Young spellers slug it out

From 103, only 29 are left standing to enter the final.

In the nationwide fight to be the best young speller, it was clear no child was going to give an inch.

At the zonal round of the RHB-The Straits Times National Spelling Championship on April 14, Singapore's top 9 per cent of pupil spellers, numbering 103, slugged it out, trying to stay in the game for as long as possible.

With only the top 2 per cent allowed to advance to the final round, progressing as far as possible became of paramount importance.

All four zonal champions are guaranteed places in the final. The remaining spellers were ranked nationally and a total of 29 pupils have made the final cut.

At the west zone, which had the largest number of competitors - 35, the last two fought it out in the last round over some 20 words, including "paella", "wunderkind" and "trousseau".

The stalemate was broken when Nandana Jayachandran, 11, a Bukit View Primary School pupil, spelt "didgeridoo" correctly and clinched the title.

At the east zone, the mood was tense in the fight for third place as participants tried to spell the word "callus" - a piece of hard skin on one's hand or foot.

One pupil was eliminated for spelling it as "callous", but he challenged the ruling, and showed that the second spelling could also be found in his electronic dictionary. The judges allowed the word, which gave him another shot at the placing. He eventually finished fourth.

"I thought he was extremely brave and intelligent, and he fought to the very last," said editor of Little Red Dot,

Ms Serene Goh, who was one of the judges there.

"He may not have won but he was the most memorable competitor."

The Ministry of Education has released the names of the 29 finalists, the biggest number in the competition's six-year history. They will duke it out for the $5,000 grand prize and the honour of being Singapore's top speller at the Raffles City Convention Centre this Saturday.

Minister of State for Community, Youth and Sports Madam Halimah Yacob will be the guest of honour.