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Rochester-area speller talks about his experience competing in the Scripps National Spelling Bee

"It was a great opportunity being able to participate in the spelling bee. It also taught me a lot about hard work and how to prepare for things."

Isaac Ahn competing in the Scripps National Spelling Bee. (Contributed photo)

Isaac Ahn is an incoming Mayo High School freshman who took first place in the southeast Minnesota Spelling Bee Final and then advanced to the quarterfinals in the Scripps National Spelling Bee. The word he misspelled was sudoriferous, which refers to the production of sweat. He missed by a single letter.

Aside from mastering a slew of obscure words that he may or may not ever use again, the spelling bee became a learning experience for Ahn. He says it taught him a lot about hard work and dedication -- skills he will take with him for the rest of his life.

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Were you nervous during the competition?

I think everyone there was very nervous. I spent a couple hours or several hours a night preparing for it. Just knowing I’d come that far gave me a sense of reassurance.


How did you prepare?

There are three rounds in the preliminaries at nationals: there’s a spelling round and then a word-definition round and then another spelling round. For the first two rounds, the words came from the list that I had studied for the regionals, so I had a good feeling I’d get through that. But then after that, the entire Merriam-Webster dictionary was in play.

We never actually studied the dictionary, but there are consolidated word lists and there are lists that past champions have created. So I did study through those a little bit. But also, I studied a lot of roots and stems from different languages like Greek and Latin and French so that you can break apart the words and try to figure them out.

How many words do you think you studied throughout the course of the spelling competition?

I don’t know, but I would say maybe 11,000. I believe the list I studied for regionals contained four or five thousand.

At the end of the day, what did you take away from the experience?


It was a great opportunity being able to participate in the spelling bee. It also taught me a lot about hard work and how to prepare for things. And (it taught me) the concept that when you have a big task -- like studying all those words or all those roots, or whatever -- if you just take a small portion of it and you do it every day, then you can accomplish a whole lot of stuff.

Was it disappointing when you were eliminated or were you just happy to have made it as far as you did?

I was disappointed a little bit, but mainly I was just happy to have made it that far. Also, I was happy that it was finally over, because I remember I went to bed without studying a single word. It was amazing.

What was the hardest word you had to spell?

In studying the consolidate word lists, there was this one German word: zwetschenwasser. I think it's a type of plum wine. There's a lot of words in the English dictionary that are just straight from other languages that don't have any English part in it at all.

You’re also an avid golfer. What do you like about that?

I think it’s great how much it teaches you every single day. Golf, like spelling, requires a lot of hard work. You have to practice every day and just do everything you can to get better. It also takes a lot of patience on and off the golf course. A lot of other sports are more fast paced, but golf is a game for the mind and requires thinking for the long run.


Isaac Ahn competing in the Scripps National Spelling Bee. (Contributed photo)

What does your summer look like for golf?

We travel a lot for golf tournaments all around the country. Actually this weekend, we’re going to be traveling down South and East.

In junior golf, there are several national tours. Probably the biggest would be the American Junior Golf Association. They have tournaments all over the place, so we’re going to be doing several of those. I qualified for the U.S. Kids Golf World Teen Championship in Pinehurst, N.C.

So what’s the next big challenge for you?

I feel like no matter what task is ahead of me -- whether it’s academic or athletic -- I feel like the discipline spelling bee has given me will give me the confidence to know that if I work on it daily, then it will eventually lead up to the big task. And really, I can accomplish anything with God’s help.

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