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Why Are Indian Kids So Good At Spelling? 534

Posted by StoneLion
from the i-n-t-e-l-l-i-g-e-n-t dept.
theodp writes "Slate's Ben Paynter looks into why Indian kids dominate the Scripps National Spelling Bee, and concludes it's because they have their own minor-league spelling bee circuit (having the discipline to spell 7,000 to 8,000 words a day probably helps too!). Indian-Americans make up about 1% of the US population, notes Paynter, but this year an estimated 11% of the competitors at Scripps will hail from regional contests run by the North South Foundation. The NSF competitions function as a kind of nerd Olympiad for Indian-Americans — there are separate divisions for math, science, vocabulary, geography, essay writing, and even public speaking — and a way to raise money for college scholarships for underprivileged students in India. BTW, Strollerderby has the scoop on Whatever Happened to the Spellbound Kids? (RIP, Ted Brigham)."
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Why Are Indian Kids So Good At Spelling?

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  • by elrous0 (869638) * on Thursday June 03, 2010 @10:49AM (#32444674)

    It's probably because parents in many other countries are way more interested in driving their kids or excel in social activities or in sports than in intellectual pursuits (or not driving them to excel in anything at all). If my parents and community had supported my academic interests as much as they supported my little league career, I'm sure I would have won a lot more spelling bees too. Much as I think Asians often push their kids *too* hard, it would be nice to be able to spell "necessary" consistently today without needing a spell checker.

    Ah screw it, spell checkers have made spelling obsolete anyway. And I can still throw a pretty mean curve ball.

    • by Shakrai (717556) * on Thursday June 03, 2010 @10:58AM (#32444794) Journal

      What's wrong with sports? Sports teach leadership and teamwork, which are arguably just as important as being able to spell "necessary" without a spell checker. Some parents might need to find a better balance with regards to sports vs. the rest of the curriculum but that doesn't mean that sports don't have their place.

      There's also the fact that 1/3 of this country is obese to argue in favor of expanded sports/PE instruction.....

      • by icebraining (1313345) on Thursday June 03, 2010 @11:13AM (#32444994) Homepage

        There's also the fact that 1/3 of this country is obese to argue in favor of expanded sports/PE instruction.....

        If you're already obese (and many kids are), sports like football, soccer or baseball are not really recommended.

      • by Bakkster (1529253)

        I don't see any implication of 'better' or 'worse'. Simply that in a culture where a certain attribute is favored and parents drive their children toward success in that area, it should hardly be suprising that these children excel.

        See: american cultures in sports, Indian culture and spelling, East-asian culture and math, French culture and cooking, polynesean culture and fishing, etc.

      • Re: (Score:3, Interesting)

        by Viol8 (599362)

        "Sports teach leadership and teamwork,"

        Thats a myth. There can only be one leader in a team and most kids just want to play and have fun anyway, they're not interested in having an outdoors team building workshop with balls despite what some team coaches seem to think. When I was at school there was nothing worse than having some teacher take the sports too seriously as it just spoiled the fun. In the end I got sick of team sports altogether because of the borderline psychotic behaviour of some of the sport

        • by Reverberant (303566) on Thursday June 03, 2010 @11:57AM (#32445676) Homepage

          Thats a myth. There can only be one leader in a team

          Not true at all - teams often have multiple team captains, and individual team units often have their own leaders. Take football for example: you may have the offensive team leader (with the quarterback being the most visible) but there are typically leaders among the subgroups like offensive backs, defensive backs, O linemen, D linemen, receivers and linebackers.

          When I was at school there was nothing worse than having some teacher take the sports too seriously as it just spoiled the fun.

          This is all too often true, but that's not a failure of sports, but rather a failure of the school leadership.

          • Re: (Score:3, Insightful)

            by xaxa (988988)

            Thats a myth. There can only be one leader in a team

            Not true at all - teams often have multiple team captains, and individual team units often have their own leaders. Take football for example: you may have the offensive team leader (with the quarterback being the most visible) but there are typically leaders among the subgroups like offensive backs, defensive backs, O linemen, D linemen, receivers and linebackers.

            I've never played American Football, but would you really have all that stuff for a children's sports lesson? If so, it sounds like you're taking it too seriously. The PE teacher for the children at the school next door seems pleased if he can simply have all the children running around, regardless of what they're actually doing. (Often they seem to be playing variations on Tag, but I'm not sure if this is just a warm-up, a way to get everyone involved, or what the kids do because they think it annoys the t

        • Re: (Score:3, Informative)

          by zacronos (937891)

          "Sports teach leadership and teamwork,"

          Thats a myth. There can only be one leader in a team and most kids just want to play and have fun anyway, they're not interested in having an outdoors team building workshop with balls despite what some team coaches seem to think. When I was at school there was nothing worse than having some teacher take the sports too seriously as it just spoiled the fun. In the end I got sick of team sports altogether because of the borderline psychotic behaviour of some of the sports staff.

          You are half right. The link between sports participation and leadership skills has been shown generally to be a myth, however there have been links between sports participation and teamwork. For a citation, look at page 224 of this pdf from the Journal of Leadership Education [fhsu.edu].

          Additionally, I call [citation needed] on your reasoning for why sports do not build leadership. Maybe there can only be one leader in a team for most sports, but I would argue this is not a universal truth -- you could easily pl

      • by GooberToo (74388) on Thursday June 03, 2010 @06:02PM (#32451436)

        What's wrong with sports? Sports teach leadership and teamwork,

        This is crap parroted by sports to further their programs at the expense of programs that actually matter and require teaching. There are LOTS of ways to teach leadership and teamwork. In fact, in contrast, Japan and China excel at teaching both and generally without sports. Its part of their culture and "group think". Same is true for teamwork. Just like in America, the popular "group think" is, "sports teaches leadership and teamwork"; no matter how incorrect that may be.

        Besides, social sciences CLEARLY shows leadership is an inherent part of being human which really does not require much teaching. And the areas which do require teaching are absolutely not taught in athletics. Time and time again, leadership is naturally asserted. Accordingly, a natural pecking order always falls out and leaders are naturally established. What follows are, well, the other people. The fact that roles in athletics are ASSIGNED actively defeats nature's role and other natural leadership capabilities.

        Sports tend to elevate those capable of physical feats. Hundreds of years ago, and more likely, thousands of years ago, that made a lot of sense. It might even explain why their genes are still around today. These days, it makes little to no sense at all. These days if you want to get a head, its NOT by physical agility and strength. In short, not only does sports teach negative aspects of humanity (oppression by physics prowess), it emphasizes other aspects which are least likely to benefit humanity or themselves in the long run; as in, not brain power or higher learning.

        What we can authoritatively say about athletics is, if you actually "learned" teamwork and leadership (which for most actually means shut up and follow), then you're dumber than a bag of hammers. If you learned teamwork in athletics, that means your parents, friends, and extended family all failed horribly, because that's where its actually learned.

        To be clear, I don't have a problem with athletics. Everyone should enjoy competition, feel victory and defeat. Heck, the exercise alone is beyond rebuke. It absolutely does help with character building, social skills, learning reasonable expectations, even brain chemistry, so on and so on. There are lessons to be learned. Good lessons. Just the same, leadership and teamwork are not inherent qualities generally learned or taught by association. The fact this is commonly repeated means their brainwashing has been very successful - so their future funding won't be a concern.

        Now if you want to argue sports can help improve social skills, I won't outright disagree. But then again, you'll find they are generally poor activities to do so. And if social skills were truly of concern, you'd see everyone following in the footsteps of the fairer sex as by all measure they appear to be experts as social skill development.

    • by MoonBuggy (611105) on Thursday June 03, 2010 @11:04AM (#32444858) Journal

      Not just parents, peer group. I'm sure plenty of /.ers are more than familiar with the general anti-intellectual sentiment found in many schools, especially among the 'cool kids' and young-ish age groups.

      However hard one tries, it's difficult to remain motivated when having a wide vocabulary or advanced mathematical skills singles you out as 'weird'. A competitive academic environment, on the other hand, not only keeps motivation up but if anything pushes kids to spend extra time on their work, to help them 'win'.

      In either case, though, a balance is needed. Overly pushy parents and excess competition seem to lead to social problems and feelings of inadequacy.

      • by el3mentary (1349033) on Thursday June 03, 2010 @11:16AM (#32445046)

        Not just parents, peer group. I'm sure plenty of /.ers are more than familiar with the general anti-intellectual sentiment found in many schools, especially among the 'cool kids' and young-ish age groups.

        However hard one tries, it's difficult to remain motivated when having a wide vocabulary or advanced mathematical skills singles you out as 'weird'. A competitive academic environment, on the other hand, not only keeps motivation up but if anything pushes kids to spend extra time on their work, to help them 'win'.

        In either case, though, a balance is needed. Overly pushy parents and excess competition seem to lead to social problems and feelings of inadequacy.

        There's a reason all my best friends are of Asian descent, they're the only ones who seem to compete against me for grades everyone else just shrugs.

    • A Different Reason (Score:4, Informative)

      by eldavojohn (898314) * <[moc.liamg] [ta] [nhojovadle]> on Thursday June 03, 2010 @11:04AM (#32444870) Journal

      It's probably because parents in many other countries are way more interested in driving their kids or excel in social activities or in sports than in intellectual pursuits (or not driving them to excel in anything at all).

      It's weird, I read the article and came up with a completely different reason than the summary. And that reason is right in this text:

      Just as Kavya Shivashankar has inspired the next wave of Indian spellers, Kavya found her bee mojo during the post-Spellbound boom. Before Spellbound, the 2002 documentary that featured Indian-American Nupur Lala's run to the 1999 Scripps title, many first-generation South Asian parents saw NSF as a way for their children to assimilate—the best way to understand a culture, after all, is to learn its language. They used the North South Foundation events as a sort of SAT prep, teaching their children to use phonetics, etymology, and word roots to suss out answers. "Our focus is not on competition," says Chitturi. "Winning becomes an outcome of you focusing on learning. You are competing against yourself, not these other people."

      It seems like it's about assimilation and success to Indian-Americans as well as a great competition against yourself instead of another human -- minor league circuit or no minor league circuit. Then introduce a documentary outlining how one Indian kid succeeded by doing this and parents start picking up on it on a large scale.

      If my parents and community had supported my academic interests as much as they supported my little league career, I'm sure I would have won a lot more spelling bees too.

      But it's not like you had to be good at only one thing. My parents encouraged me to just be well rounded but it turned out I was terrible at sports and I loved playing trombone, reading and participating in math league. I'm sure the Indian kids get pushed to excel in sports as well but it is obvious that the cultural assimilation is very important to their parents because they most likely consider that as necessary on the path to success.

    • by couchslug (175151) on Thursday June 03, 2010 @11:11AM (#32444962)

      Stupid people worship jocks because it is easier to imagine being strong than being smart. This would be fine if it didn't have devastating consequences for society.

      • Re: (Score:3, Insightful)

        I think you're spot on and I've never heard it phrased this way.

        Next Question: How do we get regular people to imagine themselves solving difficult problems? Quiz shows, Detective Novels, and some science fiction have smart people as heroes.
    • I was about to reply to you and give you hell for assuming these Indian kids were from other countries but then I realized the summary said "Indian-Americans" not "American Indians"...while that's confusing at least it's not the generic "native Americans".

    • by nomadic (141991)
      It's probably because parents in many other countries are way more interested in driving their kids or excel in social activities or in sports than in intellectual pursuits (or not driving them to excel in anything at all). If my parents and community had supported my academic interests as much as they supported my little league career, I'm sure I would have won a lot more spelling bees too. Much as I think Asians often push their kids *too* hard, it would be nice to be able to spell "necessary" consistentl
    • by Oscaro (153645) on Thursday June 03, 2010 @11:23AM (#32445178) Homepage

      No, actually pretty everyone in the world is better than native english speakers at spelling, because they learn English mostly by reading it, instead of learning it by listening and speaking it...

    • by MrNaz (730548) on Thursday June 03, 2010 @11:25AM (#32445196) Homepage

      "spell checkers have made spelling obsolete anyway"

      Your mistaken if you think that kid's spelling can be improved using there computers alone.

      • Don't worry, at least I got your joke.

        Though considering the hysterical brands of spelling here, this is a funny article.

    • by e2d2 (115622)

      Spelling bee champs don't go home with the prom queen. The pitcher on the baseball team does.

    • There is a strong divide between (very generally) Western and Asian cultures. In the West we tend to believe that talent and ability is innate, and that your success in life will be down to the use of your gifts. Contrarily, Asian cultures believe that success is directly proportional to the effort the person puts into it. The psychological evidence is they are essentially correct.
      • Re: (Score:3, Insightful)

        by thePig (964303)

        Generalizations are generally incorrect.
        In India - we do have anti-intellectual sentiment in colleges, people think that talent and ability is innate, getting good marks while being lazy is better than getting excellent grades after hardwork and so on and so forth.
        The difference I can see is that most asians who attempt spelling bee are kids whose parents who have immigrated to foreign countries.
        These people usually are much more hard working and also have a high pro-intellectual sentiment - which then show

      • "In the West we tend to believe that talent and ability is innate, and that your success in life will be down to the use of your gifts."

        Nonsense! In the West we realize that it's all about the connections, who one is related to, connected with, descended from, that's already been researched over and over again, back to Jensen's work in the early 1970s.

        Jensen ascertained that the principal causal factor in success in the U.S.A. was the family one was born into.

    • by NotQuiteReal (608241) on Thursday June 03, 2010 @11:43AM (#32445468) Journal
      If they can spell their own names, of course they will be a whiz at regular words. "Bill", "Joe", and "Mary" haven't a chance against "Dhananjay" "Jagannatha" or "Chandrakanta".
    • by severoon (536737) on Thursday June 03, 2010 @12:28PM (#32446192) Journal
      If you depend on a spell checker, you'll rape what you sew.
  • Look at the parents (Score:4, Interesting)

    by genka (148122) on Thursday June 03, 2010 @10:56AM (#32444754) Homepage Journal
    I saw a statistics, saying that 90% of Indian immigrants have a degree- the highest rate of any immigrant or native group.
  • Is it just me (and I am running a 102 degree fever, so it might be) or is the summary basically gibberish? It starts off talking about Indian kids being good at spelling, and ends with something about the "spellbound kids" (whatever the heck that is) and Ted Brigham who is apparently dead. I am very confused.

    • by fl!ptop (902193)

      is the summary basically gibberish?

      Not only that, but when I read TFA (yeah, I know), a lot of the links went nowhere.

    • by jollyreaper (513215) on Thursday June 03, 2010 @11:30AM (#32445286)

      Is it just me (and I am running a 102 degree fever, so it might be) or is the summary basically gibberish? It starts off talking about Indian kids being good at spelling, and ends with something about the "spellbound kids" (whatever the heck that is) and Ted Brigham who is apparently dead. I am very confused.

      Spellbound was a spelling bee documentary. Ted Brigham was one of the kids in it. And he evidently killed himself in 2007. There's no cause of death listed, just a death notice, and families generally don't list the cause of death if it might be damaging to the person's reputation; suicide, death by erotic misadventure, really dumb accidents, etc.

  • Culture vs Race (Score:4, Insightful)

    by xzvf (924443) on Thursday June 03, 2010 @11:05AM (#32444878)
    The difference is the emphasis a particular culture places on an activity vs race. We notice these particular differences in sports and entertainment because it is in our faces most of the time, but academics, neighborhoods, food consumption, jobs, etc are all influenced by our culture. As a white male southerner, I'm introduced to gun use, Protestant church, pig based barbecue, college football, etc. That's what I do.
  • by Em Emalb (452530) <.ememalb. .at. .gmail.com.> on Thursday June 03, 2010 @11:06AM (#32444894) Homepage Journal

    Why are African Americans so good at Sports? Why are Latin American kids so good at baseball?

    Oh wait, those are politically incorrect, isn't it? We're not allowed to talk about that.

    How is the article ANY different?

  • by KingSkippus (799657) on Thursday June 03, 2010 @11:08AM (#32444906) Homepage Journal

    Okay, I know this is a bit off-topic, but I'm a bit embarrassed to actually ask any of my Indian colleagues this to their face and thought that the faceless strangers of Slashdot might be able to help.

    Is this phrase, "please do the needful," some kind of Indian colloquialism? Back in the day, I suppose that a lot of Indians learned English from the British and passed it down through the generations, but I've never heard a British person use this phrase. My Indian colleagues use it a lot. I mean, like all the time when they're asking you for something. It's a phrase that I honestly don't think I've heard anyone of another ethnic background use. I'm not racist; I don't really care if they use the phrase because I understand what they are saying, although it did catch me off guard the first few times I heard it used in conversation.

    I guess I'm just looking for some insight because I'm genuinely curious what its etymology is. Is it a direct translation of a common Indian-language phrase? Is it just one of those idioms that develop over time in a region? Is it something that was popularized by one or a small group of people at some point in the distant past?

    • by recoiledsnake (879048) on Thursday June 03, 2010 @11:13AM (#32444998)

      It was used in British and American English as early as last century.

      From the Wiki:

      "Do the needful" is an expression, now archaic or used humorously except in South Asian English (Pakistani, Indian and Sri Lankan), which means "do that which is requisite or necessary". Although sometimes parodied as a staple of contemporary South Asian English, the expression was current in both British[1] and American English[2] well into the early 20th century.

      The Oxford English Dictionary lists examples of usage from 1709 (Richard Steele in the Tatler), 1771 (Samuel Foote in Maid of Bath), 1821 (Maria Edgeworth in a letter), 1831 (Walter Scott in his journal), 1929 (I. Colvin in his Life of Dyer), and 1992 (Jeff Torrington in Swing Hammer Swing!), the last likely used humorously.[1]

    • by dancingmad (128588) on Thursday June 03, 2010 @11:23AM (#32445160)

      I'm Bengali (we're all apart of the same culture group), but born and raised in the U.S. You're intuiting the right answer here (though a quick Wikipedia search would have helped you even more).

      My original guess was one of your two suggestions; either it's an old British phrase or the Indian-ization of the English words. A lot of phrases died out in contemporary British English that still survive in India. One of my favorite authors, P.G. Wodehouse, for example, isn't widely read in England anymore, but remains popular in India; a lot of British literature from the Victorian era to perhaps the 1920s or 30s remains popular in India and until recently was most educated Indians' English literature (the growth of American popular culture in India and of Indian literature being written in English is probably changing this).

      I read a joke somewhere that the last Englishman will be an Indian; there's a large element of truth to that; English manners, social norms, and cultural ideas from the Raj remain entrenched in Indian culture, even though they are no longer a major force in contemporary English culture.

      Anyway, do the needful was in common use in the U.S. and Britain until the 20th century. [wikipedia.org]

    • Re: (Score:3, Informative)

      by Deadstick (535032)

      Rent The Man Who Would Be King and you'll hear Michael Caine say it.

      rj

  • I gave up on spelling bees in 6th grade when I lost the class bee because the teacher thought "atmosphere" was spelled "atomosphere" and refused to let me get the dictionary and prove I was right. I realize real bees are checked and double-checked both before and during the competition, but that episode so turned me off that I decided never to waste my time memorizing lists of words.

    • Re: (Score:3, Insightful)

      by Bobb Sledd (307434)

      I am replying to your sig. :-)

      I realize that on a straightaway covering 8 linear miles at those two speeds, your premise is correct. However, this is generally no real reflection of real life.

      Where I live if you cover a straightaway of any appreciable distance, it's usually 60 miles or so (which becomes a difference of about 7 minutes).

      But more profoundly, in city driving there can be many stop lights along a road that has a 45 MPH speed limit. Many people (for whatever reason) don't drive even the speed

  • As a European, I never understood the big thing about the US spelling contests. I'm not against them, mind you; but even if you can spell perfectly, you'll still need to know the grammar to support your spelling. Otherwise, you're still going to get it wrong.

    Yes, you'll still need too no the grammar too support you're spelling. Otherwise, your still going too get it wrong. My spelling is perfect means not I right English very good.
    • by OzPeter (195038)

      As a European, I never understood the big thing about the US spelling contests.

      As a foreigner living in the US I am coming to the conclusion that society here prefers pageantry and spectacle over form and substance. It also embraces parochialism (not sure if that is the best word for it) at a low level so that there always has to be an "us vs. them" mentality (this also works IMHO at multiple levels of their society - city vs country, state vs state and country vs country). And throw in a dose of parents living vicariously through their children. So to me the spelling bees are just

      • As a foreigner living in the US I am coming to the conclusion that society here prefers pageantry and spectacle over form and substance.
        Just curious which society would you prefers the inverse?The Amish?
      • Re:Spelling contests (Score:4, Interesting)

        by mooingyak (720677) on Thursday June 03, 2010 @11:49AM (#32445548)

        As a European, I never understood the big thing about the US spelling contests.

        As a foreigner living in the US I am coming to the conclusion that society here prefers pageantry and spectacle over form and substance. It also embraces parochialism (not sure if that is the best word for it) at a low level so that there always has to be an "us vs. them" mentality (this also works IMHO at multiple levels of their society - city vs country, state vs state and country vs country). And throw in a dose of parents living vicariously through their children. So to me the spelling bees are just a manifestation of the pathological state of the society as a whole.

        You're not completely wrong, but I think you overstate it. We appreciate someone who has put in the effort to be the absolute best at something, though it can often (Scripps bee as an example) get to a point where we celebrate expertise that has gone to a level far beyond usefulness and real utility.

    • I just wanted to let you know that your last sentence may have caused me permanent damage.
    • As a European ...

      You probably grew up in a culture where correctness was regarded as a virtue and/or a mark of good education, and then, were probably taught grammar and spelling in school. Here in the US, the culture is such that ignoring or otherwise breaking rules is viewed as something to be proud of; teaching proper English, if done, is done poorly. It's been my experience that foreigners (i.e., those whose who speak more than one language, and whose first language is not English) typically speak and

  • by Arawak (98728) on Thursday June 03, 2010 @11:14AM (#32445000)

    Educated Indian immigrants are generally much better at English than educated North Americans.... probably becuase they actually learn the language in school, including the grammar. Also, almost all Indian post-secondary education is done in English. It doesn't surprise me that they insist that their kids speak - pronunciation aside - and write English to the same standard they do.

    It is pitiful how many North Americans (Americans and Anglo Canadians, that is) have a degree but cannot write or speak their language to a standard that would pass overseas English language competency tests.

    • by couchslug (175151) on Thursday June 03, 2010 @11:21AM (#32445138)

      The US is savagely anti-intellectual.

      Unless you make an effort to live and work among superior people most of the country is a (Katzian definition) Hellmouth. Americans are brutish and willfully ignorant, most are superstitious (from religion to astrology), and they fetishize their stupidity and ignorance in their popular entertainments and choice of elected officials. Except for a very few people, the US has turned into a bad place.

      It's really no surprise that business and government can't resist exploiting such people. Most of them deserve it.

      • by nomadic (141991)
        The US is savagely anti-intellectual.

        Right, that's why we don't reward professions that require a lot of education with money and prestige...oh wait we do. Well, that's why most kids say they want to be ditch diggers or work at Wal-Mart or at a slaughterhouse. Oh wait, they don't. Well, I guess it's like how we don't have a system of higher education that people come from all over the world to learn from...Oops, we do again. What was your point again? I'm guessing unlike a lot of the anti-US ranters
        • Re: (Score:3, Insightful)

          by EmagGeek (574360)

          "Right, that's why we don't reward professions that require a lot of education with money and prestige...oh wait we do."

          No, we don't. The people who are rewarded most are those who are the most arrogant and conceited, and most willing to be morally flexible and exploit the desires of others to be like them. Celebrities. Rock Stars. Require little or no education - just certain personality traits.

          "Well, that's why most kids say they want to be ditch diggers or work at Wal-Mart or at a slaughterhouse."

          No, the

          • by LWATCDR (28044) on Thursday June 03, 2010 @12:03PM (#32445772) Homepage Journal

            Wow do you know any nation where some kids don't want to rock stars, move stars, race car drivers, or soccer players?
            I guess you have never been to Japan, Korea, or India.
            Or the UK for that matter. Think Football aka Soccer. Take a look at the tabloids...
            I wanted to be an astronautic myself.
            As far as religion as superstition... Go to India sometime or Japan. Shinto shines are common even in peoples homes.
            Sound like your some whacked out self-loathing person that has little real experience it other cultures.

            • by Scrameustache (459504) on Thursday June 03, 2010 @01:38PM (#32447596) Homepage Journal

              Wow do you know any nation where some kids don't want to rock stars, move stars, race car drivers, or soccer players?

              Do you know any nation not awash in American 'cultural' products? Just because it's contagious doesn't mean it isn't real.

              I wanted to be an astronautic myself.

              But you couldn't spell "astronaut" so you had to give up your dream. Sad story, bro.

              As far as religion as superstition... Go to India sometime or Japan. Shinto shines are common even in peoples homes.

              70 percent of Japanese profess no religious membership[6] and possibly only one in five Japanese claim a belief in God[7]. However, polls generally show that two-thirds of Japanese profess no religion[8] and according to Demerath (2001:138), 64% do not believe in God and 55% do not believe in Buddha[9]

              • Re: (Score:3, Informative)

                by LWATCDR (28044)

                It is called a typo. Dude.
                So three in ten do have an official religion, 45% believe in Buddha which isn't God. 36% do believe in God. How many believe in the spirits of their ancestors? Gee I see pictures of Shinto priests blessing new car plants in Japan all the time. Imagine the fit if GM had a Catholic priest bless a car factory!
                Again self loathing twaddle. You cherry picked Japan and even then didn't address their love of pop stars.
                J

    • by bronney (638318)

      Just to be fair, I know a shitload of oversea students who passed the competency tests and can't speak jack English. They're just good at tests. Much like people who passed driving exams, and can't drive well. If I am hiring though, I'd gladly prefer those who do their job well, than a piece of paper saying they can do well.

      Being a Chinese who grew up in Hong Kong and in Canada, I was educated in both countries for 10 - 12 years each and I can clearly see the difference. It's just different and I would

  • Religion (Score:3, Interesting)

    by digitalhermit (113459) on Thursday June 03, 2010 @11:17AM (#32445056) Homepage

    One of my colleagues mentioned this a while back. According to his religion, words are powerful. It's part of devotion to ensure that prayers are read and copied *exactly*. In some other cultures it's a different approach, where the meaning is more important than the words. I don't know if this affects how well their spelling ability, but I imagine that it does.

  • Motivations for hard work are usually pretty transparent.

    As adults, we work hard to get money or status or personal satisfaction or, well, laid.

    It's very clear that spelling bee winners work very, very hard. To me, incomprehensibly hard.

    But what do these kids get? Do their peers look up to them? Surely no one would work that hard just for a scholarship or some cash. Or am I wrong about that?

    Just wondering.

  • by bugs2squash (1132591) on Thursday June 03, 2010 @11:21AM (#32445120)
    The Indian community does not go into spelling because there are many other successful Indian spellers as role models, nor because their parents value the exercise or because there is a supportive community of Indian spellers. It is Nature not Nurture at play here. this is not about the evolution of a culture through positive feedback, it is all about the Creator's wish. This is intelligent Spelling Design in action.
  • Spellbound people (Score:4, Interesting)

    by JoshuaZ (1134087) on Thursday June 03, 2010 @11:27AM (#32445236) Homepage
    I know two of the people who were in Spellbound as kids (Emily Stagg and Harry Altman), and I've a met a third. This makes me wonder if this is evidence the set of high-achievers in US society is a) much smaller than one might think and b) determined at a surprisingly early age. I know, tiny anecdotal evidence but still I wonder...
  • by willith (218835) on Thursday June 03, 2010 @11:28AM (#32445252) Homepage

    Why is it so surprising that kids from a culture that produces names like "Sivasubramaniam Raveendranath" and "Elamkulam Manakkal Sankaran Namboodiripad" are good at spelling?

    • Re: (Score:3, Informative)

      Not to mention the fact that the average Indian immigrant has to learn to spell that in 3 languages - English, Hindi and whatever of over 100 local languages he grew up with.

  • by Anonymous Coward

    Because if they don't spell well, somebody gonna get-a hurt, real bad.

    http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=yVcePxjFujs [youtube.com]

  • by assemblerex (1275164) on Thursday June 03, 2010 @11:31AM (#32445288)
    meanwhile, American kids are at the mall buying fart spray. Adversity is key to motivation, which most American children never experience.
    • Re: (Score:3, Interesting)

      by Webz (210489)

      Totally. I asked my dad, what is it that motivates his fellow ethnic friends to be millionaires and he said, they know what the old country is like and they are never, ever going back.*

      * In terms of lifestyle. I've heard of lots of ethnic families who make it big in America and retire back home where they can live like kings. Point is, they aren't at the same quality of life when they were younger.

    • by elrous0 (869638) * on Thursday June 03, 2010 @12:07PM (#32445856)

      American kids are at the mall buying fart spray.

      Hey, that's not fair. I like the smell of AXE.

  • This is a refreshing article. We usually don't see comparisons of The World versus America, showing our weaknesses. Thank the maker someone took the time to finally come out and say something about our lack of spelling bee champs.

  • ...because their parents are disproportionately willing, compared to other parents, to force their children to spend untold hours performing rote memorization tasks that have highly questionable utility. E.g. memorizing how to spell words.

  • Wrong question? (Score:3, Insightful)

    by DavidR1991 (1047748) on Thursday June 03, 2010 @11:34AM (#32445336) Homepage

    Not to troll or flame the US here - but maybe this is wrong question. Rather than asking "Why are Indian kids so good?" we should be saying "Why are all the other kids not as good?

    Answer: Ding ding ding! The education system! It seems more likely that with the (stereotyped) Indian parents that actually care about their kids education, they will 'fix' the holes that the education system ignores (and beyond a stereotype, this is also a cultural thing - education is highly valued - as it should be. If that means picking up the slack that the 'system' ignores, so be it)

    And that 'slack' could be anything - like being able to spell. Or do anything, for that matter (this is the same in the UK, by the way - not just a troll at the US. Numeracy and literacy has become 'measure' obsessed rather than "Can these kids do basic skill XYZ?" - spell, count etc.)

    So in essence, what I'm saying is: Maybe the education system is failing everybody else, and only these American-Indian families (who actually value education) are smart enough to 'fill in the holes' (where the education system fails)?

  • multilingual (Score:2, Informative)

    by X10 (186866)

    In India people speak a number of native languages and English. Assuming that parents teach their kids one or two of these native languages, Indian kids are multilingual, making them better at language. And probably multilingual parents are a better role model to these kids than the average American parent who speaks just English.

  • Simple. (Score:5, Insightful)

    by MaWeiTao (908546) on Thursday June 03, 2010 @11:38AM (#32445394)

    The answer is simple. Asian parents constantly stress the importance of academics and hard work. On the other hand, American parents think it's important to have their kids do a million different activities unrelated to academics, and even worse, they value socializing too highly. Well, what they seem to value more than just socializing is being popular. It is important to socialize, but overdo it and it gets in the way of excelling in school. Then there's the entitlement mentality that keeps being pushed on kids, that they're special and deserve the world. Too many American children's cartoons are obsessed with the notion that it's important to be yourself. Everyone is taught that you're only living life if you're doing something perceived as exciting, be it something like skydiving or partying. So of course your average American kid isn't going to see the value in academics. So ultimately, it's a cultural issue.

    • Not that Simple. (Score:3, Interesting)

      by tizan (925212)

      Its a fair balance that is needed. Pure excellence in examinable academics goes that far. Guess why India does not have a
      huge fraction of inventors...its middle class is as big if not bigger as the whole of US ...so economyand daily comfort is not the issue. Thinking outside the box
      or traditional way is an issue. Knowledge of spelling is good but thinking of how to make that home made rocket go higher in your back yard with your friends is good too !
       

  • ... that this American custom of the spelling bee is something that would matter more to an immigrant than to the established population. English spelling is fiendishly difficult, internally inconsistent and often downright bizarre, and in addition to the strange rules of English itself there are also words which operate according to Greek or Latin or Germanic principles instead.

    So to an immigrant family, having a child who can truly master this horrible mess is a sign that they've arrived, established th

  • by Anonymous Coward

    I remember traveling on trains in India with a little portable Scrabble game. As soon as it came out, all my carriage mates would crowd around & soon begin offering suggestions. Even the little kids seemed better at Scrabble than I was, and everyone had a great time. I would imagine that this love of words would translate pretty well to US spelling bees.

  • Perception (Score:4, Interesting)

    by Enderandrew (866215) <enderandrew&gmail,com> on Thursday June 03, 2010 @11:46AM (#32445514) Homepage Journal

    The racial stereotype is often that Asian Americans and Indian Americans are often more intelligent that others. I think this stems from the fact that typically that many of the best minds from Asia (which includes India) come to the United States for their higher education. When you've got billions of people, and you pick the cream of that crop, and send them over to the US, they're going to represent their race particularly well.

  • http://www.nytimes.com/1999/07/04/magazine/a-patel-motel-cartel.html?pagewanted=all [nytimes.com]

    you got a motel almost anywhere in the usa, and its likely to be run by an indian guy with the last name of patel

    why?

    basically, its a phenomenon of the immigrant experience: one random guy goes from country A to exotic foreign inscrutable country B. what should he do there? well, he tries career X, and he's successful at it. he writes home about it, and pretty soon a bunch of other guys, relatives usually, from country A are interested in pursuing career X in country B. its not because the patels are better at running hotels than the guptas and the ganeshes, or the chos or the mcneils, for that matter, but simply because people pursue what, and who, they know, that works

    same goes with spelling bees and indian americans (but not american indians. i never understood why columbus made a silly mistake about where he thought he was, and we are STILL calling native residents of north america "indians". completely nonsensical)

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