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No Loss for Words Here

Susan Notes: When children read books of their own choosing, great things happen.

For Stephen Krashen's comment on the research underpinning Sam's vocabulary-acquisition method, see:


Sam Girvin, 9, of Meadow Park Elementary School has qualified to compete against 99 other Californians for the Reader's Digest Word Power Challenge's state championship Feb. 27.

Nine-year-old Sam Girvin of Meadow Park Elementary School hasn't yet decided what career he'd like to pursue. But he has decided that he wants to win a $25,000 college scholarship.

And he's already accomplished half of the four competitive steps toward that goal.

The $25,000 will go to the winner of the Second Annual Reader's Digest Word Power Challenge for more than 1.5 million contestants from grades 4 through 8 in thousands of schools across the nation.

In step one, Sam last fall placed first among his fourth-grade classmates in the vocabulary tests.

Now, in competition with eight other winners in Meadow Park's fourth-, fifth- and sixth-grade classes, he has been chosen in the magazine's qualifying exam to compete against 99 other Californians for the state championship that would make him a candidate for the national title.

Each of the nation's 50 states will be holding statewide competitions Feb. 27, with the winner from each state being offered a chance to compete for the national championship in late March at an all-expense-paid visit to Colonial Williamsburg in Williamsburg, Va.

On Tuesday, Sam was asked what he was doing to prepare for step three, the Feb.27 California face-off in Bakersfield.

"I haven't done anything special for the competition, and I won't be doing anything special now," he replied nonchalantly.

But there is something special about his routine relationship with words.

To begin with, his architect father, Patrick, and his transportation scientist mother, Raquel, enrolled him in an international school in Japan, where the father was then working.

"I picked up a little Japanese when I attended that school from kindergarten through the grade two," he says. And he heard other languages when his parents took him on visits to Bali, Canada, Mexico, France and his mother's native land, the Philippines.

For a time, he had a chance to play Scrabble with his mother's brother, who happened to be a Philippine Scrabble champion.

"I never won. But I guess I learned a lot of words."

He also credits his parents for enriching his vocabulary by "talking to me while using longer words."

Nowadays, in addition to working on homework assignments, he reads for pleasure "about 100 pages of fantasy and other things a day, and about 200 pages on weekends."

Sam emphasizes that he feels no pressure from his parents to maintain such a reading routine.

"They give me books for presents. But that's because they know that reading is my hobby. That, and collecting bird feathers."

Though Sam has his eye on the top prize of $25,000, he says he'll be happy to win the $15,000 for second place or $10,000 for placing third.

Considering the stiff national competition he's facing, will he be satisfied with the T-shirt he's been awarded for being chosen to compete for the championship of his state?

For that question, Sam Girvin was not able to find any appropriate vocabulary.

— Kubeshini Naicker
Orange County Register


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