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Spelling Champ Vanya Shivashankar Says She Still Has 'A Lot To Learn'

Alyson Raletz


This was 13-year-old Olathe resident Vanya Shivashankar's final word right before she was named co-champion of the Scripps National Spelling Bee in Maryland last week.

Pronounced share-in-shnit-ah, Vanya said that the German word has quickly become one of her favorites.

It's not one of her favorites because the word led her to win the prestigious competition, nor because it allowed her to be written about in the New York Times, or to be on Jimmy Kimmel Live. Not even because of the $35,000 prize that she was awarded after spelling it correctly.

She loves that word because of her fascination with its roots and their origins. In her brain, the logic between the branches of words and the process of piecing letters together to form words based on that knowledge is one of the biggest joys in her life. 

"I love using the patterns of the German language to put together words like 'scherenschnitte,'" Vanya told Central Standard host Gina Kaufmann. "Just learning the words is what I really enjoy."

Vanya isn't the only member of the Shivashankar family with an affinity for verbal finesse. Her older sister, Kavya, was also crowned Scripps Spelling Bee champion in 2009. Both of her parents and Kavya were in the crowd cheering Vanya on when she took the title. 

In addition to being the reigning spelling bee champion, earlier in the year Vanya was also featured on a reality TV show on Lifetime network, called "Child Genius." The eight-week competition included several other young kids with above average IQs, and tested them on 14 different subjects. Vanya came out victorious, and landed in first place.

Even with the title of "child genius," Vanya said that she doesn't think she'll be outsmarting any of her high school teachers this fall.

"I still have a lot to learn," Vanya said.

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