Spelling bees in other languages

Are spelling bees pretty much unique to English? In Spanish or German, where a word is basically pronounced how it’s spelled, it seems like they would be pointless. In many Asian languages I suppose it would be impossible. What other languages have spelling bees?

La abeja de la ortografía.

I think.

I talked to one of the guys who did “Spellbound”. He said that spelling bees are pretty much unknown in places without Germanic languages. Romance languages don’t lend themselves well to them he said.

It takes a retarded language like English to warrant a spelling bee. Oh how I loath it. Too bad we’re stuck with it becoming the dominant language in the world. However, I must admit its reckles pliability (note the existance of ebonics) is sometimes useful.

Try spelling a word in Vietnamese in the “official” manner. I’ve no idea if it’s done in competitions, but it is the way you’re supposed to (according to my Vietnamese teachers) spell the word when so commanded by the teacher. I think it can be described best as recursively spelling from the inside out.

Example, with commas separating the announcements:

Word: Tie^'ng (pretend those two non-alphabetic characters are both on top of the e, that the ^ is actually part of the letter, and the ’ is the tone mark)
Meaning: Language

Step one: e^
Step two: i, e^, and say: ie^
Step three: e^i, ng, and say: e^ng
Step four: ta (name of the letter t), ie^ng, and say: tie^ng
Step four: Sa('c (name of the tone), and say: tie^'ng

That’s it for a simple word. I’m starting to believe this is the reason there’s gun control in that land.

Seriously, though; I’ll ask my teachers if there are spelling competitions either in Vietnam or in the Vietnamese schools outside that country.




Spanish would be a lousy language for spelling bees. Every sound is always spelt the same way. What you see is what you get. French, of all Romance languages, will lend itself to it better than Spanish, Italian or Portuguese.

I’ve never heard of a spelling bee in Spanish.


Struck by the furious justice of Gaudere’s law!

I remember that we used to do spelling bees in schools (in French) but I don’t think we had a special name for them - concours d’orthographe?

In Japanese, there is obviously no such thing as the phonetic system is too straightforward. (There are a few, very few, irregularities, though.) However, there is the Kanji (Chinese character) proficiency exam, which is a little bit like that. Even though it’s a serious exam, many people study for it as a hobby. It is obviously a written exam and involves knowing how characters are pronounced, the correct stroke order, common and uncommon compounds, identifying radicals, etc.

Oh darn. I now remembered that the Qu, K and C can represent the same sound in some cases. Same as LL and Y. The G sounds different if followed by a U. Still, never heard of a spelling bee in Spanish.

In Japan they have Kanji competitions. Kanji are the characters that represent words or ideas instead of Katakana and Hiragana which are phoenetic.

Doesn’t France televise a “Dicte” where contestants play along at home trying to spell the words?

Yes, the most famous is La dictée Pivot. Dictées, however, are written tests. The reason it’s broadcast is that many people like to “play” at home.

Here’s the text of the 2002 edition. It’s devilishly hard, as there are several puns, uncommon vocabulary, strange verb tenses, and you have to fill in the punctuation too. Usually, no one gets it all right.

I’ve never heard of a Norwegian spelling bee. My son’s school does dictation exercises which are essentially spelling tests, though instead of giving the kids a list of words to memorize on Monday and then having them regurgitate them on Friday the words are drawn from whatever the class has been working on. In general they focus on recently borrowed words, as Norwegian spelling is quite logical when applied to “native” words.

The Indo-European languages, other than English, that I’ve been exposed to (French, Russian, Spanish) have no need for spelling bees. With most of the words, if you can pronounce it, you can spell it.

I’m sure there are some irregularities, but mainly that’s my experience.

What such languages need is a word gender bee to see who knows that.

As a native French speaker, I will have to politely, yet strongly, disagree with this statement. As a matter of fact, most words aren’t spelled the way they sound. I think it’s rather that the preferred form of spelling contest is the written dictée rather than the spoken spelling bee. Also note that the dictée, as a competition, is often targeted at adults whereas I think only kids participate in spelling bees.

Ireland and England, despite speaking english, do not engage in this practice, as far as I know. There may be some spelling competitions, but it is not a widespread thing. I don’t ever remember one at school. The term “Spelling Bee” is not known here, other than from american TV.

I’ve read somewhere that spelling bees are a uniquly American passtime/obsession. There certainlt aren’t any in Israel - Hebrew is far more phoenetically written than English.

The Dutch also have something called “Het Groot Dictee der Nederlandse Taal” which is televised anually. Alot of people at home participate also, and the most embarassing thing to the Dutch is that they constantly get their butts whupped by the Flemish. Here is a (Dutch) website with more info on the dictee.

The silent H can cause problems too; hoya and olla are pronounced pretty much the same. And with B and V so close, I’ve seen people confuse them in spelling words. In Spanish, if you know how a word is spelled, you know exactly how to pronounce it. The reverse isn’t always true, but it’s true often enough so that a spelling bee in Spanish would be extremely boring.

On the other hand French spelling is nearly as idiosyncratic as English (maybe more so).

So what do Spanish and other students memorize instead?
I assume it’s sort of a universal urge to have a spelling bee type contest.
Do third graders in Madrid have name the national capital contests, or what?