Prakash Mishra, 13, of Charlotte, N.C., spells during the finals of the 2011 Scripps National Spelling Bee at the Gaylord National Resort and Convention Center in Oxon Hills, Md., Thursday, June 2, 2011. (AP Photo/Pablo Martinez Monsivais)

Inside The World Of Competitive Spelling

For the past two decades, the Scripps National Spelling Bee has been dominated by Indian-American competitors. Vauhini Vara was once a champion speller herself. She joins us to talk about why these youngsters make such formidable competitors – and about the role the contest plays in their assimilation into American culture. Her story “Bee-Brained” appears in the new issue of Harper’s.

Vauhini Vara on … 

… why Indian Americans dominate the competition: 

“Even I, as somebody of Indian origin myself, thought well, ‘Maybe. I don’t know. Maybe there is some sociological explanation.’ I didn’t go as far as to think there is some sort of genetic explanation, but I thought, ‘Who knows? Maybe there is some obscure interesting reason that Indians keep winning.’ It turns out that there’s actually a really simple explanation, which is that because of this Indian-spelling circuit kids are starting at a much earlier age. They’re learning to spell and study when they are five, six years old.”