Scholar Offers Words of Wisdom in Mentoring Aspiring Spelling Champs

As a Plano eighth-grader, Chetan Reddy advanced to the finals of a national spelling competition but fell short of his dream of becoming the top speller in the country.

Reddy, then 13, made it to the 10th round before tripping up on “kaburi” (a land crab) — which he said he had spelled correctly before — and was eliminated from the 2013 Scripps National Spelling Bee. He ended up tying for seventh place.

Chetan Reddy

Now 19 and a political science and economics sophomore at The University of Texas at Dallas, Reddy is not letting his valuable experience go to waste. He is coaching young kids who want to excel in spelling competitions.

Reddy helps run GeoSpell Academy in Plano, a company launched by his parents, Vijay Reddy MSEE’92 and Geetha Manku MS’94, to market their spelling bee software and study books they originally prepared for their son when he made it to the spelling bee finals.

Many former top-tier spelling bee participants serve as mentors, tutors and coaches once they age out from competition, which formally ends after eighth grade. Using Skype and FaceTime, they are able to help aspiring kids across the country.

Reddy offers one-on-one coaching and study materials to teach spellers word patterns, pronunciation keys and diacritical marks. He also gives personal tips and networking advice.

Reddy’s journey to be a top speller began when UT Dallas alumnus Samir Patel BS’13, MBA’14 of Colleyville gained renown as a five-time Scripps National Spelling Bee contestant. Reddy, then 3, was already reading on a second-grade level, so his parents thought their son might also do well in spelling.

Around age 5, Reddy began entering competitions hosted by the North South Foundation, a nonprofit organization that encourages academic excellence and offers a scholarship program in India for students who need help to attend college.

Chetan Reddy celebrated with his parents, Vijay Reddy MSEE’92 and Geetha Manku MS’94, after winning the Dallas Regional Spelling Bee in 2010. They now help young spellers at GeoSpell Academy in Plano.

“For me, it was a place to go and meet friends,” Reddy recalled.

He won his first competition when he was in the second grade. By the fourth grade, Reddy upped his game by studying the Consolidated Word List, a commonly used standard guide for spellers. At first, he was learning 100 words a day; it took him a year to finish the word list. He also started networking with other spellers and participating in offseason competitions.

Eventually, Reddy was studying four to five hours a day to absorb up to 1,000 words. By his final year of competition, he was learning 1,000 words an hour, thanks to a software program his mom developed to display words, their language of origin and definitions on a spreadsheet.

“Within two weeks, I had covered the dictionary. By the third iteration of that, you pick up the pattern recognition based on the root of the word and its language of origin,” Reddy said. “If you hear ‘quesadilla’ and you know it’s Spanish, not French, you’ll know how to spell it. Ultimately, it’s all about how many words you study. You only have to memorize the exceptions.”

Reddy moved beyond school, district and county competitions and advanced to larger bees, including the Dallas Regional Spelling Bee and the South Asian Spelling Bee, before landing in the national event.

It’s definitely a solitary activity. I’m hyper-competitive, so I loved the competition, but mostly it’s just hard work and perseverance. The spelling bee was our Olympics.

Chetan Reddy, a political science and economics sophomore at UT Dallas

The competition among North Texas spellers has become fierce. At last spring’s national bee near Washington, D.C., the top three finishers were from McKinney, Frisco and Flower Mound, respectively.

Champion spellers typically go on to succeed in their academic careers, and Reddy, a National Merit Scholar, is no exception. His competitive spirit also has drawn him to participate in quiz bowls and debate. Reddy hopes to attend an Ivy League law school one day and eventually work as a policy writer for a think tank, focusing on environmental and criminal justice reform.

Reddy said preparing for spelling bees taught him to prioritize his time and learn more efficient ways to study. He counsels young spellers about the amount of dedicated study time it takes to reach the top levels of competition.

“It’s definitely a solitary activity. I’m hyper-competitive, so I loved the competition, but mostly it’s just hard work and perseverance,” he said. “The spelling bee was our Olympics.”

Media Contact: The Office of Media Relations, UT Dallas, (972) 883-2155, [email protected].

Tagged: EPPS