NATIONAL HARBOR, Md. -- Christal Schermeisters favorite word is spizzerinctum the will to succeed.
Christal, 12, of Pembroke Pines, and Vaidya Govindarajan, 14, of Miami, competed Wednesday against 278 other spellers, ages 6 through 15, from around the world in the preliminary rounds at the Scripps National Spelling Bee. Both students advanced to Thursdays semifinals.
Vaidya, an eighth-grader at Herbert A. Ammons Middle School, correctly spelled botanist and coati. Christal, a home-schooled seventh-grader, didnt get to spell spizzerinctum, but she demonstrated its definition by correctly spelling indubitably and kuchen.
The ballroom looked bigger on TV to me, but its nearly the same size as the one at my regional bees, so Im just trying to calm myself with that, Christal said between rounds.
Christal and Vaidya are old pros. She signed up for her first bee at age 6 with her home-school group, while he tied for ninth place in the 2010 Scripps National Spelling Bee.
Both said they approach every competition the same way.
I remember that I prepared, its not going to be anything new. I know whats going to happen, Vaidya said. I might not know what word Im going to get, but Im sure Ill know what that word is.
Christal gives herself a little pep talk before each round.
I talk to myself and I think, OK, everyone else is going to spell a word, too, she said. And this is just like the regional bee: Im just going to go up there, Im going to spell my word and Im going to sit down. Its just one word.
Almost all the spellers asked at least one clarifying question about their words whether it was the definition, its language of origin or to hear it in a sentence. Even when a speller asks a lot of questions, Christal said, it doesnt mean that they dont know the word.
A mistake that so many people make is they hear the word and they go, Oh, I know that word, and they blurt out the letters and they get it wrong, she said. So even though we know the word, we still have to think through it.
When they arent practicing their vocabularies, Vaidya and Christal have myriad hobbies: he takes guitar and piano lessons, plays Wii video games and attends Hindu religion classes. She takes ballet, loves to read and is active in her church.
Both students traveled to the Washington area with their families, whom they rely on for studying as well as moral support.
Although many of the spellers spend their down time going over words in their hotel rooms, there has been some time to socialize with each other. Each participant receives a book with the other competitors profiles.
Some kids went around asking each other to autograph their pages.
They get me and I get them. Its awesome, Christal said.
With Wednesdays preliminaries out of the way, both students are on their way to a Thursday morning semifinal round and, if they advance, the championship finals in the evening.
When the competition is over, Vaidya said, hes looking forward to touring the Smithsonian and the National Mall with his family on Friday. His family has hopes that hell go all the way, but hes humble about it.
Im going to try, he said.
As for his favorite word, its otorhinolaryngology. Its what an ear, nose and throat doctor does, he explained.
The Scripps National Spelling Bee finals air live Thursday, at 8 p.m. EDT on ESPN.
The Medill News Service is a Washington program of the Medill School of Journalism at Northwestern University.