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The cast of musical "Spelling Bee" at Sydney Theatre - 


Scott Jagow: Last year, the winning word was Serrefine.
S-e-r-r-e-f-i-n-e. It's a blood vessel clamp. Today, the finals of the Scripps National Spelling Bee get underway in Washington. This year, a record 288 spellers are participating.
The Spelling Bee has become quite the international business. John Dimsdale has more from Washington.

John Dimsdale: Thanks to an Oscar-nominated documentary, a best selling novel, a hit Broadway musical and a feature-length movie, spelling bees are hip. And not just in the U.S.

Paige Kimble: We have inquiries from China and Taiwan and South Korea and Malaysia.

The director of the National Spelling Bee, Paige Kimble says there 22 two non-native English speakers among this year's finalists, competing for a $40,000 first place prize. That includes students from Ghana and South Korea.

Kimble: The ultimate mark of having mastered the English language is to be able to say you're a champion speller. So they want to demonstrate their mastery by participating in spelling bees.

For the third year in a row, the ABC television network will broadcast Friday's final competition live. And for the international audience, ESPN360.com, will stream today's quarterfinals live on their website.

In Washington, I'm John Dimsdale for Marketplace.