Eashaa Pillai was initially upset when she drew the lot that made her first to step up to the microphone at yesterday's RHB-The Straits Times National Spelling Championship.
But as fate would have it, the nine-year-old was not just first to spell, she was also the only one who spelt every word correctly to the end - and to win it all. Appearing cool, calm and confident, Eashaa cruised to victory in the sixth edition of The Big Spell yesterday. Her winning word: "braggadocio".
The Primary 5 pupil from Raffles Girls' Primary School won $5,000 for herself and the challenge trophy for her school - the second consecutive year a pupil from the school took the top spot.
Despite the confidence she projected, which drew praise from fellow competitors and the audience, Eashaa told The Sunday Times: "During the competition itself, I felt stressed because there were a lot of foreign words I wasn't too sure of."
But she was sure of the spelling of her championship word, which originates from Edmund Spenser's poem The Faerie Queene. Eashaa beat 17 other finalists, including two competitors who faced off in a knockout round for the second and third spots.
Tough words tested
Here are six of the words the competitors battled through yesterday:
•Biltong: A type of dried lean meat
•Chintz: A shiny cotton fabric with printed flowery patterns
•Jonquil: A narcissus with small, sweet-scented, yellow flowers and cylindrical leaves
•Fiacre: A small four-wheel carriage for public hire
•Sycophantic: Behaving in an overly fawning or attentive way in order to gain advantage
•Braggadocio (the winning word): Boastful behaviour
First-time participant Raghav Kumar, nine, a Primary 4 pupil from Anglo-Chinese School (Primary), came in second, while Lee I-Shiang, 12, a Primary 6 pupil from Rosyth School, came in third. They won $3,000 and $1,000 respectively.
Besides preparing for the competition by looking through word lists, the top three winners were all avid readers who learnt new words from books they read, such as the Harry Potter or Percy Jackson series.
Raghav even taught himself the International Phonetic Alphabet - a system of phonetic notation to indicate how words are pronounced - so that he knew how words sounded, crucial in the oral format of the competition.
Ms Low Yen Ling, Parliamentary Secretary for the Ministry of Education, who was guest of honour, said: "Learning to spell well and learning to spell right is crucial to mastering the English language."
Ms Low, who is also Parliamentary Secretary for the Ministry of Trade and Industry, said the competition also helps pupils develop good attributes. "As you grow in tenacity, courage, resilience and sportsmanship, you are already on your way to becoming a champion of good character."
The Straits Times managing editor Fiona Chan pointed out the importance of spelling with an example from the newsroom. "When writing a news article or creating some other content, you can have all your facts right and all your quotes checked, but one misspelt word could cause widespread confusion or even controversy."
Meanwhile, chief executive and country head of RHB Singapore Mike Chan said: "When a child has the desire to better understand spelling, he or she also improves reading and writing fluency, which directly strengthens vocabulary and comprehension. Empowering our children with the skills and knowledge outside of the classroom creates a path to success."
The spelling event was co-organised by RHB Banking Group and The Straits Times for the sixth year, in partnership with the Ministry of Education. It is supported by the National Library Board and ITE College Central as technology partner.
Visit http://www.straitstimes. com/big-spell-2017 for more information on the championship.
•Additional reporting by Mavis Wong and Hannah Lim
Watch interviews with the top three competitors. http://str.sg/4B7f