SOLANA BEACH — To compete in the Scripps National Spelling Bee in Washington, D.C., students at Earl Warren Middle School must first win the contest in their individual classes. Then they have to defeat their peers in a schoolwide competition before heading off to the county spelling bee, after which the winner travels to the nation’s capital to compete.
“Last year I didn’t do so well, so I wanted to do better,” said Alex Kahng, who at the time was participating in his first spelling bee as a seventh-grader at Earl Warren. He never made it past the classroom contest. “I don’t like to fail,” he said.
As proof, Alex correctly spelled the word nexus at the San Diego Union-Tribune Countywide Spelling Bee on March 24 and is now off to Washington, D.C., for the national spelling bee in June.
“I’m looking forward to representing San Diego,” he said.
Alex, 14, said he was a little nervous at the beginning of the county competition because there were so many people. But things started to “loosen up,” he said, as the pool of contestants began to diminish. As the spelling bee was winding down and he got the word nexus — a connection or link between individuals of a group or members of a series — he knew he could clinch the title.
To help improve his performance this year, Alex said he memorized thousands of words from an online word list and a spelling manual.
“I read a lot, too, so that helped,” he said.
Alex also got some tips from Justin Song, the two-time county winner from Carmel Valley Middle School, which, like Earl Warren, is part of the San Dieguito Union High School District. He said he plans to continue to review the same study guides for the national spelling bee.
If he gets stuck on a word, Alex will ask for the definition or word origin, which he said can help.
Despite his stellar spelling performances, Alex said his best subject is actually math. He is currently taking algebra 2/trigonometry at Torrey Pines High School, a class traditionally taken by high school sophomores.
He was also one of the top 12 Southern California scorers in Mathcounts, a nationwide math competition open to students in sixth, seventh and eighth grade.
The state-level Southern California contest was held March 20 in Irvine. Students participated in written and oral rounds as well as individual and team components.
When Alex, a straight-A student, isn’t studying, he enjoys playing table tennis and reading — mostly science fiction. Although college is a few years off, he said he’d like to follow in the footsteps of his father and grandfather by attending Harvard University and becoming a professor.