Houston students compete for title of top speller

After the National Spelling Bee was canceled last year, two Houston students are excited to compete against 209 of the country's best spellers for the champion title.

Video Transcript

- 646, what is the hardest word you know how to spell.

- Oh, um, supercalifragilisticexpialidocious. Is that--

- You know how to spell that?

- I don't think I even said it right, so no.

- I guarantee whatever it is in your head, it's nothing close to what two Houston students can spell.

- Yeah, that's for sure. They have made it all the way to the Scripps National Spelling Bee. The virtual competition starts tomorrow. ABC 13's Charly Edsitty got to talk to them and ask how they learned to spell so many words.

CHARLY EDSITTY: Usually, reading the dictionary is a form of some kind of a punishment, but not for 13-year-old Shawn and 12-year-old Ramya.

SHAWN RAY: Back in third grade, I did realize that I had this unique ability to spell a little better than my classmates.

RAMYA ELANGOVAN: I'm just amazed by how amazing the spellers are, and I can't believe that I am on the Scripps National Spelling Bee. That's just-- I'm still trying to get used to that fact.

CHARLY EDSITTY: Both of these students will be representing Houston on the national stage, Shawn representing Salyards Middle School in Cy-Fair, and Ramya representing T.H. Rogers Middle School in Houston. So I had to ask, how do they know how to spell so many words?

SHAWN RAY: Some words are going to be just, there are no way to spell them other than to know them. Like, for example, the Hawaiian word 'ie'ie, which means a shrub native to the Pacific Islands.

RAMYA ELANGOVAN: Etymological patterns, like German, you can have an S-C-H for the "sh" sound. Like, all etymological patterns.

CHARLY EDSITTY: This is the first time both students have made it to the National Spelling Bee, and you bet they're prepared. These are the trickiest words that they can spell.

RAMYA ELANGOVAN: Craziest word, probably? There's a word called "gyttja," and it's spelled G-Y-T-T-J-A.

SHAWN RAY: Probably pneumonoultramicroscopicsilicovolcanoconiosis. It is the longest word in the English dictionary, and it is spelled P-N-E-U-M-O-N-O-U-L-T-R-A-M-I-C-R-O-S-C-O-P-I-C-S-I-L-I-C-O-V-O-L-C-A-N-O-C-O-N-I-O-S-I-S.

CHARLY EDSITTY: And with that, we wish Shawn and Ramya a lot of luck. Charly Edsitty, ABC 13 Eyewitness News.

- My gosh. Wow.

- What? I'm still working on "definitely." You know, you can mix those up.

- Yeah, there's some words that are just hard. I don't even know.

- Oh my gosh. OK, so they're already winners. Seriously.

- Super winner.

- Again, the Spelling Bee begins tomorrow. More than 200 spellers from across the country are competing.

- Yeah, the first three rounds will be virtual. The spellers who make it out of those rounds will then be invited to the in-person finals. Back in 2019, eight students were named co-champions. So this year, there's a new format designed to crown just one true champion. They're trying to eliminate those ties. A spell-off will happen. All spellers left standing will be given 90 seconds to spell as many words as possible from a prepared list. Whoever gets the most words right wins that title. The finals are July 8 in Orlando, and you can watch it on our sister network ESPN 2.

- Elita, spell "definitely."

ELITA LORESCA: Definitely. Oh, D-E-F-I-N-I-T-E-L-Y.

- No.

ELITA LORESCA: No?

- Definitely. D-E-F-I-N-A-T-E-L-Y.

- She checked you. Yeah, I didn't know. I'm sorry, I had something to look at.

- She cheated.

- Yeah, I cheated.

- Ouch.

ELITA LORESCA: Hey, I can spell H-O-T.

- There it is.