NACLO, linguistics, and computational linguistics FAQ

Who can participate?

The BYU NACLO competition is designed primarily for high school students residing in Utah. Middle students are also welcome to participate. If you are not yet in 6th grade, and would still like to participate in NACLO, please contact

What if I'm not a linguist (yet)?

No prior knowledge of linguistics or second languages is necessary to participate in the competition. In fact, there is no pre-requisite knowledge at all. However, it is good to try out some of the previous problems (available elsewhere via this website) to practice solving the types of problems that have been given in the past. The olympiad is a way for you to experience a taste of linguistics and computational linguistics in the 21st century, and to develop and exercise your language, logic, analytic, and problem-solving skills. It will also help you develop a more sophisticated understanding of human language, a useful tool for any future field you choose to pursue in life.

How does the competition take place?

All participants in the BYU NACLO competition will report to BYU on Thursday, January 23, 2020 in the Foreign Lang Activity Commons (room B003) in the basement of the Joseph F. Smith Building (JFSB) at BYU. They will all together take a proctored three-hour test consisting of several questions. The responses will be sent to NACLO headquarters for grading, and the results will be announced a short time later. The top contestants will advance to the invitational round a month later.

Why is it called the Computational Linguistics Open Competition?

Linguistics is a large field with many different subfields. The NACLO competition is designed to test the participants' abilities in solving language problems that typically are addressed by linguists. Though not yet widely known to the general public, computational linguistics is a rapidly emerging subfield of linguistics with applications in such areas as search engine technologies, machine translation, and artificial intelligence. Some (but not all!) of the questions in the competition involve some level of computational ability to solve optimally. Experience in computers, programming, or math---while helpful--- is not required for the competition, though.

The American winner of the 2007 international competition stated: "It's like a math contest without the requirement of knowing any math, without the rigor of a math contest. Indeed, mathematicians normally do quite well in the contests." Another student said: "Despite all being based on linguistics, the problems in NACLO are very diverse. Every time I began a new problem, I had to think carefully about what I could use to solve it. The techniques I ended up using ranged from applying basic English grammar to searching for patterns to solving systems of equations."