clock menu more-arrow no yes mobile

Filed under:

Meet this year’s youngest Spelling Bee competitor

Akash Vukoti is a 6-year-old boy who lives in Central Texas. He enjoys jumping on trampolines and playing with his big sister.

Also, his favorite word is pneumonoultramicroscopicsilicovolcanoconiosis. (If you're unfamiliar with the term, turns out it's a type of lung disease.)

Akash is, by far, the youngest contestant in this year's National Spelling Bee. He is the only 6-year-old among the 285 contestants (there are two 8-year-olds and 184 13- and 14-year-olds). Tomorrow, you'll be able to watch him live on ESPN3 in the competition's preliminary rounds.

akash big word

And as 6-year-olds go, Akash is a pretty impressive guy. The résumé his dad sent me runs four pages, single-spaced. It starts with his induction into the high-IQ society Mensa at the age of 3 (really!) and ends with his recurring role on Steve Harvey's new show, Little Big Shots.

Clearly this is a kid who knows some things — and as this year's youngest speller, he is near certain to be a crowd favorite. So we figured it made sense to catch up with Akash and ask him how he got so freaking good at spelling.

"I just get the letters in my mind"

Akash says the first word he remembers spelling was "spoon." He estimates he was about 18 months old at the time.

"My uncle gave me a spoon," he says, swaying back and forth in typical kindergarten fashion. "I spelled it s-p-o-o-n. That's it. That's how it started."

His first spelling bee happened a year later, when he was 2. He says that as he spells, "I just get the letters in my mind."

"As I say the letters, the letters just come up," he says, gesturing to his head.

Akash walked us through some of the things he think will be most important at for him at the National Spelling Bee. As any viewer of the Bee knows, contestants can ask for certain questions about their words — language of origin, part of speech, definition — as they deduce the spelling.

Akash gave us an example of why this was important — with some amazing 6-year-old humor worked in, obviously.

He told us about the word "bondon," a type of French cheese ("It's a very tricky word").

(Johnny Harris / Vox)

"The 'on' in that word will be pronounced nasally — it will be pronounced with the nose, like ... like so..." (Akash takes a big breath and starts to squeeze his nose.)

"So then you say, like, 'on.' It's like oink, oink, oink," he says, imitating a pig. "On, on. Bondon."

You can watch the National Spelling Bee coverage beginning Wednesday on ESPN3, and see more Vox coverage of the Bee (including interviews with five former champions) here.