TORONTO -- Canada’s national spelling bee is going virtual this year for the first time in its 33-year history, but spellers say they’re unfazed by the change.

The Spelling Bee of Canada will livestream the finals this Sunday with spellers from across the country competing at home via Zoom. In past years spellers in three age groups gathered for an on-stage competition, but this year organizers decided to forgo the tradition due to COVID-19 safety guidelines.

Fortunately, the spellers are already well acquainted with competing virtually. Sophia Mathew, 8, a national finalist from Ontario, said she didn’t mind the online format when she competed in preliminaries.

“One of the good things about it was that we got to play games while we were waiting for the person to let us is,” the third-grader told CTV News Channel on Friday.

“But the hard part was that I couldn’t hear the speller ahead of me to make sure that I didn’t make the same mistake.”

Nine-year-old Noah Chender, another finalist from Ontario, agreed that the online competition was less nerve-wracking than in person. For him, the joy of spelling comes from his love of books.

“For me it’s really fun, and I’m also really good at it because I read a lot and I really like reading. And like, if you can’t spell, you can’t read,” he said.

Both spellers have their own special way of training. Mathew likes to use a pen and paper to log words in her memory.

“I write down words in my journal, in my notebook, I write them on index cards and mama shuffles them and quizzes me on them randomly and I even wrote a dictionary,” she said.

For Chender, the trick to memorizing words involves hand-eye co-ordination.

“So we have a mini hoop in my room, and my mom sits on my bed asking me words while I play basketball.”

The competition can be stressful, with participants spelling increasingly challenging words as they work to avoid the sound of a bell — indicating a misspelled word. But Chender says he has a handy way to cope with the stress.

“My French teacher taught me this: I press my thumb into the palm of my hand, and it centres me,” he said.

Spelling competitions for children first originated in the 18th century in the United States as a learning tool. It wasn’t until the 1870s that the term “spelling bee” was first used. The Spelling Bee of Canada held its first bee in 1987, though smaller competitions were held before then.