U.S. Embassy in Kazakhstan to hold fourth annual spelling bee

NUR-SULTAN – The United States Embassy in Nur-Sultan will hold its fourth annual spelling bee across the country during February and March.

Photo credit: spellingbee.kz.

The embassy, in partnership with American Corners (library-based English-speaking clubs) will hold local competitions throughout February in 11 cities – Aktobe, Almaty, Atyrau, Karaganda, Kostanai, the capital, Oral, Oskemen, Pavlodar, Petropavl and Shymkent. Shymkent will hold the first competition Feb. 1.

“We are expecting more than 30 participants (in Nur-Sultan). The registration opened recently and is still going. So far, we have 15 participants and 15 more are predicted. Other regions have different numbers of participants; Almaty has more, but we rely on our local participants,” capital American Corner coordinator Saltanat Kuanyshpayeva told The Astana Times.

The judges for the capital bee will be a 4:2 ratio of native speakers and local English teachers. Each American Corner will find judges on its own, although the embassy can help, she added.

The first-place winner in every local competition will receive 30,000 tenge (US$80); second and third, 20,000 (US$53) each. The top three from each local bee will get an all-expense paid trip to the capital for the March 14 national competition.

The top four national winners will go to Bishkek, Kyrgyzstan in April to participate in the Central Asian Spelling Bee. Other Central Asian countries have been holding bees since December.

“Local, national and regional bees are excellent opportunities to support education and to promote American English and American culture, to showcase the partnership between the United States and Central Asia and to build a strong regional network of spaces (American Corners),” according to the competition’s official guidelines.

The event is open to full-time undergraduate students age 18-25 attending a Kazakh university. Students must register by Feb. 5 at spellingbee.com.

“We promote our event on all universities’ social media, because we want to engage bachelor students. KAZGUU, Nazarbayev University, Eurasian University and others receive our emails,” said Kuanyshpayeva.

“The criteria for the participants’ age is set by the organiser, the U.S. Embassy. Kazakhstan may not have a tendency among students to still be studying by 25, but the criteria is global; in the rest of the world, it is not unexpected,” she added.

Central Asia holds its own spelling bee due to local language capabilities, such as the ability to perceive words in a certain accent. Central Asians have a unique blend of Russian and Turkic languages that differentiates them from countries like Russia.

The national and regional spelling bees stemmed from the idea of uniting all American Corners.

“People liked it when we held it the first year. We tried to attract celebrity speakers. We had an advertisement with (actor) Daniyar Alshinov. (Actor) Anuar Nurpeisov was the host of the first competition,” said capital corner makerspace coordinator Aigerim Tleukhan.

Spelling bees started in the United States in the 1800s, as schools tried to induce students to learn the standardised spellings from the newly-published Webster’s Dictionary. The first national competition was held in 1908 in Cleveland and the event has been an annual one since 1925.

Spelling bees require contestants to recite words he or she hears and correctly spell them as listed in the dictionary. The person may ask the host to repeat the word; provide the definition, part of speech and language of origin and use it in a sentence. The difficulty of the words varies, as English has adopted many words from other languages.

“Gaining more and more interest every year in Kazakhstan and in the number of people wishing to participate, the spelling bee contest is a large part of American culture. For over 90 years, schoolchildren across America have been participating in the competition,” according to spellingbee.kz.

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