Ask nine-year-old Maya Thiruchelvam, winner of the NSW 2023 Junior Spelling Bee, for a difficult word she has come across lately, and she’ll reply, “Pseudonym”.
And a favourite new word?
“Pseudonym!” she’ll say again with delight, the pleasure in learning a difficult new word so clearly obvious.
It’s late afternoon and she’s just finished music lessons after school, but she’s filled with bubbly energy as she talks about this year’s spelling bee.
“It was my first spelling bee finals, but I wasn’t nervous,” she offered.
“Okay, I was a bit nervous at the start, but after I spelled my first word correctly, I realised it wasn’t scary!”
Currently studying in Year 4 at Hamilton South Public School, Thiruchelvam tackled words like ‘Chateau’ and ‘Tortellini’ at the competition to emerge the last contestant standing. These and other words are specially selected for the contest from the Macquarie Dictionary each year.
Maya has been participating in the spelling bee for a few years now, first inspired to compete after seeing “some film from the US about a spelling bee” years ago.
“In kindergarten my grade was upset because we couldn’t participate,” she laughed.
Naturally, Maya Thiruchelvam’s favourite subject at school is spelling, with maths coming a close second, and she is a voracious reader.
“I’m into historical fiction at the moment, reading a series called School for Good and Evil. It’s about a world where fictional characters come alive and save lives.”
An avid writer, the book has inspired her towards creative writing in her spare time.
Of course, Thiruchevlam has no shortage of hobbies to pass the time.
“I also like to swim, take walks with my dad, play the piano and the flute and sing in the choir.”
Maya Thiruchevlam’s parents are avid readers themselves, and the family environment is one that has, by design or accident, inculcated the love for the written word.
“Our home has always been filled with books,” Mum Thillini Thiruchelvam told Indian Link. “Reading began when the babies were young. Visits to the library were frequent.”
She added, “My husband and I have loved activities with the kids that help acquire vocabulary – sounding the words out, looking them up in the dictionary – giving them the opportunity in every way possible.”
Meanwhile, in the senior state final, Year 6 student Trilok Shenoy of Darcy Road Public School won the NSW title with the difficult word ‘Croquemboche’. Shenoy fought hard against Aditya Paul of Epping Public School, their battle waging on for over 12 rounds.
Maya, Trilok and Aditya were among the top 30 finalists at this year’s NSW Spelling Bee, from 180,000 statewide participants.
Following school rounds and regional rounds, the Grand Final was held at Sydney’s ABC Studios, with ABC personalities Indira Naidoo and Toni Matthews acting as announcers.
The contest has been running for more than twenty years.