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What to know about this year’s Scripps National Spelling Bee

<i>Alex Brandon/AP</i><br/>Lucas Parker
Alex Brandon/AP
Lucas Parker

By Harmeet Kaur, CNN

(CNN) — Some of the nation’s brightest young minds are putting their knowledge of the English language to the test at the annual Scripps National Spelling Bee.

The 95th Scripps National Spelling Bee kicked off on Tuesday in National Harbor, Maryland, with 231 students from around the country and other parts of the world competing in the preliminary rounds. Spellers will face off in the two-day event that culminates in the finals on Thursday.

Read on for more on how to cheer on these talented spellers (and for a test of your own spelling skills).

How the competition works

The bee contestants have spent months, if not years, studying word lists, memorizing Greek and Latin roots and sharpening their skills in smaller bees to reach what Merriam-Webster calls “the Olympics of language.”

The 231 elementary and middle school students in the national spelling bee this year are as young as 9 and as old as 14. There are spellers from all 50 US states, and 11 students from the Bahamas, Canada, Germany, Ghana, the US Virgin Islands, Guam and Puerto Rico, according to the E.W. Scripps Company, the organization that operates the bee. More than 180 are national spelling bee first-timers, and 49 are returning contestants.

There are four stages of the competition: The preliminary rounds take place on Tuesday, followed by the quarterfinals and semifinals on Wednesday and ultimately, the finals on Thursday.

As in recent years, this year’s bee features a few extra challenges for spellers. The second round in each leg of the competition will focus on word meaning, a component introduced in 2021 that requires contestants to select the correct definition of a word from a multiple choice list.

Remember the record-breaking, eight-way tie in the 2019 bee? That’s unlikely to happen this time around. If no champion results from the final rounds, the bee will proceed to a spell-off in which the contestant who can spell the most words correctly in 90 seconds will win. Last year’s champion Harini Logan clinched her victory after a spell-off – a first for the National Spelling Bee.

This year’s winner will go home with a $50,000 cash prize, the official championship trophy and a number of other perks.

How to watch the spelling bee

The National Spelling Bee finals air live on Thursday from 8 to 10 p.m. ET on ION and Bounce. (The semifinals air the night before at the same time on ION and Bounce.)

ION and Bounce, which both are owned by the E.W. Scripps Company, can be watched for free over the air, and are also available through most cable, satellite and streaming platforms. You can enter in your zip code on the Scripps website to find out where to watch in your area.

The finals will also re-air on Scripps News on June 2 at 9 p.m. ET and June 3 at 8 p.m. ET, according to a news release.

These are some of the hardest spelling bee words

Ever munched on a pissaladière? Come across ‘a’ali’i in the wild?

A 2019 analysis by Babbel and Merriam-Webster examined 10 years of words that stumped bee contestants in the final rounds, and perhaps unsurprisingly, many of them are borrowed from other languages.

Words derived from Latin (27%) most commonly knocked out spellers, followed by Ancient Greek (21%). Words with French origins (19%) proved toughest for spellers out of the modern languages, and German and Italian after that. Many of the most difficult words also come from the natural sciences, medicine, law and other specialized fields.

Here’s a look at some of them:

  • Clafouti [cla-foo-tee]: a dessert consisting of a layer of fruit (such as cherries) topped with batter and baked
  • Gaillardia [guy-ar-dee-a]: any plant or flower of a genus of western American herbs having hairy foliage and long stalked flower heads with showy rays
  • Bewusstseinslage [beh-VUST-zines-laggeh]: a state of consciousness or a feeling devoid of sensory components
  • Schwärmerei [schvair-muh-RYE]: a king or chinook salmon especially when of large size
  • Tyee (Chinook) [TAHY-ee]: a species of salmon

™ & © 2023 Cable News Network, Inc., a Warner Bros. Discovery Company. All rights reserved.

CNN’s Leah Asmelash contributed to this report.

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