Bilingual Students in Spelling Bees

Did you know that every year, many bilingual and ELL students come to Washington, DC for the National Scripps Spelling Bee?

In 2009, we had the privilege of interviewing two bilingual participants, Julianna and J. Rexon, with their parents. As an added bonus, you can learn more about Julianna's recent 2010 performance as Top 20 semifinalist below! Take a look at some highlights — more to come soon!

This video playlist is also available on YouTube.

Student Biographies


Julianna is from Mayaguez, Puerto Rico. Julianna is fascinated by new languages. Her first language is Spanish and she has been taking French for two years. In her spare time, Julianna likes to write scripts, and refers to her creative writing as "Juliannesque style" — as if it were an eponym. She participated in the 2008 and 2009 Scripps National Spelling Bees.

Words that Julianna had to spellin the 2010 Bee included "hollandaise," "alim," "revirescent," and "bacalao."

Juliana is featured in Spelling Bee Participants Work to Dispel the Stereotypes from The Washington Post.

J. Rexon

J. Rexon represented Boston in the 2009 Spelling Bee just three years after arriving in the U.S. from from the Philippines. According to J. Rexon, his favorite word is "antidisestablishmentarianism." J. Rexon is featured in Best Speller Earns Trip to D.C. from The Boston Globe. As an added bonus, don't miss the moving story of J. Rexon's tough decision in the 2008 Spelling Bee!


Julianna's Favorite Word

Julianna explains which languages her favorite words come from, and gives a great example!

Do you have a favorite word?

Julianna: Well, I do have a preference for German and Greek words. I just love those--how their spelling patterns are. I think my favorite word would be schenfreuda (ph.). It is from the German. It's definition is in German from the mishap of others. But I don't really apply--I don't like it because of the definition. I just like how you--how you write it and how it looks and all. I just like it.

Kids' Goals

Julissa describes how she encourages her kids to achieve their goals.

Julissa: What I tell my kids is to go for it. When they have a goal just try and do the best you can to the best of their abilities to try and capture that goal because you have to — you have to know what you look. You have to know that the future is in the hands of the kids, and I explain that to them.

Spelling Bee Words

J. Rexon explains the process he goes through when he is given a word at a spelling bee.

When you hear a word, when you're given a word at the spelling bee, what happens in your head?

J. Rexon: Well if it's, if I know the word, the letters just come into place, but then I double check the word in my head before I say it so that I don't make any mistakes. And then if it's, I don't know, I try to sound it out in my head. I think about it and then I'll ask the questions that I can ask and then guess at the spelling of the word.

A Big Brother's Decision

Johanna tells a moving story of J. Rexon's decision to do what was best for his mom and baby sister.

Johanna: Oh yes. Well Miss Ann Segal…I would say she's now in charge of the Boston Family Youth Center. She was before the director of the after school in my son's school in Hamilton. She came up to me and said, Mrs. Apurado, J. Rexon, you know, we're eyeing him for the spelling bee.

This is the first year that Boston has joined the spelling bee in about (unint.) or so. And I just told her, well you know, if he can do it, then we'll just be there to support him. But it didn't cross my mind, I didn't, I wasn't serious about it. I just answered her question, that's it.

And then I got pregnant and it was a very difficult pregnancy that I had to rest for the first trimester and it was a very close monitoring pregnancy. So I guess J. Rexon felt the tension about you know taking care of the baby, keeping her alive because he's been asking for mom, when can I have a baby sister, a baby sister, a baby sister all throughout his years, you know, ever since he was small.

So what happened was, when the spelling bee we didn't even know about it. But he told me one day that mom, I don't want to drag you and the baby when we go to places, that's what he only told me. I didn't even know what the message was and I didn't even ask. Maybe you know, it was better not to ask him, you know, but I just leave it at that.

And then when we went to the school for a family meeting, you know when they showcase you know what my kid does and whatever. Three teachers came up to me and said, Mrs. Apurado, let me ask you questions. We don't know what happened to J. Rexon but during the spelling bee in school, we knew he knew the word. We know he knew it.

But for some reason he just decided to drop it, you know, like misspelled or something. So it was somebody who won and it was... a daughter of a friend and I didn't realize that you know, until that what he said to me. So I told the teacher, oh maybe this is what he said, he doesn't do, he doesn't want to drag me and the baby to places because I think the spelling bee would bring us to places right?

And you know three teachers, confirmed that yeah, I think that's it. So I guess, you know, my son is good, he just (unint.) his chance of you know being in the spelling bee because of me and the baby. But you know the baby was born pre-term but she's healthy, you know, I would say. And my son just adore him, adore her, so, so much.

So I would say he sacrificed his time last year to be able to you know take care of me and the baby and now he deserves it because you know, he's such a good kid that's why God gave him another blessing of winning the spelling bee in Boston so we can be here.

For other great stories about bilingual/ELL spellers, take a look at these stories!


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