Here’s how Western Springs seventh-grader Alia Abiad tackles a word in a spelling bee.
“I see if I know it first,” she explained. “If I know it, I try to picture it and see if it looks right. And if I don’t know it, I see if I can get it to match the sounds of the language of origin… Slavic is very phonetic, so if it’s Slavic you don’t want a lot of extra letters, but if it’s French you want a lot of extra letters.”
Doubtless, that was a trick that helped her win the McClure Junior High School spelling bee when her second-to-last word was the very French “pompadour.” She sealed it with “cauterize”—her parents Homer and Lorraine are both doctors.
For the word that ended up winning her the regional bee at McClure two Thursdays ago, “prevaricate,” though, she admits: she had to wing it.
But when she nailed it, she secured a third trip to her own school’s stage this Thursday, when McClure hosts the Cook County finals at 7 p.m. The prize: a spot at the Scripps National Spelling Bee in Washington D.C.
No pressure, Abiad said. “The spelling bees are fun—I enjoy it when I’m up there, seeing what words I’ll get.”
She practices off of a word list, and from random words that her parents come up with, and said that her classmates and peers have also been tremendously supportive.
Born in the Philippines, Abiad and family moved to Western Springs when she was one year old. She has played tennis since she was four and violin for the past three and a half years, and currently is a member of both Countryside’s Score Tennis & Fitness and the Chicago Youth Symphony Orchestra.
She credits her spelling prowess to tons of reading, especially from the Thomas Ford Memorial Library. Her current book: author Jared Diamond’s Pulitzer-winning Guns, Germs and Steel, about the reasons for Eurasian world conquest.
“I used to like fiction a lot more, but recently I’ve started liking history, science, economics,” Abiad said. “The book I was reading before my last spelling bee, which I got a lot of spelling words for, was Team of Rivals—the book the movie Lincoln was based on.”
The movie was good too, she said—but it doesn’t help with spelling so much.
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