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ESL Spelling Bee Champion, Valedictorian

Have you ever read Lolita? Controversy aside, the language is gorgeous. Many of the passages could be classified as prose-poetry and there’s a Shakespearean allusion and plan on words on almost every page. But the most amazing part? Vladimir Nabokov only began learning English five years before he began the book. And English was his fourth language.

Some people just have a gift for language, I guess. Or do they? Two stories came out in local papers yesterday about kids who came to the US not knowing English and quickly rose to academic heights through sheer determination.

Ngoc Trang Nguyen came to Wichita, Kansas, from Viet Nam just in time to start to high school. Five of her first six classes were ESL classes and didn’t count toward graduation. Now, four years later, she is valedictorian of her graduating class.

All of her teachers say they’ve never seen anyone work so hard. And there was a very specific point at which Nyoc’s work started to pay off. She says, “Being in classes with all American students and being exposed to more English, I was able to pick up the pace faster.” It took her forever to learn the basics, but the rest came easily after that. I think that’s the lesson to learn from Nyoc’s story: trust things will get easier as you suffer through the beginning stages of a project.

Benjamin Gutiérrez didn’t know any English when he came to Hanover, Pennsylvania, from Perú four years ago. The sixth grader recently won a spelling bee with contestants from 34 schools.

He studied for the competition for months with his mother, who is also learning English. But it sounds like a big part of his success was a cramming on English pronunciation in the week leading up to to the contest. The article says, “Though [Ben’s] family devoted a lot of time to helping him study in the three months before the bee, they knew that what Benjamin really needed was to hear the words dictated to him in native English pronunciation. James Jones, a volunteer tutor and friend of the family, began a marathon study session with Benjamin the week of the competition.”

I think this is particularly interesting because, unlike Spanish, in which every word is spelled exactly as it sounds (the very idea of a Spanish spelling bee is preposterous), English pronunciation isn’t necessarily the key to spelling, in fact, it can be misleading. I wonder what Ben’s trick is.

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One Response to “ESL Spelling Bee Champion, Valedictorian”

  1. Minh Thuong Says:

    I am a Vietnamese. I am very proud to read news about Ngoc Trang Nguyen. Can you give me email address of Ngoc Trang Nguyen so that I can email her? Thank u.

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