He started reading at 2, and now at 16, Muhammad Amiruddin Ismail is the best speller in the state. Amiruddin's performance in the secondary school category of the RHB-New Straits Times Spell-It-Right Challenge in Perlis was spectacular.
The fourth former from Sekolah Menengah Sains Tuanku Syed Putra bowled over the audience by correctly spelling words such as "exculpation", "obscurantism" and "internecine".
The science stream student also single-handedly led his school to victory in the competition at SJK (C) Khoon Aik here yesterday, as the rest of his team failed to progress past the first round.
Amiruddin owes much of his success to his passion for classical English literature.
That and his obsession for drama and comedy serials on the BBC Entertainment channel have enriched his vocabulary beyond measure.
"My parents taught me to read when I was 2 and I have been hooked on fiction ever since. As I got older, I read the Tin Tin comics," said Amiruddin, who names The Water Babies by Charles Kingsley and The Memory Keeper's Daughter by Kim Edwards as his favourite books.
Amiruddin hopes for an academic career after acquiring a degree in classical English literature, possibly at a university in Britain.
With his engineer father and an aunt having been educated overseas, "I would also love to experience life in a foreign country," he says.
The three teachers who accompanied Amiruddin to the event had nothing but praise for their champion.
"I am overjoyed," said English teacher Anis Sabirah Abdullah. "He approached me to ask if he could participate in the competition. He really wanted to be a part of this."
She was accompanied by fellow teachers Ooi Guan Lee and Ida Ruhidiba Bakhtiar, and a group of students who came to cheer their team on.
Amiruddin won RM2,000 with his performance. The suspense was palpable as he completed spelling "obscurantism" just as the 20-second timer buzzed.
In so doing, he pipped Nurfasihah Abdul Razak of SMK Agama (P) Kangar into second place. The third-former went home with RM1,500.
Second runner-up was Maktab Rendah Sains Mara Beseri fifth-former Ameera Mahpudz, who got RM1,000.
Amiruddin won his school another RM2,000 by helping them become the winners in the school category.
The runner-up was MRSM Beseri, winning RM1,500, and third was SMK Agama (P) Kangar, winning RM1,000.
The prizes were presented by RHB Bank Berhad vice-president and deputy regional director for northern region Yong Kin Leng.
Chief judge and New Straits Times deputy chief news editor Balan Moses said Amiruddin would be the one to watch during the national finals in Kuala Lumpur on Aug 9.
"I was impressed. He was a clear winner from the start," Balan said.
"But I was also impressed by Perlis having several promising candidates in the lower forms who could do better next year."