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Spelling bee champ conquers language barrier

April 11, 2010|By DAN DEARTH

SMITHSBURG -- Smithsburg Middle School student Joanne Lee couldn't speak English when she started kindergarten.

But things have changed since then.

On June 2, Joanne will take the stage with 274 other students from across the United States to represent Washington County Public Schools at the 2010 Scripps National Spelling Bee in Washington, D.C.

The event will last until June 4.

"The nerves are the worst," Joanne said. "I have to remember not to spell too fast so I don't miss a letter."

Joanne's mother, Hsiu-Hsueh Schubel, immigrated to the United States from Taiwan in the 1990s.

Because Hsiu-Hsueh's English wasn't very good when Joanne was a toddler, Hsiu-Hsueh said she spoke Mandarin Chinese around the house to prevent her daughter from developing bad speech habits.

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As a result, Joanne received exposure to a foreign language early on but had to take special English classes when she started school.

"She had to go through this language barrier all by herself," Hsiu-Hsueh said. "It made me very proud of her."

Joanne, 13, spelled implement to win the eighth-grade division of the Washington County Spelling Bee on March 13. The victory qualified her to advance to the national competition. She also won the county spelling bees when she was in sixth and seventh grades.

To study for the national competition, Joanne said she looks up words she doesn't understand while she's reading. Joanne also has dictionaries scattered throughout the house. She said words of Dutch and German origin give her the most difficulty, so she spends extra time concentrating on those areas.

In addition to being a stellar speller, Joanne excels at geography. She always places well in local geographic competitions and participated in the 2010 Maryland Geographic Bee in Catonsville on Friday.

Joanne said she spends two hours every Sunday attending school in Rockville, Md., to study the Chinese language. She also plays the flute and piano.

Joanne said she wants to be a doctor some day and is setting her sites on Dartmouth College.

"I've been there before," she said. "It looks really nice."

Joanne said she would like to attend Johns Hopkins University if her Dartmouth plan falls through.

The National Spelling Bee contestants will compete in preliminary rounds on June 2 and 3, said Paige Kimble, director. The top 50 will advance to the semifinals and finals on June 4. The contest will be held at the Grand Hyatt Washington hotel on H Street.

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