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How To Spell T-I-E

MICHEL MARTIN, HOST:

We're going to shift gears now to a lighter but nonetheless high-pressure event in our nation's capital this week. The finals of the Scripps National Spelling Bee took place on Thursday. The last two contestants went a mind-blowing 24 rounds before the judges finally declared a tie. Here's just a little taste of the battle between the champions.

(SOUNDBITE OF 2016 SCRIPPS SPELLING BEE)

JAIRAM HATHWAR: Procoas (ph).

NIHAR JANGA: Shubunkin.

JAIRAM: Epergne.

NIHAR: Poitrel.

UNIDENTIFIED CHILD: Kakiemon. (ph)

JAIRAM: Caracal.

NIHAR: Baiage.

JAIRAM: Stymphalian.

NIHAR: Inambu.

JAIRAM: Feldenkrais.

NIHAR: Gesellschaft. G-E-S-E-L-L-S-C-H-A-F-T. Gesellschaft.

UNIDENTIFIED WOMAN: That is correct.

MARTIN: That was 11-year-old Nihar Janga and 13-year-old Jairam Hathwar in the final moments of the National Spelling Bee. Afterwards, they dropped by our studios, and Jairam told me that he was following in the footsteps of his brother, who has also won the competition.

JAIRAM: Well, it was really an inspiration to me when he won in 2014. And he really taught me that you have to stay calm and poised on stage and don't get too agitated if I hear a word that I don't know.

MARTIN: OK. Nihar, what about you? Tell me how you got started spelling to begin with.

NIHAR: So my sister in third grade, she was preparing for a school spelling bee. And so my mom was asking her a list of words. And I liked those list of words, so then my mom started asking me them. And I would keep on getting them right, so she realized I actually wanted to get a go at it.

MARTIN: What's fun about it, for people who aren't familiar with this? It's kind of like a sport. I mean, you train for it like other kids train for soccer tournaments and stuff like that.

NIHAR: Like, you get to make...

MARTIN: Nihar?

NIHAR: ...New friends. It's not just about spelling, it actually - you aren't going against each other. You're friends with everybody else, and you're going against the dictionary.

MARTIN: You know, I can't resist. I have to play something for you. So here it is.

(SOUNDBITE OF ARCHIVED RECORDING)

UNIDENTIFIED MAN #1: Bigneu.

NIHAR: Bigneu. Is this a Breton bagpipe?

UNIDENTIFIED MAN #1: Yes, it's the Breton bagpipe consisting of....

(SOUNDBITE OF 2016 SCRIPPS SPELLING BEE)

UNIDENTIFIED MAN #1: Taoiseach.

NIHAR: Taoiseach. Is this an Irish prime minister?

UNIDENTIFIED MAN #1: It is.

NIHAR: Taoiseach.

(APPLAUSE)

MARTIN: How do you know stuff like that?

NIHAR: Just ask my mom. She's the one that coaches me. She's the one that helps me remember everything. I mean, without her I wouldn't have got this far.

MARTIN: One moment that struck me, Jairam, was that every time you went to the podium, you said hello to the judge. And I think that was something that the audience really responded to as well. Let's hear that.

(SOUNDBITE OF 2016 SCRIPPS SPELLING BEE)

JAIRAM: Hi.

UNIDENTIFIED MAN #2: Hi.

(SOUNDBITE OF 2016 SCRIPPS SPELLING BEE)

JAIRAM: Hi.

UNIDENTIFIED MAN #2: Hi.

(SOUNDBITE OF 2016 SCRIPPS SPELLING BEE)

JAIRAM: Hi.

UNIDENTIFIED MAN #2: Hi, Jairam.

(LAUGHTER)

MARTIN: How did you come up with that idea?

JAIRAM: I don't know. It was - just came naturally, really. I mean, I didn't really intentionally - I'm just saying hi, really.

MARTIN: Really? You know, before we let you go, do you have any advice for kids perhaps who didn't do as well as you did this year and might want to get started kind of preparing for next year?

NIHAR: Yeah, I would say, if you get a word that you don't know, don't just shut down your brain and say you're going to lose. You can get it right if you just think a little bit. Like, I got the word quillon, I didn't know it at all. And so I thought, a French qui comes Q-U-I, and the llo comes L-L, and the o comes O-N, and I got it right.

MARTIN: What about you, Jairam? What's your advice?

JAIRAM: Basically, just to persevere, and if you're ever feeling down, just try. This competition is already one step. That's very beneficial. So it's just good to continue this because it's a good competition.

MARTIN: OK. That's 13-year-old Jairam Hathwar and 11-year-old Nihar Janga. They are the co-winners of the Scripps National Spelling Bee. They were crowned champions on Thursday night, and they were nice enough to stop by our studios in Washington, D.C., on their victory tour. Thank you both so much for joining us.

NIHAR: Thank you.

JAIRAM: Thank you.

MARTIN: And by the way, there is more on the power of words, specifically poetry, coming up later in the program. Transcript provided by NPR, Copyright NPR.

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