With the Prime Minister’s Spelling Bee competition kicking off today, Kids News chatted with American spelling whiz kid, TV star and YouTuber Akash Vukoti, who was buzzing with excitement about Australia getting its own Bee – and there is still time to enter.
Akash is no ordinary 11-year-old. He competed in his first spelling bee aged just two, going on to become the youngest ever contestant* on America’s flagship* spelling competition, the Scripps National Spelling Bee. A natural on TV, Akash has since appeared on hit shows including Dancing with the Stars and Little Big Shots, becoming a superstar with super smarts to the tune of over 250,000 YouTube followers.
Akash Vukoti – Prime Minister's Spelling Bee
“Talking to the mic and talking to the camera, I really am very interested in that, which is why when I grow up in the future I want to become an actor,” Akash said. “And an astronaut. And lots of other fields – there are lots of things I want to do when I grow up.”
A future run for the American presidency may even be on the cards, so watch this space. And while Akash is clearly comfortable in front of the camera, off-screen he was admitted to the high IQ* society Mensa* at the age of three and was named a Davidson Young Scholar* at the age of five.
Phew! If that sounds like pressure, Akash takes it all in his stride.
“I’m very humbled* that I have a lot of fans around the world, especially some from Australia,” he said. “A shout out to you all, thank you very much, I love you all so much! But I don’t consider it any pressure at all. It’s the good wishes from my fans and my family and friends … I just do what I love and I love what I do.”
Akash said he doesn’t think about results while competing – he just focuses on what he is doing and treats each word as one challenge at a time. He offered other tips for kids tackling the Prime Minister’s Spelling Bee.
“If you have that passion for words and languages, that is a great kickstart,” he said. “You’ve also got to have the encouragement from parents, teachers, your family and friends. A lot of it is teamwork – ask them to help you with your mission.”
Akash said planning was also key.
“Set up a goal you want to achieve … plan how you’re going to reach that goal, then work hard to achieve that goal from the bottom of your heart.
“Don’t think about the results, just work hard. Pour everything that you can into it and source the help of anyone you can. Try your best.”
Akash urged young Australian spellers to embrace* their mistakes.
“Things won’t always go your way,” he said. “You may not win every single bee … but it’s fine. Just hang in there. That’s kind of my strategy*. You’re going to learn a lot from this, plus you face ‘the adversary’* situations, which better prepare you for real life.
“Maybe it’s just one setback*, but it won’t stop you … Failures are stepping stones for success, so you have to just keep going through them and learn from your mistakes and make your plan better so that you can eventually meet success.
“You’ll be able to look back and you’ll feel proud of yourself. You’ll acquire a lot of knowledge and a vocabulary too. This would help you in a lot of situations in the future, careers especially. It would equip you with the skill that you need to get a great job and have a future career.”
For anyone worried that success in the Prime Minister’s Spelling Bee means reading academic books around the clock, relax: Akash’s favourite reading material is the online encyclopaedia Wikipedia.
“I always read Wikipedia,” he said. “All the time. Even my first pay cheque I ever sent was to Wikipedia. I gain a lot of knowledge from it and a good vocabulary base as well.”
Celebrity Spelling Bee
- contestant: a person who takes part in a contest or competition
- flagship: the finest, largest or most important of a group of things
- IQ: intelligence quotient, being a total score from a set of tests that assess human intelligence
- Mensa: Mensa is the oldest and largest high IQ society in the world. ‘Mensa’ means ‘table’ in Latin. The organisation was so named because Mensa is a roundtable society where ethnicity, colour, creed, national origin, age, politics, educational and social background do not matter
- Davidson Young Scholars: an American program to support the education and development of exceptionally bright young people
- humbled: to understand one is not especially important or special
- embrace: to accept freely and enthusiastically
- strategy: a plan of action designed to achieve an overall aim
- adversary: an opponent in a contest, conflict, or dispute
- setback: a reversal or pause in progress
- How old was Akash when he competed in his first spelling bee?
- What is Akash’s favourite reading material?
- What would Akash like to be when he grows up?
- How many followers does Akash have on YouTube?
- What is the name of America’s flagship spelling competition?
LISTEN TO THIS STORY
1. Stepping Stones
Akash had some wise words to share, including “Failures are the stepping stones for success …”
Explain in your own words what this statement means.
Recount an experience when this was true for you. What happened? How did you come back from failure to succeed?
Time: allow 25 minutes to complete this activity
Curriculum Links: English; Personal and Social Capability
Be like Akash by using Wikipedia to expand your vocabulary and spelling abilities! Search for a topic you are interested in, then write down five new, interesting or difficult words from the page. Write a definition for each word and practice spelling them until you have them mastered.
Time: allow 20 minutes to complete this activity
Curriculum Links: English
Read with Kung Fu Punctuation
Pair up with the article between you and stand up to make it easy to demonstrate your Kung Fu Punctuation.
Practice reading one sentence at a time. Now read it again, while acting out the punctuation as you read.
Read and act three sentences before swapping with your partner. Have two turns each.
Now as a challenge ask your partner to read a sentence out loud while you try and act out the punctuation. Can you keep up?
Swap over. Try acting out two sentences. Are you laughing yet? Have fun acting out your punctuation.