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Spelling bee winner: I studied German language patterns

As the confetti rained down after he won the 86th Scripps Spelling Bee on Thursday night, Arvind Mahankali, 13, was calm.

“It hadn’t completely registered yet that I had won so I didn’t really appreciate the magnitude of what had just happened,’’ Mahankali said on TODAY Friday.

The teen from Queens, N.Y., took home the title by spelling the word “knaidel,” a German-derived Yiddish word which refers to a type of dumpling. In the last two Scripps Spelling Bees, Mahankali had placed third after being eliminated by words with a German origin.

“This year I decided that no matter what, I wouldn’t be eliminated on a German word so I decided to improve my skills with German,’’ he said. “So first I studied German language spelling patterns, and then I created a list of German words with help from my father, and then I had my mother quiz me on that list.”

Mahankali is the first boy to win since 2008, and he brought home $30,000 in cash and prizes as well as the coveted cup-shaped trophy. He didn’t blink when challenged with words like "glossophagine," "trichocercous," "thonnier" and "chalumeau." He was one of 11 young finalists in the event at the Gaylord National Resort and Convention Center outside Washington who made it to the end from a pool of 281 contestants.

Mahankali also overcame a new hurdle introduced this year by contest organizers. A computerized test including vocabulary questions was added to deepen the contestants’ knowledge of the English language.

  • Slideshow Photos

    Evan Vucci / AP

    Image: Arvind Mahankali

    2013 National Spelling Bee

    Spellers ranging in age from 8 to 14 descended on National Harbor, Md., for the annual contest.

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    Arvind Mahankali, 13, of Bayside Hills, N.Y., is congratulated by his family as confetti falls after he won the National Spelling Bee by spelling the word "knaidel" correctly on Thursday, May 30, 2013, in National Harbor, Md.

    AP / AP
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    Scripps National Spelling Bee champion Arvind Mahankali, 13, of Bayside Hills, N.Y. pats second place finisher Pranav Sivakumar, 13, of Tower Lakes, Ill., on the shoulder after Sivakumar incorrectly spelled his final word Thursday night.

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    Vismaya Kharkar, 14, of Bountiful, Utah, covers her face as she concentrates on her word "temenos" during the final round of the National Spelling Bee on Thursday.

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  • Image: Chairs are removed as the field of successful spellers dwindles to three during the final round of the National Spelling Bee at National Harbor in Maryland

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    Chairs are removed as the field of successful spellers dwindles to three during the final round of the National Spelling Bee on Thursday.

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    Grace Remmer, 14, of St. Augustine, Fla., reacts to correctly spelling "greffier” during the finals of the spelling bee.

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    Jonathan Caldwell, 13, of Hendersonville, Tenn., reacts after misspelling a word in the semifinal round of the 2013 Scripps National Spelling Bee in National Harbor, Md., on Thursday, May 30.

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  • Image: Neha Seshadri, Kuvam Shahane, Anuk Dayaprema

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    Neha Seshadri, 12, of Imlay City, Mich., left, and Kuvam Shahane, 13, of Rochester Hills, Mich., center, listen as Anuk Dayaprema, 14, of Vincenza, Italy, takes his turn during the semifinal round of the National Spelling Bee, on Thursday, in National Harbor, Md.

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  • Image: Amber Born

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    Amber Born, 14, of Marblehead, Mass., reacts after spelling the word "malacophilous" correctly during the semifinal round of the National Spelling Bee, on Thursday, in National Harbor, Md.

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    Nadar Chandran reacts after his daughter Nikitha Chandran, 13, of Valrico, Fla., spells the word "peristalith" correctly during the semifinal round of the National Spelling Bee, Thursday, in National Harbor, Md. At left is Sumita Chandran, Nikitha's mother.

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  • Image: Superior Spellers Compete At National Spelling Bee

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    Isabel Cholbi, right, of San Bernardina, Calif., celebrates with Katharine Wang, of Beijing, China, after she correctly spelled her word in round five of the 2013 Scripps National Spelling Bee on Thursday, in National Harbor, Md. Forty-two spellers advanced to the semifinal of the annual spelling contest for the championship.

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    Victoria Allen of Green River, Wyo., pauses as she spells the word "alim" correctly during the second round of the National Spelling Bee, on Wednesday, May 29, in National Harbor, Md.

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    Lucas Michael Urbanski of Crystal Lake, Ill., waits for his turn to spell in the second round on Wednesday, in National Harbor, Md. Two hundred and eighty spellers competed in the annual spelling contest for the championship.

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    Daichi Hayakawa of Sunto-Gun Nagaizumityou, Japan, spells out the word "meistersinger" on his hand before spelling it correctly during the second round of the National Spelling Bee, on Wednesday, in National Harbor, Md.

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    Katharine Wang, right, of Beijing, China, celebrates with Kate Miller of Abilene, Texas, after Wang found out she advanced to semifinals of the 2013 Scripps National Spelling Bee on Wednesday, in National Harbor, Md.

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    Mollie J. Symons of Halifax, Nova Scotia, Canada, smiles as she participates in the second round of the National Spelling Be in National Harbor, Md. Symons correctly spelled the word "charpoy" in the round.

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  • Image: Parents wave to competitors in the 2013 Scripps National Spelling Bee at National Harbor in Maryland

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    Parents wave to competitors in the preliminary round of the 2013 Scripps National Spelling Bee in National Harbor, Md., on Wednesday.

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    Kennith Gonzalez, center, of Union City, N.J., yawns during round two of the National Spelling Bee on Wednesday in National Harbor, Md.

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    Contestants in the Scripps National Spelling Bee take the preliminary test, which includes a vocabulary section this year, on Tuesday, in National Harbor, Md. The 86th Scripps National Spelling Bee is under way, with 281 youngsters taking the first vocabulary test in the history of the competition. Spellers arrived Tuesday morning to take a 45-minute computer test that probes their knowledge of both spelling and vocabulary. The results will be combined with Wednesday's on-stage round to determine which spellers will advance to the semifinals Thursday.

    AP / AP


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