The Spelling Bee

By Sumayyah Meehan, TMO

pThe very first spelling bee was held in Birmingham, Alabama on July 17th 1876. The term “spelling bee” is best defined as a contest or competition to test literacy. After gaining momentum in the USA, the popularity of spelling bees spread all the way to Europe. Today spelling bees continue to be popular pastimes for school-aged students around the world. Most notably, a spelling bee is typically held in the English language almost exclusively.

Middle Eastern countries have been a bit lax in picking up on the spelling bee fervor, which has ignited a passion for literacy in the hearts of countless children and adults for centuries. However, it seems that once again the tiny municipality of Dubai in the United Arab Emirates is blazing its own trail for the promotion of literacy in the region. Home to the tallest building in the world, Burj Al Khalifa, Dubai is now also host to the UAE’s very first spelling bee.

The semi-finals for Dubai’s “Spelling Bee Championship” recently concluded and fifty-five students from schools all over the Emirate spelled their way to earn a spot in the finals. Students fumbled over words like “xenogeny”, “beneficiary” and “judicious” while others spit out difficult words in the blink of an eye. Backstage, frazzled students quizzed each other on the most difficult words. Some of the more relaxed students played handheld video games until they were called on stage to take their turn spelling.

Perhaps the most remarkable aspect of the UAE’s first spelling bee were the nationalities of the students themselves. Dubai is host to a wide array of nationalities as well as their own citizens. The spelling bee featured local students and students originally from countries like Japan, the Philippines, England, the USA and India. In addition to the varying cultures of the students, a wide variety of religions were represented amongst the students including Islam, Christianity and Hinduism.

The final round of the spelling bee will take place this Saturday. The winner will take home 25,000 AED ($US 1,900). Cash prizes will also be awarded for both second and third place.


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