Thirteen-year-old Sumaita Mulk of Goodyear is a champion speller. But she doesn’t use spelling bee words in conversation because, she says, “They’re weird — nobody would know what I’m talking about.” To win the Arizona Educational Foundation State Spelling Bee on March 24 Mulk, spelled “oubliette,” which means “a concealed dungeon having a trap door in the ceiling as its only opening,” according to Webster’s New World College Dictionary.
The trick of competing in spelling bees is learning and memorizing words you’ve never heard of, or never use because they’re difficult. There are thousands of unusual, infrequently used words from which to choose.
Mulk studied an hour or two every weekday and four to five hours a day on weekends to prepare for the bee. She used a website, LearnThatWord, which quizzed her on words and pronounced the words for her.
Her father arranged for Scott Remer, a former national spelling bee winner, to coach her via Skype. Remer wrote a book titled Words of Wisdom: Keys to Success in the Scripps National Spelling Bee (CreateSpace 2010), which Mulk used to prepare for the bee. Remer taught Mulk that understanding the meaning of words using the roots and stems made it easier to remember the spelling.
Mulk just finished seventh grade at the Herberger Young Scholars Academy in Glendale, where she was a a straight A student. She started her competitive spelling career in fifth grade and thinks it’s fun learning “interesting, really weird words you know how spell and can confuse other people with.”
Winning the Arizona Bee earned her a trip to Washington, D.C. for the 2012 Scripps National Spelling Bee. Visiting D.C. was fun but the lights at he bee were “blinding” and she was nervous being in front of all those people. Plus, Mulk adds, “it was super boring sitting there for two hours.”
Here’s a photo of Sumaita in action during the competition.
She was eliminated from the bee on the word “quatour,” a French word meaning quartet. But she says she didn’t feel badly because she knows she did her best. The winner of the bee won with “guetapens,” a word Mulk says she knew.
Guetapens is a French-derived word meaning “ambush, snare or trap,” according to Merriam-Webster.com.
Over the summer Mulk will keep studying more words in preparation for next year. She’ll also read a lot, which she says is a good way to learn a lot of words.