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Paige Kimble, director of the Scripps National Spelling Bee, called the change “significant but also a natural one.”

“Spelling and vocabulary are, in essence, two sides of the same coin,” Ms. Kimble said. “As a child studies the spelling of a word and its etymology, he will discover its meaning. As a child learns the meaning of a word, it becomes easier to spell.”

The vocabulary section counts for half of a speller’s overall score and factors into a competitor’s potential advancement to the semifinal and final rounds. It won’t be a part of the nationally televised final round, but it is expected to help bee organizers control the number of spellers who progress.

When Ratnam Chitturi, founder of the North South Foundation, learned about the vocabulary section, he didn’t bat an eye.

The North South Foundation is a nonprofit organization started by Mr. Chitturi in 1989 and based in Burr Ridge, Ill. Along with helping students in India get scholarships, the foundation sponsors a number of educational competitions in America, including ones for spelling. The foundation has local chapters across the country, and since 2008 every winner of the Scripps National Spelling Bee has been a part of one of the local chapters.

“Any kid in the top 20, they know vocabulary,” he said. “You can’t get to the top 10 without that grounding.”

Alicia has a multipronged approach to bee preparation. She stays after school three times a week to study one-on-one with Ms. Daisley. She also uses a computer-based spelling program and will go over words with her 10-year-old brother at home.

“Sometimes my brother helps me, but sometimes the words are hard to pronounce,” she said with a smile, revealing lime-green braces on her teeth.

Alicia also has an older brother who is 17.

She was born in Arlington to Fidel and Eva Gonzalez and has grown up in a household where Spanish is the first language.

When she isn’t spelling, Alicia enjoys playing soccer and reading. One of her favorite words to spell is “weissnichtwo,” which means an imaginary place. And she also enjoys spending time with her cat, Chaz.

Alicia’s newfound “spell-ebrity” has helped the quiet girl come out of her shell, Ms. Daisley said, an achievement made even more special for a young woman who learned English as a second language.

“She’s a different kid now,” Ms. Daisley said. “She’s really stepped outsider herself and taken risks that have really paid off.”

For her part, Alicia said she has mixed feelings about the national competition.

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