledged students’ familiarity with American spelling through popular American literature.
Amuthavalli, another familiar face on the SIR circuit, loves the fact that it celebrates academic achievement.
“There are several contests and reality shows that focus on good looks or physical prowess but few highlight academic feats.
“Those who make it to the state finals feel special as they are recognised for their mental abilities,” she adds.
The SK St Paul, Seremban, Negri Sembilan teacher’s SIR resumé includes training two Negri Sembilan primary school state victors.
One of them — Wu — became the national primary champion in 2009 and later took the secondary titles in 2010 and last year.
The boy dubbed the “Nicol David of SIR” by NST group editor Datuk Syed Nadzri Syed Harun is well known in the SIR fraternity.
In both Pagjono and Amuthavalli‘s schools, pupils start asking them about the contest at the beginning of the school year — way before any announcements and calls for registration in the media.
It is this enthusiasm and their own passion for words that keep them coming back for more.
This is music to the ears of the organisers.
Wan Abdillah Wan Nawi, New Straits Times Press corporate communications head and SIR organising committee deputy chairman, notes that the event has a strong following among many students.
“These are the ones who maintain ties with each other long after the contest ends, are among the first to sign up when registration opens and encourage their friends to join.
“We hope this continues and that the contest becomes an annual event that schools look forward to.”
RHB The new straits Times National Spell-It-Right Challenge
April 21 and 22 - Kuantan Parade, Kuatan (Pahang)
- Ipoh Parade, Ipoh (Perak)
April 28 and 29 - Seremban Parade, Seremban (Negri Sembilan)
May 5 and 6 - The Spring, Kuching (Sarawak)
- Mahkota Parade (Malacca)
May 12 and 13 - 1Borneo, Likas (Sabah)
- Tropicana City Mall, Petaling Jaya (Selangor)
May 19 and 20 - Penang Times Square, Georgetown (Penang)
May 15 and 16 - Village Mall, Sungai Petani (Kedah)
- Mesra Mall, Kerteh (Terengganu)
June 23 and 24 - e@Curve, Mutiara Damansara (Kuala Lumpur and Putrajaya)
- JB City Square, Johor Baru (Johor)
June 29 and 30 - KB Mall, Kota Baru (Kelantan)
June 30 and July 1 - Dewan UiTM, Arau (Perlis)
July 14 - National Challenge (To be confirmed)