Full interview with 2013 Hinds County AND Mississippi Spelling Bee winner Desiree Roby and her mother Robin Roby

If you ever read the Hinds Ledger nondaily, you can see there isn’t much space. It’s overtaken by advertisements! While the stories aren’t posted online (I don’t understand why, but I digress) I wanted to share the entire interview with you so you can learn more about Desiree’s experiences in spelling bees and preparing for the Scripps National Spelling Bee in Washington, D.C. this month. Desiree is in the sixth grade and is homeschooled. This is a lengthy interview, so make sure you have a drink in hand or food to eat while reading. 🙂

Desiree Roby, of Clinton, after winning the state spelling bee in March.

Desiree Roby, of Clinton, after winning the state spelling bee in March.

Let’s start from when you wanted to get into spelling bee competitions: “It first started when was 9 years old and at that point, it was really going to be to see how well I was able to do. Then after I went to the Christian Home Educators Connection spelling bee and won that, it started to get a little more serious after that. That was when I was 9 years old.”

Robin: “You have to win your local spelling bee first before you can go to the county. We were just trying it out.”

And when it got more serious for you, what was the next step? “Then I just began to study hard and to have fun. Then after that I went to Hinds County and was knocked out of the second round with the word ‘khan.’”

When you got out of the second round, you just wanted to keep on going just to win? “At that point after that, it was maybe just try it again to see if I could go farther than the second round. And actually the beginning was to make sure I get through the first step and the second, which would be the Hinds County (spelling bee).”

So your second time around, how far did you get? “The second time, I got past the second round and then after that, it went many more rounds and then I finally won and the person that came in second, we became really good friends as well.”

How long ago was this one? “This would have been last year.”

What was the winning word for that one? “It was ‘fiery.’ My head is so full of words, somehow I forget that one.”

After you won that one, of course you felt great. What was that experience like? “Well, it was relief that part was over so I was able to take a break for a little while and then it was back to spelling. And the next step would have been state (spelling bee).”

And you went to state in 2012, so how did that go? “With it being my first time, I would have been fine placing in any spot. Then, as it continually went on, I became more serious and my mom became more serious as well. So, that year I placed second.”

And what word did you spell when you got to that point? “Immiserization.”

And in the following year, you won (state): “It was funny was that I can very plainly remember that one. Right before the real championship, the word was ‘brilliantine.’ And that has a funny spelling behind it. I spelled it correctly and she said that I had gotten it wrong. Then she looked it up and found out I was right. After that one, I was like I got it right. Then the next word was ‘dowager.’ The way I figured it out was ‘age’ so, ‘dowager.’”

When you’re up on stage and you’re spelling words, how nervous are you? “Sometimes you just want to break a sweat, but then you just have to relax afterward. You just have to make sure you can calm yourself down because when you’re not calm, you can sometimes like, be thinking another word when the word they really ask you was the word you’re supposed to spell. And some of the ways I like to think is tapping my feet or signing the letters in the word. Whatever helps you I guess. You can ask for the part of speech, use it in a sentence. You can ask them to repeat the word if you didn’t hear it correctly the first time. You can ask for the language of origin and I believe you can still ask for the definition.”

How do you prepare for a spelling bee? Tell me how you are preparing for nationals? “Right now I’m preparing by just reviewing some of the words that I already know and then going over new words that we just received. And now with the new change, which is you have to know the definitions to these words, I’m learning how to spell the word along with the definition of the word. What’s really nice is they give you games on their website that you can be able to remember the questions they would give you. There’s two rounds where you have to know the definition of those two words they give you. If you know those, I believe they are 50 percent of your score if you get them both correct.”

Robin: “Before you get to what we see on the TV round, there are several preliminary rounds. And the first round is a written round, so they hear a word over a computer and they have type the correct spelling of the word. And this year, they added where they have two vocabulary questions so they’ll give you a word and it’s multiple choice. That’s part of your score and then they have some type of scoring system where they take the top scorers and those are the ones you see on TV on ESPN. Your round two is on stage and it’s done on internet screen. So they really streamline it and also give them a chance to stand on stage and see and get practice.”

 And the kinds of words you are spelling, what’s the highest level they go up to? “Very technical and very advanced. Some of them have three silent letters so you have to be able to remember where the silent letters are and on top of that be able to spell the word correctly and not put (the letters) in the wrong place.”

Robin: “It seems like, there’s a lot of medical terminology and scientific terminology, words you haven’t heard. A lot of it, too, is understanding how words are put together, that’s why the kids are able to ask for the language of origin.”

I’m trying to imagine how you could just have all these words in your head and from memory you can just spell them so well. “I tease people when I say if you just crack open my head letters will probably fall out.”

Robin: “And the thing about it, I know how to spell but when it’s under that pressure and then having to remember where you are in a word because if the word is ten letters long and you started to spell…because if they make one mistake, they’re done.”

Desiree: “It’s fun but you have to continually process every single word and you review it so it’s in your head thoroughly. Sometimes I see the whole word, sometimes I see one letter after another come up.”

You only have a couple years of experience in spelling bees locally, so what does it feel like to go to nationals? “It’s going to be really fun just seeing all of the other people that are going to be there, and just making new friends. You can relate to the stories about I had to spell this word; we all have one thing in common, we enjoy spelling.”

Is this something you’ve enjoyed since you were little, since you learned how to write and read? Why do you enjoy it so much? “It really has been. This just gives you a chance to learn new things. Some words that you thought you knew the definition to, now you know the new definition and say if you didn’t know how to spell them, now you know how to spell. It’s just learning new things that will help you later on in life. To concentrate and to be able to focus on one thing at a time, just to make sure that I learn and not just skim over, but to learn it thoroughly.”

Was that the overall goal when you started getting into spelling bees, to have fun? “I just really wanted to have fun but after the second year I thought it was going to be more than just not only helping in that one area but in the rest of my schoolwork.”

Since you are a big speller now, everywhere you go do you look for words? “Some words I might be familiar with. There’s a restaurant here called Hibachi and that is one of the words that is on the list they gave me. Look at the words you’ve seen before and go, ‘I know that word now.’”

Robin: “I think it’s exciting for her just to know that she can represent our state. With that comes responsibility and so she has to study and some of the things that she may like to do at night she doesn’t get a chance to do because she’s spelling.”

Desiree: “I spend about an hour and a half each day except Sunday working on these words. And the rest of the time is just working and playing and resting and spelling and working and so on. I play a lot of sports. I play soccer, softball. I’m also on American Heritage Girls, it’s a Christian girl scouts group. I’m on the LEGO League robotics team and it’s really nice because we won the state title this year. I participate in children’s choir at my church. And I also participate in the Bible Bee.”

Robin: “The funny thing is, this year I actually have never seen her spell. My head is always down when she spells.”

Do they give you a list of words they are going to ask you (to spell)? “They give you a list of words like German, Greek, Dutch, Latin, Slavic…and so on, and you have to learn all of those words. It takes you a long time to make sure that you know the words. After you know them you’re reviewing them so they are fresh in your mind.”

Robin: “For the local competitions in the county and the state, there’s a group of words that Scripps gives. At the state bee, once they get to a certain number of rounds they go to an off-list.”

What’s your word base? “Right now, I’m going through 400 words…you have to know how to spell them, you have to know the definition and go over those every once in a while. And you have to make sure your memory is right and can test the words they give you.”

Are you going to give her a send off party before she goes? Robin: “All the fun comes after. Up until that time it’s serious business.”

Roby winning the Hinds County spelling bee.

Roby after winning the Hinds County spelling bee. Edison Brown was the runner-up. (I think that’s her lucky spelling dress…will she wear it to nationals?)

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