We first heard about Sylvie Lamontagne last spring when she placed 4th in the Scripps National Spelling Bee — and credited Quizlet with helping her get prepped for the big bee. After her 4th place finish, Sylvie went on to win the Spelling Bee of China's North American bee and win the Spelling Bee of China's Global bee in Beijing — where she actually bested two of the three kids who finished above her at the 2016 Scripps bee. With more than 45,000 words entered on Quizlet, Sylvie is definitely one of our power users, so with the 2017 Scripps National Spelling Bee coming up in a few weeks, we thought we would see what advice Sylvie can offer to spellers on Quizlet — both those on the national level and those working hard on weekly quizzes and tests in the classroom.
How did you start spelling competitively?
I started spelling competitively when I was seven years old. My third grade teacher gave us a test to qualify for the school bee, and I was the only one in my class to get a perfect score. This qualified me for the school bee, in which I placed 4th that year.
When did you know when you were really good at it?
I realized I was good at it to some extent when I got a perfect score on the test for the school bee, but I didn't realize that I might have serious potential until I was about ten years old and I competed in my first regional (national-qualifying) bee.
How do you avoid getting nervous on stage?
I don't really avoid getting nervous onstage! Nerve management is something I've never really gotten a hang of, so I was nervous basically all the time during bees. Because of this, in any video of me spelling at nationals, you can probably hear me exhaling shakily into the microphone before being given my word.
We've heard you used Quizlet to practice. Can you explain how you use Quizlet? Which study modes?
I use Quizlet by putting in the words that I want to review (with their definitions as well). The capability to add pronunciations and pictures has been especially helpful to me as well because pronunciations enable me to review the words in a different way, and the pictures give me something to connect the word with. I mostly use "Spell" study mode (for obvious reasons), but sometimes I use the "Learn" and "Test" modes to learn definitions since the Bee includes vocabulary as well.
If Quizlet could make a change to make practicing spelling easier, what would you like to see?
One change that might be helpful for practicing spelling on Quizlet could be a "time" statistic once you finish studying the set, in addition to the number of words you never missed, how many times you missed each word, and other statistics that are already there. For many who study spelling (and any other subject, for that matter), they are trying to get in a lot of studying, and despite motivation and hard work, distractibility can be a problem. A statistic at the end of the set showing how much time was spent actually working on the Quizlet can be very helpful for future scheduling and focus purposes.
Do you have any advice for students who want to improve their spelling — either for school or for competition?
For students looking to improve their spelling, I have many pieces of advice. If I were to narrow it down to one "key" piece of advice, it would be to remember that memorization is not the only technique that is helpful for spelling. Focusing on pattern recognition can be incredibly helpful as well — it isn't just about memorizing the dictionary! Quizlet helps when putting this advice into practice because although it does help you memorize words, it also allows you to review large chunks of words all at once. When you review these large chunks, patterns in the word sets become apparent to you, which is helpful for putting together unknown words in the future.
What's your favorite word to spell?
My favorite word to spell is "pneumonoultramicroscopicsilicovolcanoconiosis." It's the longest word in the official dictionary (Merriam-Webster Unabridged) used for the Scripps National Spelling Bee. Pneumonoultramicroscopicsilicovolcanoconiosis is a type of lung disease that's especially common in miners, and I have spelled the word in under 5 seconds before.