N.B. fifth-grader with ‘off the charts memory’ heads to national spelling bee

Austin 11-year-old – with typical 11-year-old boy interests, like building Lego sets, collecting Pokémon cards, drawing comics, and playing with his brother, Daniel.

Less typical, however, is the memory talent of Quispamsis students.

Take the entire periodic table, which he memorized in a week. Or the names and flags of every country in the world, which he can recognize all “except maybe two or three.”

He currently works in the capital cities of all 195 countries.

Austin, a fifth grader at Fairvale Primary School in Rothesay, said: ‘My dad had me tested on my memory, and it was so good it was clearly off the charts.

WATCH / CBC’s Julia Wright Confronts Whiz . Spelling

How do you resist a 5th grade spelling?

Saint John’s Austin Hee is on its way to the Spelling Bee of Canada’s 35th annual championship.

Austin’s all-star ability to memorize information has earned him a top 50 spot in the Canadian Kangaroo Math Competition for four consecutive years – and more recently, the Atlantic region’s first place in the series. Virtual post from coast to coast of Canada’s Spelling Bee competitions.

Now, he is the only New Brunswick student selected to compete for the 35th annual Spelling Bee of Canada Championship on June 12, 2022 in Toronto.

“I was excited about the spelling bee and a little nervous,” said Austin, who took first place in the Atlantic region with the word competitor.

Austin He, 11, learned his words from his father, Forest. Fairvale Elementary School students will arrive in Toronto on June 12 to compete for the Spelling Bee of Canada award. (Julia Wright / CBC)

It’s not always smooth sailing

Before Austin entered first grade, his parents, Forest He and Yan Guo, realized that he could remember things – like books and signs – days after seeing them.

“That really caught our attention, realizing that Austin has this ability better than other kids his age,” says He.

With that said, “it hasn’t always been smooth sailing for Austin.”

At a different level than some other kids his age, causing him to sometimes lose interest in the subject.

“Often we hear Austin is not fully engaged in his class,” he said.

“Since we moved back to Saint John and joined Fairvale Elementary, we’ve received more support from the school. I must say the school has done a great job in guiding our learning and growing up. Austin, that’s also a big contributing factor for him. recent wins.”

Austin and the French Immersion Teacher Grades 4 and 5 Mme. Connie Culligan, who said Austin taught her a lot during her class time, especially about binary code and pixel art, two of his favorite subjects. (Julia Wright / CBC)

4th and 5th grade French immersion teacher Connie Culligan said Austin “was great to be in class.”

“I look forward to going to school every day to work with Austin. I can give him a lot of information to learn from, he can challenge me with ease.”

To keep him engaged in the class, Culligan invited Austin to be her informal tutor.

“The kids really adore Austin,” she said.

They know if they need help editing, they can go to him. If there’s something in the math that they don’t understand and I’m busy, they can ask him. “

His ability is “recognized as something to be admired, not as a distinction.”

Additional responsibilities also help keep Austin sharp.

“My classmates often used me as a human dictionary when we were writing, even though there were about 20 dictionaries on the other side of the room,” says Austin.


In the weeks leading up to the national championship, Austin is keeping up with the tests and practicing at home with his parents.

“It didn’t take him long to complete the basic training material. He just happily switched to the Oxford Dictionary,” his father said.

According to Austin, the “coolest word” he learned was Pneumonoultramicroscopicsilicovolcanoconiosis, which is a lung disease caused by inhaling silica dust. It’s an exciting one – but there are always bigger challenges out there.

Austin He, whose birthday is on Christmas Day, shows off one of the Lego sets he loves to build. (Submitted by Forest He)

“The longest word in the world is 189,819 letters long and takes three and a half hours [to spell]’ said Austin.

But he has more important things to focus on right now.

“I probably wouldn’t spend three and a half hours saying a word.”

Some shorter words, he says, can also be complicated. In the Atlantic competition, some of the words he found challenging included discus and opponent words.

Live stream on CBC Sports

According to his parents, Austin’s goal at the Spelling Bee of Canada was not necessarily to win.

“Our advice to Austin to be part of the national competition has been a huge accomplishment,” says Forest.

“So you can just be yourself on stage and enjoy the spell, which is what you really enjoy, instead of having to win something. We’d be happy if you win, but that’s not what we hoped for.”

Austin Anh with his parents, Yan Guo and Forest He. They have emphasized that competing in the Spelling Bee of Canada is not all about winning. ‘Being part of a national competition is already a huge achievement.’ (Julia Wright / CBC)

Inevitably, there is some pressure involved in performing at the national level. But he has “different strategies” for dealing with nerves.

“The last one I used was just repeating the periodic table in my head,” says He.

The Spelling Bee of Canada 35th Annual Championship will take place in person on Sunday, June 12, at Beeton Hall in the Toronto Reference Library. The event will be broadcast live on CBC Sports at 11:00 a.m. Atlantic time.

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