The National Spelling Bee is just around the corner, and 11-year-old Jimmy McCarthy is in no mood for teasing.
"Unfortunately, in my state of preparation right now, I can't be very funny," he says, rolling his eyes at his father, who just joked in sign language about whether Jimmy should also study the Korean dictionary this weekend.The sixth-grader is the first profoundly deaf youngster to make it to the annual Scripps Howard National Spelling Bee, which begins Wednesday in Washington, D.C., with 248 U.S. pupils who won a series of school and regional contests.
To Jimmy, it's a chance to prove himself. He says he's tired of being teased at school and misunderstood when he tries to communicate with people who can hear.
"I've kind of kept to myself at school and around hearing kids. This is my chance to be more than the boy behind the book," he said Thursday, speaking out loud as his parents signed him questions.
"Hearing people don't always pay very good attention to deaf people's needs," he said. "It's important to show them that, given the chance, deaf people can be just as good as hearing people, maybe even better."
Other Bee contestants have been hearing-impaired, but Jimmy is the first profoundly deaf competitor. When he uses both his hearing aids, he can detect some sound but not much.
At the Bee, he will wear a radio device that will allow him to better hear words from the announcer. His interpreter will then mouth and sign the words he must spell - if she can.
There are roughly 400,000 words in the dictionary but only about 40,000 in sign language. So his school interpreter, who is making the trip with him, often has to define the word rather than sign it.
An honor roll pupil who skipped a grade in elementary school, he is thinking of studying genetics when he grows up because his favorite class is biology.