Monday, June 11, 2012

Things Asians are freakily good at, #214: Scrabble

Here's something you probably never thought or cared about: There are World Scrabble Championships. And national championships. And youth championships, and so on. Just like any other ... er, sport. And given that Scrabble is an English-language game, you would probably expect it to be dominated by nations where the English and their descendants live - the UK, the US, Australia, Canada, New Zealand.
And traditionally you would be right. Except in recent years, people from Asian countries are making serious pushes for the crown. And actually winning. Here are the winners of the world championships since the late 90s:

Doesn't convince you of anything? (Other that Asians seem to do better in Asia?) Take a look at last year's placings at the World Youth Scrabble Championships:
Count 'em: that's two Sri Lankans, two Thais, a Singaporean and a Filipino in the top ten. And yes, it was won by an Australian, but an Australian named Anand Bharadwaj. It's not just 2011 either; you can look at the last few years of the youth tournament and it's pretty much a story of unremitting Asian dominance. In fairness, most of the tournaments take place in Malaysia for some reason, so maybe that dissuades some northern hemisphere Scrabble aficionados from travelling. But 2006 took place in Australia, and even though it was won by an Australian, 8 out of the top 10 were from Asian countries that year.

It's not that surprising really. If you've seen the way kids of South Asian origin completely dominate  the American national spelling bee championships, or the way that East Asian's seem to dominate any academic pursuit they apply themselves to, it stands to reason that some of them are going to take to Scrabble with a passion.

The other country that pops up in these lists which you might not have expected: Nigeria.

What is really surprising though is how Thailand has come to be one of the pre-eminent nations in world Scrabble. All the other countries on these lists have English as at least one of the official languages. Thailand does not. Thais do take to learning English with aplomb though, probably due to the huge tourist presence there, and apparently the popularity of Scrabble in Thailand comes from its usefulness as a tool for learning English.


1 comment:

  1. "East Asian's seem to dominate any academic pursuit they apply themselves to"

    ... or that their parents apply them to :P