French language connoisseurs challenged in spelling bee

On Thursday Nov. 10, the French club held its second annual French Spelling Bee in Sturges Auditorium. Part of Geneseo's National French Week, the event brought in over 30 contestants willing to try their hand at spelling in the language.

The rules of the spelling bee were simple: Say and spell the word without errors. Contestants had the option to ask (in French) for the judge to repeat the word or ask for it in a sentence. It was surprising but enjoyable that the conversations between the judges and contestants took place in French.

The first few rounds saw the majority of hopefuls knocked out, as by round five only four contestants remained. Most of the words in the first four rounds were everyday French words. After that, they got harder and harder through the eighth level of difficulty. Level seven included words such as eschatology and apophtegme, while level eight words were noticeably harder, such as sténodactylographie and pseudohermaphrodisme.

"Words from level eight are not necessarily difficult, but long enough to be challenging if the participant is not very focused," said Kodjo Adabra, an assistant professor of French and judge of the bee. "We are delighted to know that students can have fun participating in the contest while also improving their French as they discover and learn new words and their meanings in context."

Soon enough, there were two remaining; senior Rozalyn Hesse and sophomore Lily Wheeler. Both Wheeler and Hesse could have passed for French natives, as they battled into the 12th round against each other, correctly spelling words deemed most difficult by the judges. The audience, and even some of the spectating French faculty were visibly shocked as the pair progressed through round after round of correctly spelled French words. Eventually, Wheeler came in first, with Hesse in second and senior Emilei Cantrell rounding out the top three.

After the bee, senior Cladia Plantin, an international relations and French major and the vice president of the French club Le Cercle français, gave an impressive performance of "Je n'ai que mon âme" by French-Canadian singer Natasha St-Pier. The ceremonies also included a performance by junior Louis Lohraseb, a decorated composer and concert pianist. He played Claude Debussy's "La Deuxième Arabesque" and at the conclusion of the competition, returned to play "Le Forlane du Tombeau de Couperin" by Maurice Ravel. The winners then received their medals and the event was concluded.

Adabra said that the French club and members of the French section of the languages and literature department are hoping to make the spelling bee a multi-campus event, bringing the 3 best spellers at each State University of New York school to Geneseo to compete. Regardless, he said, the spelling bee will be a highlight of National French Week every year at Geneseo. Equally humorous and exciting, the French club put on an event that all students, français ou non, should look forward to next year.