Snigdha Nandipati was good. But, if that were possible, even more than in the case of other contestants in the Scripps Howard National Spelling Bee, she could not have done it without her parents.
Father Krishnarao has a degree in engineering, mother
Madhavi in commerce, neither of which particularly prepare
one to teach spelling bee contestants who need to know roots
and origins and histories and — excuse us our excesses here
— the esoteric conventions of exotic and extinct languages.
They were there to introduce her to the joys of spelling in
the pre-kindergarten days and, like most parents, to send her
to schools that nurtured her talents.
Also, like them, they drove her to achievement and console
her when low.
But it was in the run-up to the spelling bee that
they came into their own.
“We have to cover the whole dictionary. There’s
no option but that,” says Krishnarao, adding that
he realized, and Snigdha concurred, that she needed to be on an accelerated path to succeed.
Aware of his limitations in the language, Krishnarao relied on technological advantage.
So he wrote a program that had files of words
with different languages of origin in separate files.
But each list was pared down to a sensible size by
removing words that were obvious – as deemed by
Pushed for real numbers, Krishnarao said
though the programming was done in about 300
hours, the whole process took three months.
He then loaded the information into a database
that would make flash cards his daughter could
study from, the program ensuring that details
about the word — pronunciation, parts of speech,
definition, synonyms and antonyms — would print
on the back of the same flash card if printed on a
Krishnarao went to the local Kinkos to print out
the cards — eight per page. Given that there were 20,000
cards, he printed out 2,500 leaves of paper in all.
The Kinkos employee who helped him get them sorted and
cut was baffled by this behavior.
‘Why are you printing all this?’ he asked Krishnarao, who
patiently explained what his daughter was trying.
‘For spelling words, you only need words, why do you need
all these? Why do you need all these complicated words? Is
she in college,’ the inquistor asked, clearly still bewildered.
It took some time to explain the details, after which things
Still for Krishnarao there was the money factor to consider.
“Sometimes I printed on cardboard I (bought) from outside
— Kinkos gets expensive — and sometimes on normal paper,”
But when Snigdha came in 27th in the 2011 contest, failing
on a word she was familiar with, the Nandipatis marshaled
their resources and gauged their strengths and weaknesses
anew so they could come up with another plan.
When they concluded that Snigdha learned less by seeing
than by exploration and experience, Krishnarao put together
“I generated 5,000 words in a test pdf, (complete) with pronunciation and meaning. She would take the test on the (
software),” he said.
Whatever she missed was loaded on to a database Snigdha
‘When you’re an underdog, you have to
prepare fully – just like any athlete’
Krishnarao Nandipati worked almost as hard as his daughter
Snigdha before the Scripps Howard National Spelling Bee contests,
reports P Rajendran.
Snigdha first began working on spellings during her pre-kindergarten years. While in the back of the family car her father would ask her the spellings of words on passing billboards and the little girl would try to work out those squiggle clusters into a semblance of meaning.
COURTES Y: THE NANDIPATIS
could use for research.
Using a variety of sources, including the encyclopedia and
online options like Wikipedia, she learned everything she
could about the word.
“She likes random fact-finding,” says Krishnarao. “That is
what gave her enjoyment.”
He admits that she had not enjoying working on flash cards
as much, but the new approach was just right for her.
After all the work and the preparation, Snigdha was finally
ready for her eighth grade push.
“We knew she was an underdog. The other kids (had been)
coming there three-four times. When you’re an underdog,
you have to prepare fully — just like any athlete,” says Krishnarao, undoubtedly the coach.
After Snigdha’s win there was a sudden market for his software: Bee contestants — along with orbiting parents — eager
to replicate the Nandipatis’ success.
He has thought of putting together an iPad app “so people
can listen to the pronunciation. Many kids have trouble reading pronunciation marks,” he says, pointing out how some
such children, unaccustomed to the correct pronunciation,
get confused when hearing Jacques Bailly, the official pronouncer at the national spelling bee.
While Krishnarao provided the push, his wife Madhavi
provided the kind of support he perhaps could not.
‘If you don’t win, Snigdha, it’s all right; you’re learning,’ she
remembers telling Snigdha.
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