Paroxysm, chrysanthemum, witticism, tūrangawaewae, manaakitanga and whakamā.

The words have little in common, but many people, young or old, may consider them quite difficult to spell.

They were all included in a list of 50 words given to students competing in the lower North Island semifinal of the New Zealand Spelling Bee.

Whanganui High School students Isaiah Tubayan and Christina Donne-Lee qualified for the competition and went to Wellington to do battle with the best.


The Year 10 students gave a good account of themselves, but were eliminated in the same round, three rounds from the finish.

The letter V was the enemy on the day as Tubayan was taken out by the word veritable and Donne-Lee was tripped up by vapidity.

"When I got eliminated, I just played it off like it was no big deal because almost all of the other spellers got eliminated as well and I wasn't the first," Tubayan said. "But I was pretty sad."

Whanganui High School students had not been competing in spelling bee competitions, but teacher Nick Staples introduced it to them as he had done at Heretaunga College.

To practise for the competition, Tubayan printed word lists off of the internet.

"I would give the spelling lists to my mother, she would say the words to me and then I would spell them," he said.

"The support I got meant a lot, most of my siblings are in the Phillipines, they'd call me at night and say 'Practise, practise'."

Donne-Lee said she was lured into giving the competition a crack by the $5000 prize.

"No, it's good to try new things, that's why I gave it a go.

"When I got out, there were 16 competitors left. I think I did as well as I could have done and the word that I got out on wasn't a word I had ever heard before."

She said that it was a good competition, but due to the random nature of the words drawn, some students got very easy words to spell and others were much more difficult.

Donne-Lee said she would prefer it if all of the competitors had the same word read out to them which they would write down on a piece of paper.

Instead, students are called onto a stage and have a word read out to them which they can have used in a sentence to help them with the spelling of it.

"It's good because you learn new words and because you have to go up on a stage to read out the spelling of the word, it's a bit like public speaking too," Donne-Lee said.

"When I got eliminated I was thinking 'Well, that could have gone better' but it was very good for my confidence."