Boston's Spelling Bee Champ Is Its Youngest Competitor

Download Audio
Farah Haniff (white shirt, center) with fellow spelling bee competitors. (Kassandra Sundt/WBUR)
Farah Haniff (white shirt, center) with fellow spelling bee competitors and their family members. (Kassandra Sundt/WBUR)

It was a tense Saturday for 9-year-old Farah Raslan Haniff, a fourth grader at the Winship Elementary School in Brighton. Standing at the Boston Centers for Youth and Families, she was one of 21 students competing for a spot at the Scripps National Spelling Bee in Washington, D.C.

Farah was asked to spell "sevruga" — a grey caviar from a fish native to the Caspian Sea — "ingenue," "erudite," "tchotchke" and 27 other rounds of words. Until finally, they came to her final word ... "cacophony," a harsh, discordant mix of sounds. With that final spelling, she won the whole competition.

"I felt like I was in a dream," Farah tells Radio Boston's Meghna Chakrabarti. "I also felt really thankful that I won, to my mom and everyone who supported me, and all the hard work."

Farah worked with her mother, Azna Zaini, to cram all the studying into just a couple days.

"She didn't really practice," says Zaini, "because I thought it was like something for fun ... just like two days practice. And then she made it!" As Zaini concludes, "I think her memory is very good!"

Farah memorized almost 500 words in those two days.

"I had the help of my mom, to write down some of the words I had trouble with," she says. "Just stick them to the walls of my living room, so I can see them every day."

Going into the competition, Farah seemingly had two disadvantages: She was the youngest competitor on the stage and English is her second language. She grew up in Malaysia and speaks fluent Bahasa Melayu. Her family arrived in Boston just this past summer, for her father's graduate program. They'll be heading back to Malaysia at the end of the summer.

Her favorite word is actually German. "Schadenfreude," she says. And then she spells it, "S-C-H-A-D-E-N-F-R-E-U-D-E. Schadenfreude."

And we couldn't help but spell a word for her: "W-I-N-N-E-R."

"Oh, winner!" she says. "Thank you!"


Farah Raslan Haniff, 2017 Boston Centers for Youth & Families spelling bee winner.

Anza Zaini, mother of Farah Haniff.

This segment aired on March 23, 2017.

Headshot of Jamie Bologna

Jamie Bologna Senior Producer/Director, Radio Boston
Jamie Bologna was senior producer and director of Radio Boston.


Headshot of Meghna Chakrabarti

Meghna Chakrabarti Host, On Point
Meghna Chakrabarti is the host of On Point.



More from Radio Boston

Listen Live