The TEFL Logue And The Bee: Akeelah In Class?

image30042.jpgAkeelah and the Bee is a fine movie with a heart-warming ending that made me ask a question I probably should have asked a long time ago: spelling bees – why?

No, the Simplified Spelling Society did not slip me some cash to write this. I don’t think English spelling should change and I fully agree that well-spelled finished product is important. English-speaking kids need to learn how to spell words in their own language. But a whole competition, based on the idea that it’s commendable to spell words which you need to ask a definition of and will never in your life use?

The EFL teacher in me (which does not take a rest even when I watch a movie) cheered when Lawrence Fishburne spoke out against rote memorization – and for spelling, no less! He taught Akeelah that it is important to know the origin of the word and the meaning of the prefix and so on – then you are more likely to remember the word and how to spell it. Meaning before form, just like my CELTA trainers said!

There was also a hat tip to “everyone learns/remembers differently” when they discovered that jumping rope, or rhythm in general, helped Akeelah’s memory.

A film like this could have some interesting uses in class, especially because it alludes to learning strategies beyond “practice makes perfect”. The different attitudes of the parents and kids towards the competition could also make for a fruitful discussion on education generally…as could the utility (or futility?) of learning things which you may never use.

You would, however, probably have to clarify the whole concept of a spelling bee. I think learners are well aware that English spelling is hard, but they may not realize just how hard it is even for native speakers, or that there are serious competitions about it in a country considered as modern as the US. This hit home when I realized the translated title was “Little Akeelah”, probably because the concept of a spelling competition doesn’t make much sense in a language spelled phonetically!