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Co Down schoolkids buzzing after top ten finish in UK spelling contest

By Victoria O’Hara

For many of the younger generation, text speak seems to have replaced the use of the English language.

But one event — The Times Spelling Bee competition, held in London yesterday — has proven that the old-fashioned art of spelling still has an attraction.

And particularly for four children from Abbey Christian Brothers’ Grammar School in Co Down.

More than 1,200 talented pupils from hundreds of schools across the UK entered the third year of the contest, all showing a thirst to learn new words in a bid to be crowned champ.

After 113 local heats and 11 semi- finals, 11 teams fought for first place at the grand final at the O2 arena.

Among them as a team were Ronan Burke (12), Venkattsh Kamath (12), Conor Butcher (12) and James McGovern.

The Abbey pupils faced such tongue-twisters as ‘antediluvian’, ‘ecclesiastical’ and ‘magnanimous’.

They came 10th, but despite not winning the bee were left buzzing by the experience.

Teacher Mark Rodgers (32) said he is proud of the talented foursome.

“We are very excited about getting into the final 11 out of more than 1,000 schools,” he told the Belfast Telegraph.

“I think it’s the first time it has happened for a school in Northern Ireland and we are very proud.”

And he said the boys showed a dedication to learning in the run-up to the event.

“We have our own bee called the ‘happy hard spell’,” he said.

“The boys would come in the morning before class and go over words.

“Some of the European-type words that have crossed over to the English dictionary have caught them out, like ‘bourgeois’.

“But events like this are important as spelling is something we need to encourage.

“A lot of children text speak and these types of events bring the focus back on proper spelling.

“This event has increased their confidence in themselves.”

The overall winner was Colchester Royal Grammar School in Essex.

Captain of the team James McGovern said a number of words — such as ‘emulsion’ — had flummoxed him in previous heats.

He said: “We were hoping to win but it doesn’t really matter. It is a big achievement getting to the final.”

James Harding, editor of The Times, congratulated all 11 schools.

“As always, I am astounded by the spelling skills displayed by these 11 and 12 year olds.

“I know I’d struggle with some of the words they’ve spelled.”

Factfile

Some of the words the children had to spell:

  • antediluvian
  • ecclesiastical
  • expurgate
  • magnanimous
  • gargantuan
  • effluvium

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