A team of four pupils from three Oxfordshire schools secured the UK’s first ever win at the International Linguistic Olympiad which was held in Bulgaria in July.
Anthony Bracey from Abingdon School, Liam McKnight and Harry Taylor from Magdalen College School and Stephanie Wong from Headington School made up the victorious UK West team. The students took on 170 competitors from 29 countries, including the United States, Russia and China to take the prestigious Team Competition title. Liam McKnight also won a gold medal in the Individual Competition; Anthony Bracey silver with Harry Taylor and Stephanie Wong both awarded honourable mentions.
The UK entered two teams into the international competition, in which competitors had to solve problems based on data from languages including Nahuatl, Arammba, Kabardian, Wambaya, Somali and Northern Sotho. The members of the UK West team, together with the seven UK competitors who won awards, including two golds, secured the UK’s best ever results. The UK teams were chosen from a two-round competition run by the UK Linguistics Olympiad (UKLO). Round 1 involved 1400 pupils who sat it in their schools, while Round 2 was a residential course for the top 16 from Round 1, hosted by Oxford University. Any school can enter the competition, which is completely free to schools and pupils.
Neil Sheldon, formerly Senior Master at Manchester Grammar School and currently Vice-president of the Royal Statistical Society, has accompanied every UK team since they first took part in 2009. Neil said: “The fantastic results are just about beginning to sink in. It’s great basking in the teams’ success, but I would like to step back a little and say thank you to everyone in UKLO. From small beginnings in 2009 – one man and four contestants – we have grown into a very effective organisation delivering a wide range of materials to promote linguistics. I don’t think many national organisations represented in Bulgaria were offering a range like ours, from breakthrough level problems to stunning Olympiad success.’
Talking about what it was like to take part in the competition, Anthony Bracey said: “We were all quite surprised when they called out that we had won, especially as we had a lot of laughs during the team contest itself in addition to the hard work. But I felt very proud holding up our UK flag; it was not just the winning but also the warm reaction of the other competitors we had spent the week with.”