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2012 National Geographic Geo Bee: How do you pronounce that?

Since 1989, the National Geographic has encouraged teachers to spark student interest in geography through the National Geographic Bee. As outlined on the Study Corner page of the Geo Bee site, there are many things that students should do to prepare for this contest. But little is known as to what it takes for the Geo Bee staff, reviewers, judges and moderators to assure the accuracy of every question selected for the contest’s preliminary and final rounds in the national level.

Our year begins with an initial review and edit of over 1,000 questions. In early spring, several weeks prior to the competition, we meet again to review the edited questions and make final adjustments. Such adjustments can range from correcting punctuation to assuring that topical questions remain so. This meeting is followed by yet another several days prior to the preliminary round competition. Here, the judges and moderators review the questions one final time and focus on how to best pronounce the many foreign names and terms imbedded in the questions.

Geo Bee contestants are not penalized for inaccurate pronunciations so long as it can be determined that they know the correct answer. Moderators, on the other hand, have little leeway when it comes to pronunciations–they have to get it right. So, when faced with pronouncing foreign, if not exotic, place-names such as Ürümqi, Kiribati, or Vänern what is a moderator to do? Well, here they have several options. This includes: 1. Adding a pronunciation guide after the name in the question (which we do); 2. Contacting embassies or native speakers of those countries or languages who can teach the moderators how to best pronounce such names; and, 3. Accessing government or private websites that can assist the moderators with pronouncing such names.

Once all options have been examined, studied, and adopted, the Bee moderators final objective is to get those names right, be it the Chinese city of U-ruem-chee, the Pacific island nation of Kee-ree-bahss, or VAH-nern, Sweden’s largest lake.

Juan José Valdés
Judge, National Geographic Bee