Local Spelling Bee Champ Nihar Janga Talks About the Lessons of Competition
by Sherida Mock
Nihar Janga has spelled quite a few words in his 11 years, not the least of which was gesellschaft (a type of social association). It was the word that clinched a co-championship in the 2016 Scripps National Spelling Bee, an honor he shares with 13-year-old Jairam Hathwar of Corning, New York.
The soon-to-be 6th grader in Leader ISD spoke with us about his experience winning the bee and what it’s taught him about life in general.
AF: How did you train for the spelling bee?
Nihar: My mom would find words online and ask me words from the dictionary. I didn’t study every day, but out of a week, I studied five days for at least one hour.
I’ve been studying for six years. I was inspired by my sister, Navya. She was studying for the school bee, and I wasn’t able to do it because I was only in kindergarten. My mom started asking my sister the words, and I got interested. And then my mom asked me the same list, and I got them all right. She realized that I’m good at spelling. I like it, and I’m good at it. I think that helps, if you have both. If you’re good at it, but you don’t like it, it’s stress and pressure.
AF: Was this your first year to compete in the spelling bee?
Nihar: Yes, to go in the national spelling bee. I thought I was going just for the experience; I mean, it’s only my first one. There’s this thing called NSF [North South Foundation]. It’s a non-profit organization to help Indian kids have awareness about advanced academic skills. There’s a lot of exposure to spelling bees and math bees.
To get to the national spelling bee, we go through the Houston Public Media spelling bee. It’s the toughest spelling bee, and it’s the second biggest. Everybody says if you go to Houston, then you’re basically prepared for the national spelling bee.
The national spelling bee in Washington is in three phases.
First is the preliminary test, and then it’s Round 2 and 3. If you get those right, you’re called on stage for the finals. This year, there were 45 finalists out of 285 people. Then there’s a Finals 1 and a Finals 2. The Finals 1 went four rounds, and 10 people were left. And then Finals 2 is the last part of the whole bee.
AF: Did you ever think, “This is as far as I’ll go?”
Nihar: Yeah. There were a bunch of words I thought I would just go out on. But I thought of Dez Bryant [of the Dallas Cowboys]. He’s my top inspiration. I thought of him, and he didn’t give up, so why should I give up?
The last part of the spelling bee went on for 25 rounds, with two people. I thought, “There’s a possibility I could make it.” I have to spell 25 words, but he has to spell 25 words, too. It was so much pressure and excitement at the same time.
AF: What has happened since you won the spelling bee?
Nihar: I got to go on Jimmy Kimmel’s show. And I got to meet Dez Bryant. He cancelled some of his practice time just to meet me. He took me on a tour of the whole Dallas H.Q. He treated me like he was my big brother. It was so amazing.
AF: What skills have you learned from training for the spelling bee?
Nihar: How to be on stage, to build up poise and talk in front of people. I think it also teaches you how to deal with stress. I’m only in 6th grade, but some people can’t deal with stress when they’re really old. It’s not the words that you learn, it’s about how to cope with the outside circumstances. In the spelling bee, more than a million people are watching you.
AF: Do you have any advice for people who want to try something like this?
Nihar: Get a lot of support from your parents. If you don’t like spelling, try something else. Don’t just give up. If you really like something and you really want to do it, try to become good at it. Who knows, maybe you can become the champion?
AF: What do you like to do when you’re not in school?
Nihar: I like playing football—not in an association, but with my friends. And I like to play the guitar.
AF: What are your plans for the future?
Nihar: Since I want to become a neurosurgeon, I think I’ll focus on math and science. One of the best neurology departments invited me to come over to New York, because they saw me on TV. They said I could come over and see how the brain works. But to me, New York is too urbanized. There are so many people. I like Austin, because it’s cool. It’s more peaceful.