About seven years ago, when Abhinav Venkat and his family moved to the United States from India, he spoke no English.
Today the 13-year-old not only speaks English, but also lists it as his favorite subject in school.
And Wednesday, he will face off against some of the top middle school students from across the country at the National Spelling Bee.
“We’re very proud of him,” his father, Ramesh Venkat, said. “We came to the U.S. when he was in first grade, and now seven years later, he’s at the top.”
At home, the Venkat family speaks Telagu, a language native to some parts of India. So, much of Abhinav’s knowledge of English words comes from studying on his own, according to his father.
“All of the credit goes to him,” Ramesh Venkat said.
Abhinav said he typically spends about four hours a day studying words from Webster’s Third International Dictionary.
“I’ve just been studying a lot of words and their definitions,” said Abhinav, a seventh-grader at Bull Run Middle School in Gainesville.
About a week before the spelling bee, Abhinav said he was focusing most of his attention on words that start with c, k and q. “Those letters all sound the same and it’s confusing,” he said.
He said he’s also been studying a list of words used in the National Spelling Bee in past years. “Those I know perfectly, I’ve studied them all,” he said.
Abhinav was in his first spelling bee in third grade, he said. That year he was eliminated in his school bee after misspelling “angry.”
This year, he won the 28th annual Prince William County Regional Spelling Bee and qualified for the National Spelling Bee for the first time. “It felt good because it was the first time I won a county bee,” he said.
Wednesday, he will compete against 286 spellers from across the country and from English-speaking countries throughout the world.
Abhinav’s trip to the National Spelling Bee will be all-expenses paid by the Potomac News and Manassas Journal Messenger.
As the winner of the county bee, which is sponsored by the Bel Air Woman’s Club and the Potomac News and Manassas Journal Messenger, Abhinav received a Webster’s Third New International Dictionary, Unabridged from Merriam-Webster, a $100 savings bond donated by iStar Financial Chief Executive Officer Jay Sugarman in honor of his father, Samuel Louis Sugarman, a $20 Amazon.com gift certificate, a $100 savings bond from the Bel Air Woman’s Club, a $50 gift card from Barnes and Noble in memory of Edie Olif Vanover from her family, and a one-year subscription to Encyclopedia Britannica Online donated by Encyclopedia Britannica.
All contestants in the national bee receive prizes, such as a commemorative watch, Webster’s Third New International Dictionary, Unabridged on CD-ROM, and cash prizes ranging from $50 to $12,000 from Scripps. The champion will receive $20,000 from Scripps, a $5,000 college scholarship, a $2,500 U.S. Savings bond and an engraved cup, among other prizes.