DUBAI // After nine hours of fierce competition, Pranathi Mahesh Rao, 14, was crowned the UAE's national spelling champion yesterday.
Her grand prize included Dh25,000 and a free trip to Washington in May to see the United States Scripps National Spelling Bee.
The student at Dubai Modern High School clinched the second edition of the Danube Spelling Bee Championship at the Dubai Community Centre and Arts Theatre at the Mall of the Emirates when she spelt "wallaby" in less than 60 seconds.
"I can't believe I've won," said Pranathi after her victory. "I never expected it. I think the level was quite high, all the contestants were really good.
"I am really excited to witness the American Spelling Bee in Washington. It will be amazing."
When asked what she planned to do with the prize money, she said: "My mum thinks I should keep it for education but I think I'll keep some for myself."
To win, Pranathi beat a hundred opponents aged between 11 and 15 from 16 schools.
More than 1,100 students from Indian, British and American schools took part in preliminary rounds in November, and more than 300 made it through to the January semifinals.
Yesterday the last 101 students battled it out for the top position, including 11-year-old Priyal Patel.
"It was tough because I also had my exams to focus on," said the student from Al Ain Junior School.
"I began preparing last month. I used to find origin words and my mother taught me some tricks that helped me prepare."
The students were given a list of 3,000 words and urged to anticipate some that were not included on the list. A word was read out to each contestant and they had two minutes to spell it.
Most, like Sakina Mithaiwala, 13, began preparing as soon as the list was handed out.
"They also provided us some websites," said the pupil from Westminster School in Dubai. "The words aren't tough but they are confusing. There are also words that are long. I went by their pronunciations when I had to spell them."
Alijaeh Joshua, 14, used recording devices to help memorise the words. "The words were easy but the competition was tough," he said.
The Scripps National Spelling Bee is America's longest-running educational event and the winner is usually invited to the White House.