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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 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.

  • 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 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.

  • by blue_teeth (83171) on Thursday June 03, 2010 @11:11AM (#32444964)

    Indian here. By and large Indian society focuses on learning by rote and not on creativity.

    What good does winning spelling contests achieve? Efficient secretaries?

    Writing is better than talking. Thinking is better than writing. Deciding is better than thinking - William James

     

  • by dward90 (1813520) on Thursday June 03, 2010 @11:16AM (#32445026)
    "Immaculate" spelling isn't necessary, but spelling well is useful. Language functions as more than simply a way to communicate ideas. The way we write and the correctness of our writing confers to readers the care with which we approach our endeavors. This is particularly important in business, where mispelling word can make one appear incompetent.

    Kids who win spelling bees are better at spelling than will ever useful to them. However, even with spell-checking, being able to spell the entirety of your working vocabulary has real benefits and no disadvantages.
  • by Mindcontrolled (1388007) on Thursday June 03, 2010 @11:16AM (#32445036)
    Different? Not at all. The strawman is the fact that "we are not supposed to talk about it".
  • 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 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 Darkness404 (1287218) on Thursday June 03, 2010 @11:34AM (#32445326)
    But they -are- reading when they are online. And writing too. They just aren't reading books. I can guarantee you that kids today read -far- more then the ones raised on TV in the 70s, 80s and early 90s and they probably write a ton more too. Think about it, I'm sure you read about the same if not more now than you did back when you were a kid. Between text messaging, Facebook, blogs, Wikipedia, etc. we are all reading more than we probably ever had to as a child.
  • 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)?

  • 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.

  • 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.
  • by EmagGeek (574360) <gterich AT aol DOT com> on Thursday June 03, 2010 @11:42AM (#32445452) Journal

    "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, they don't. They want to be football players, music video stars, movie stars, sports stars, or whatever else makes the most money and requires the least education.

    "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"

    We have a system of higher education that has basically unlimited government money to loan to poor foreign nationals. They don't come here for the education. They come here because we'll loan them the money to pay for it, and it's easy to get in because their secondary education is so much better than ours.

  • by u38cg (607297) <calum@callingthetune.co.uk> on Thursday June 03, 2010 @11:43AM (#32445462) Homepage
    That has more to do with entry routes. Europeans are likely to come to America on the basis of family relationships or wealth. The only real entry route for many Indians is to be well educated.
  • 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.

  • 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 Maximum Prophet (716608) on Thursday June 03, 2010 @12:05PM (#32445798)
    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.
  • by drsmithy (35869) <drsmithy@nosPam.gmail.com> on Thursday June 03, 2010 @12:15PM (#32445962)

    But they -are- reading when they are online. And writing too. They just aren't reading books. I can guarantee you that kids today read -far- more then the ones raised on TV in the 70s, 80s and early 90s and they probably write a ton more too. Think about it, I'm sure you read about the same if not more now than you did back when you were a kid. Between text messaging, Facebook, blogs, Wikipedia, etc. we are all reading more than we probably ever had to as a child.

    Yes, but most of that is going to actively harm their spelling vastly more than it helps - and that's assuming the reading and writing in blogs, etc, is using real words rather than txtspk.

    Heck, I've gotten to the point these days that seeing 'your' and 'you're' used _correctly_ in any sort of non-formal writing often makes me do a double take (and such errors are starting to be seen in formal communications like news articles, company memos and resumes).

  • by xaxa (988988) on Thursday June 03, 2010 @12:15PM (#32445968)

    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 teacher.)

  • by thePig (964303) <rajmohan_h.yahoo@com> on Thursday June 03, 2010 @12:31PM (#32446248) Journal

    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 shows up in their kids too.

  • by phantomfive (622387) on Thursday June 03, 2010 @12:43PM (#32446502) Journal
    A lot of normal people admire jocks because sports are exciting, and because the participants have better social skills; they don't call everyone stupid and then wonder why no one respects them. Don't be an arrogant twit, man.
  • by Bobb Sledd (307434) on Thursday June 03, 2010 @12:58PM (#32446820) Homepage

    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 limit but sometimes only 40 MPH. Along my morning route, there are a total of 9 stop lights with an average cycle of 2 minutes (ranging from 1 minute to 2.5 minutes). My trip takes between 12 minutes and 30 minutes depending on which stop lights I get caught at. Often, I would not have had to stay an extra 2.5 minutes if the guy in front of me had just sped up slightly to 48 MPH.

    Considering how few tickets I've actually had, and no accidents, and also considering I've actually been fired for being 3 minutes late before...

    Yes. I've done the math. It's usually worth it.

  • by Maladius (1289924) on Thursday June 03, 2010 @02:24PM (#32448372)

    Wow do you know any nation where some kids don't want to be rock stars, movie 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 shrines are common even in peoples homes.
    Sounds like you're some whacked out self-loathing person that has little real experience in other cultures.

    There...Indianfied that for ya.

  • 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 AK Marc (707885) on Thursday June 03, 2010 @10:59PM (#32454016)
    Then you should be modded down for being an off topic fucktard. Go fuck yourself. If all your are going to post is personal attacks on those who voice correct opinions you don't like, you should stay off the Internet.

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