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Paris boulevard hosts mass 'dictation'

Updated: 2023-06-06 09:24

Participants attempt to beat the record for the "World's Biggest Dictation" on Champs-Elysees Avenue, Paris, on Sunday. ALAIN JOCARD/AGENCE FRANCE-PRESSE

PARIS — Not to be outdone by US-style spelling bee extravaganzas, Paris' most famous street was transformed into an open-air mass "dictation" spellathon on Sunday, pitting thousands of France's brainiest bookworms against one another.

Revealing a very French love affair with words, over 50,000 people applied to participate in the event at the Champs-Elysees — a world first — in which hopefuls attempted to faithfully and without error transcribe a text read to them.

Over 5,000 applicants aged 10 to 90 were chosen to participate in three sessions led by novelist Rachid Santaki.

With 1,779 desks laid out on Paris' most famous boulevard in each session, organizers had sought to break the world record for a dictation spelling competition.

In the first round, an excerpt from La Mule du Pape by renowned French writer Alphonse Daudet was read by journalist Augustin Trapenard of Libraries Without Borders.

Silence fell when the first session started. But for 10-year-old Samson, the dictation was "too fast", so he gave up.

Top student Antoine, who is in his final year of primary school, attended it with his father. But despite being a star pupil, he had struggled to fill his page.

"It was impossible," he said. "The dictation was for adults."

His father Adrien Blind, 42, was equally relieved when the session wrapped, saying he "was in a state of stress and worry".

But 65-year-old retiree Touria Zerhouni was more upbeat.

"I only made two mistakes," she said. "I expected it to be much harder."

The competition went beyond the French classics, with a sport-themed round read by rugby player Pierre Rabadan, and another with a contemporary flavor read by writer and journalist Katherine Pancol.

Marc-Antoine Jamet, president of the Champs-Elysees Committee that hosted the dictation, said the event went beyond spelling.

"Dictation helps us to live together," he said. "It's unifying."

Agencies via Xinhua

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