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Is a Vocab Battle the New Spelling Bee?

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Is a Vocab Battle the New Spelling Bee?


Is a Vocab Battle the New Spelling Bee?

Is a Vocab Battle the New Spelling Bee?

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  • <iframe src="" width="100%" height="290" frameborder="0" scrolling="no" title="NPR embedded audio player">
  • Transcript

Aliya Deri, winner of the National Vocabulary Championship Courtesy of GSN hide caption

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Courtesy of GSN

High school junior Aliya Deri, from Pleasanton, Calif., has been crowned the National Vocabulary Champion in the second year of a contest that's already attracting more than 100,000 kids for a spot at the title and $40,000 in scholarship money.


A young word whiz has been crowned the national vocabulary champion. It's only the second year for the contest, but organizers say that more than 100,000 kids competed for a shot at the title and scholarship money.


This contest doesn't have the cachet of the Scripps-Howard Spelling Bee yet. Sponsored by the Game Show Network in association with the Princeton Review, it has more of a game show feel, with computerized podiums and a lightning round. But the questions are still pretty tough. Ali? Want to try one?

STEWART: I agreed to do this.

MARTIN: I know.

STEWART: But I would like to say I've had four and a half hours of sleep.

MARTIN: I didn't, by the way. I'm not trying this, but I was like, Alison can. Here's the question that the winner had to answer to get the crown. Listen to the following sentence. Everyone pay attention. I know it's early. OK, here we go. "Joseph was not perturbed by his pal's peccadillo, but his parents apprehended it to be unambiguous portent of future dereliction." OK Alison, which word in that sentence comes from the Latin word for sin? You know this.

STEWART: A Latin word for sin. Can I read it? Did she get to read it?

MARTIN: I can read it again. "Joseph was not perturbed..."

STEWART: Peccadillo.

MARTIN: Yes. You got it! Yay, everyone in the studio, thumbs-up for Alison. She's a smart lady. Peccadillo is indeed the right answer. Our guest got it right as well. She's high school junior Aliya Deri from Pleasanton, California, and she's now 40,000 dollars richer, thanks to her way with words. Hey, congratulations, Aliya.

Ms. ALIYA DERI (Winner, National Vocabulary Championship): Thank you.

MARTIN: Thanks for being with us. Aliya, I'm mispronouncing your name, I think.

Ms. DERI: Yes, Aliya is right.

MARTIN: How did you prepare for something like this? How did you prepare for the vocab contest?

Ms. DERI: Well, I had my SAT last week, and that was definitely something I was preparing for the vocabulary for quite awhile before I actually knew about the NVC. And so I definitely prepared for that. And then I had about a week to start cramming in some extra, more obscure vocabulary words. And a lot of it was actually done the morning of and the night before the competition.

MARTIN: You crammed for this, Aliya?

Ms. DERI: Well, not for the SAT. The SAT - the words that you would find on the SAT I did way in advance. I've been doing that for about a year.


Ms. DERI: But they gave me some study materials when I first arrived, like a calendar of lots of different words. So I started going through the calendar. It's one of those rip out the page everyday calendars. So I started going through it, 365 words just for fun. I didn't think I'd really remember any.

MARTIN: Now you...

Ms. DERI: I actually found five or six words that were on the rounds I had and I wouldn't have got through without that cramming.

MARTIN: That's lucky. So you tied for second place in the Scripps-Howard Spelling Bee in 2005.

Ms. DERI: I did.

MARTIN: Which competition was more nerve-wracking, do you think?

Ms. DERI: I think that the Scripps-Howard was a little more. Because with spelling, you do need to do a lot more preparation. You don't really have that much background knowledge.

MARTIN: Really? Because I think it would be the reverse. I would think that vocab, because you have to know the context, would be tougher.

Ms. DERI: But you have context clues.


Ms. DERI: And also in the vocabulary contest, they have it rigged in a way that I actually really like. Even if you make one mistake, it will - well, it depends on which round you're in, if you made one mistake, it often doesn't just cause you to be eliminated.


Ms. DERI: So that is a very nice feeling of security that even if I do make one mistake, maybe I'll still have a chance to go on. In the Scripps-Howard, you make one mistake, you're out of there.

MARTIN: There's a great picture of you online while you're involved in one of these bees, and you have your hand up to your chin and your eyes are rolled up. Does it come to you right away or do you have to decode and unpack the words?

Ms. DERI: In a bee or in a vocabulary contest?


Ms. DERI: It depends on the word, I think. The last word for, in this contest, the peccadillo one, was very easy. I knew that one straight away. And some of the other ones I just wasn't really sure about, but it is very strictly timed. All of the rounds are timed, so you don't have that much time. You just go with your gut instinct - throw yourself at it. Maybe you get it right.

MARTIN: Now, young lady, I have to say, you have to mention you speak, read and write French. You play three different instruments. You're taking AP French Literature. You're a busy young woman. You write a blog for your local paper.

Ms. DERI: Yes.

MARTIN: What keeps drawing you back to these competitions in all of your free time? What's appealing to you in doing these spelling bees and vocab challenges?

Ms. DERI: Well, it actually starts pretty easily. You take an online test for about half an hour. And then I didn't really think I'd go on. It's not so much me feeling, I'm going to go to the National Vocabulary Championship. I take it very much one step at a time. I think, I'll go to the regional of this, the regional spelling bee, the regional of this. OK, I got onto the next level.

And these are just the ones I succeed in. I do a lot of these. I find these very fun. You meet so many really smart kids. I think you forget that there are so many smart kids out there. I have so many smart friends at school, but you come out to here and 49 other people who are just as crazy about words, it's a good thing.

MARTIN: Do you have a favorite word?

Ms. DERI: People keep asking me that. It keeps on changing from day-to-day. Again, I crammed a lot before this too. I found a lot of ones that I like. But my current one is Humuhumunukunukuapua'a.

MARTIN: Oh, I like that word, too.

STEWART: Of course.

Ms. DERI: It's a great word. It's a small Hawaiian triggerfish.

STEWART: It's the cutest thing. I have a little picture of one my dad bought me when I was a little kid.

MARTIN: That's so cool. Hey Aliya Deri from Pleasanton, California, winner of the National Vocab Challenge, 40,000 dollars richer, thanks to her victory. Thanks so much and congratulations.

Ms. DERI: Thank you and thank you for having me.

MARTIN: Take care.

Ms. DERI: Bye.

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