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Kavya Shivashankar

A love for words spells success

What was your best subject in school? For Kavya Shivashankar, it was spelling! Her love of words and the way they sound opened her up to the world of spelling bees. Read about her journey to the National Spelling Bee and how she keeps her head filled with words most of us have never heard of before!

Update! Kavya won the 2009 National Spelling Bee! Congratulations to her and her family!

How old are you?

I am 11 years old.

What grade are you in school?

I’m now in 7th grade.

Where do you live?

I live in Olathe, Kansas.

How did you first become interested in spelling?

I became interested in spelling in Kindergarten, when I had a Writing and Spelling Road to Reading and Thinking Class. I was taught the phonograms, which are letters that make up a sound, such as si, ci, sh, ch, and ti, which all make the \sh\ sound. Then in 2nd grade I participated in a spelling bee held by a non-profit organization called North South Foundation. I started to really enjoy spelling bees. I also used to watch the Scripps Howard National Spelling Bees on TV and decided to participate in it.

Kavya Shivashankar holding her spelling bee trophyTell us about the success you’ve had so far with spelling bees.

The very first spelling bee I won was the Junior National Spelling Bee held by North South Foundation. I’ve also won the Jack and Jill Spelling Bee in Indianapolis, Indiana and the Kansas State Fair Spelling Bee in Hutchinson, Kansas. I’ve been to the Scripps Howard National Spelling Bee twice, in 5th and 6th grade. I tied for 10th place in 5th grade and I tied for 8th place my second time. Spelling has also taught me discipline and requires a lot of focus. It helps build my vocabulary as well.

You must do a lot to prepare for the National Spelling Bee. How do you stay motivated to study for the bee?

I usually stay motivated by watching my favorite movie, Spellbound, and watching past spelling bees.

How does your family help you prepare for the spelling bee?

My dad is my coach and guides me in my studies. My mother helps me out a lot. My sister always keeps me in a good spirit no matter what. My whole family encourages me and supports me. Without them, I wouldn’t have been able to come this far!

It must be very difficult to spell such difficult words in front of a big audience and television cameras. What special strategies do you have to stay focused when competing?

I sometimes meditate in my seat while waiting for my turn to spell. When I’m up spelling, I really don’t focus on all the cameras, photographers, and reporters because I’m so focused on spelling my word. I’m a bit nervous while going up to the microphone, but once I hear my word and ask a few questions I become comfortable.

Do you have a favorite word to spell?

Yes, my favorite word to spell is Szczecin (pronounced sche-cheen), which comes from a city in Poland.

Kavya Shivashankar with the First Lady BushSince your first trip to the National Spelling Bee, you’ve been featured on ESPN, The View, and even met the First Lady. What has been the most memorable part about your time in the spotlight?

I enjoyed my whole trip to Washington D.C., except getting out on the word cilice! It’s a great experience getting to meet spellers from all over the country and to just get to participate in the bee! I love spelling a LOT! There are also other fun activities such as the picnic before the bee and the awards banquet on Friday. I love every part of it!

Preparing for the spelling bee must take up a lot of time. What other activities do you do to stay healthy and stress-free?

I’m learning Indian dance, called Bharata Natyam, and I play the violin. I love to swim, and I enjoy riding my bike.

What do you think you’d like to do for a career?

I’d like to be a neurosurgeon (brain surgeon) when I grow up. The body has always fascinated me. I’m even more curious about the brain, which controls all of your actions. I really want to touch and hold a brain.

Do you have a role model?

Yes, my role model is Nupur Lala. She is the 1999 Scripps Howard National Spelling Bee Champion. Nupur Lala is also in the movie Spellbound, which is a documentary about the lives of 8 students who prepare to compete in the National Spelling Bee.

What advice would you give to other young girls who want to get involved in spelling bees?

My advice to other girls wanting to get involved in spelling bees is to work hard and try their best. Studying for spelling bees requires a lot of hard work, patience, and perseverance. Luck also plays a major part in spelling bees.

Content last reviewed November 01, 2007
Page last updated November 01, 2007

U.S. Department of Health and Human Services, Office on Women's Health.