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Raffles Girls’ Primary School pupil emerges as national champion speller

Singapore, 30 April 2016 – Singapore’s champion speller is Sophi Tan Xuan, age 9, a Primary 4 pupil of Raffles Girls’ Primary School, who beat 20 others in a nail-biting showdown in the grand final of the fifth RHB-The Straits Times National Spelling Championship earlier today.

She spelled her way to the top spot at Nanyang Polytechnic’s Theatre for the Arts, after spelling correctly the word “intelligentsia” in the championship round, beating her opponent, Ho Wing Yip, 11, from Catholic High School (Primary), who was named the first runner-up.

In third place was Khoo Kai Jun Aloysius, 12, from St Joseph’s Institution Junior.

At the decisive round lasting two hours this morning, the 21 finalists, who had earlier gone through two exciting rounds – the preliminary on March 26 and the zonals on April 16 – battled it out on stage, facing a judging panel from the Ministry of Education’s English Language Institute of Singapore (ELIS), The Straits Times and the Speak Good English Movement.

The auditorium was packed with fellow student supporters, teachers, principals and parents and readers of The Straits Times.

Each finalist took turns to spell aloud the words read out by the pronouncer, Ms Nora Samosir, a seasoned actress and instructor in the theatre studies programme with the National University of Singapore.

When a pupil misspelled a word, he was out of the quest. As the rounds progressed with increasing difficulty, they were eliminated one by one, some tripping on words such as “brougham”, “coiffure” and “cantabile”. 

The appreciative audience applauded the contestants as they attempted each of their words. When the word “izakaya” was read out, the pronouncer used it in a sentence to describe a place where Japanese workers would congregate for meals and to complain about their boss, to a loud chuckle from the audience.  The audience of some 200 was glued to their seats as the contestants spelt words that got increasingly more difficult with each round.

For her hard-fought victory, Sophi Tan Xuan took home $5,000 and the Challenge trophy for her school, while the other two top spellers won $3,000 and $1,000 respectively.

In his address, deputy editor of The Straits Times, Mr Ignatius Low, said: “In the national conversation, we often hear people say we place too much pressure on our children, through things like tests and tuition and competition. But today’s competition has brought out a different side and opportunity altogether. Parents have made homework time another chance for them to bond with their children, as they together find out more about the origins of words. Through preparing together, teachers show their young charges the true meaning of perseverance, sportsmanship, and even when they fall, how to pick themselves up and demonstrate resilience.

“I like to think of this competition as Outward Bound Singapore for the mind. Not all of us can be stars on a running track or in the pool. In The Big Spell, there may be no ropes to climb nor canoes to paddle but through taking part in the competition, they learn to be humble in a win, and gracious in defeat.”

RHB Bank Singapore’s country head, Mr Jason Wong, said: “It seemed like not too long ago that we crowned our first RHB-The Straits Times National Spelling Champion”.

“Today, we have our fifth addition to the Big Spell’s Hall of Fame, and the adults are still in awe every time we witness the exciting battle of spelling and sometimes, luck. There was never a boring year for the Big Spell in the past five editions.

“As we achieve our fifth milestone year with a record number of participants, we would like to say that we are really proud of all the 21 pupils who made it this far today. RHB Banking Group’s key objective is to equip the children with the skills, capabilities and competencies needed to succeed in future. That includes taking defeat with grace, and winning with humility. Most importantly, they can enjoy the experience and create wonderful memories.”

The guest-of-honour was Dr Janil Puthucheary, Minister of State for Education and Communications and Information. He said: “In this day and age of automatic spellchecks and autocorrect, there is still a need for good spelling, to appreciate the difficulty and beauty of the English language through a competition like this.”

The contest, open to Primary 4, 5 and 6 pupils, drew a record number of 1,805 pupils who turned up for the preliminary round. Some 117 tried their best at the zonals, with 21 making it through to the finals this year.

Co-organised by RHB Banking Group and The Straits Times, in partnership with the Ministry of Education, the fifth edition of The Big Spell is supported by the National Library Board and Nanyang Polytechnic. The venue partners were Singapore Zoo and Suntec Singapore, while Philips was the audio and sound partner.

Download The Big Spell Grand Final photos at: 

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For more information, please contact:

Colin Ong 
Assistant Manager 
Editorial Projects Unit
Singapore Press Holdings Limited
DID: +65 
6319 5118

Athena Kang

Assistant Manager, Corporate Communications & CSR
Singapore Press Holdings Limited
DID: +65 6319 1225


About The Straits Times 

The Straits Times, the English-language flagship daily of Singapore Press Holdings, is the most-read newspaper in Singapore and is followed widely in the region for its comprehensive coverage of local, regional and world news, provided by its correspondents in 20 bureaus in major cities worldwide. 

Launched on July 15, 1845, The Straits Times underwent a major redesign across all platforms in July 2015, when it celebrated its 170th anniversary. This revamp is part of its continuing efforts to refresh its products, maintain quality and stay relevant to the changing needs of its readers. Its integrated newsroom operates round-the-clock, providing readers with news as it happens on all platforms, from its website at, Apple and Android apps to social media. 

The Straits Times is a member of two media networks - the Asia News Network and the Impact Journalism Day alliance of newspapers - and it has won multiple international media awards, including from the Society of Publishers in Asia, the World Association of Newspapers and News Publishers, the Pacific Area Newspaper Publishers' Association (Panpa), Society of News Design and Wan-Ifra. Its revamped paper won a gold medal for overall newspaper design by the World Association of Newspaper at the Asian Media Awards in Manila this year.

About RHB Bank Singapore

RHB Bank was first established in 1961 as United Malayan Banking Corporation Berhad. Through a series of rapid expansion and strategic mergers, RHB Bank Singapore emerged as a full-licensed bank with a network of 7 branches and operating 15 Bureau de Change outlets in Singapore Changi Airport. The Bank provides a comprehensive range of financial products and services to consumer, corporate and business clients, ranging from various types of deposits and loans, treasury to investment banking. 

RHB Bank Singapore is the first full bank to be conferred the prestigious S-Class (Service Class) award by SPRING Singapore as well as the first and only bank in Singapore and Malaysia to be awarded the prestigious “Best Customer Experience Management of the Year Award” in banking service by APCSC Hong Kong and most recently, awarded the SQC (Singapore Quality Class) by SPRING Singapore in June 2010.

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