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After 53 rounds, Spanish spelling bee is estancamiento (that's a stalemate)

David BriseƱo / Rio Rancho Public Schools

Co-champions Joana Fernandez and Judith Villa with their winners' plaques.

Two star students battled it out for an hour and a half in Albuquerque, N.M., correctly spelling word after word, before judges threw up their hands and declared a tie in the National Spanish Spelling Bee last week.

Judith Villa, a fifth-grader from Sunland Park Elementary School in Anthony, N.M., and Joana Fernandez, an eighth-grader at Rio Rancho Middle School in the Rio Rancho, N.M., were the finalists after 17 other pupils from six other states fell by the wayside Saturday.

Judith and Joana kept going, and going, and going — for 53 more rounds. They polished off words like unguiculado (meaning "unguiculate"), cabizcaído ("downhearted") and vehementemente ("vehemently").

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Monica Olivera Hazelton is a contributor for NBC Latino. M. Alex Johnson is a reporter for NBC News. Follow him on Twitter and Facebook.

Eventually, the judges ran out of approved words and declared it a draw. Jose Daniel Lara Arévalo of Legacy Middle School in San Antonio, Texas, finished third.

The contest, which is in its second year, tests children whose native language is Spanish or who are learning the language.

Spanish words are relatively easier to spell than English words, because groups of letters consistently produce the same sounds and the vowels typically are pronounced the same way. But students must also note Spanish diacritical marks, which makes the competition more challenging.

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