The John Higgins Home Page


Professional interests

Web versions of all Higgins DOS software
Web versions of
Minimal pairs, homophones
and homographs.
Hidden words:
a listening activity
Tim Johns's
Kibbitzer pages
A language museum

Personal interests

Victor Canning,
David Cargill
(Fiji missionary,
Words as art
Schubert Institute A voyage to Australia,
Pictures of Chiang Mai,

This was the home page of John and Muriel Higgins. Sadly Muriel died on 18 November 2020, but her work lives on and she is remembered fondly by family, friends, colleagues and students.

Between 1963 and 1986 we lived and worked in Thailand, Norway, the USA, Tanzania, Turkey, Egypt and Yugoslavia, teaching EFL. John joined the British Council in 1971. Muriel published several textbooks with Longman and a book on patchwork with Batsford. In 1980 we became involved in CALL (Computer-Assisted Language Learning) and put together a number of innovative pieces of software, including the first versions of a program later released as STORYBOARD, ECLIPSE, RHUBARB, and (in an uncredited version) DEVELOPING TRAY. See the demo version of ECLIPSE above if you want to try your hand, along with another exercise, SEQUITUR. John wrote or co-wrote (with Tim Johns) three books on CALL and numerous articles.

In 1986 John left the British Council and taught in the School of Education of Bristol University, and from September 1993 to August 2000 taught the M Sc in CALL and TESOL at CELT (the Centre for English Language Teaching) in the University of Stirling. In 2005 we moved from Scotland to Shaftesbury in Dorset. Then in August 2021 John emigrated to Chiang Mai, Thailand, where he now lives.

And the family remembers our daughter Ana, born in Chiang Mai, 20 March 1965, died in London, 20 July 1997.

There is no such thing as a stupid question, though there may be such a thing as a stupid silence.

Links to some of John's articles—on language:

Fuel for learning

… if I can without strain find 555 paraphrases of an 8-word sentence, then several thousand million paraphrases of a 50- to 60-word sentence is reasonable. … Why has Mother Language showered us with so many ways of expressing meanings?

I speak analogue; you hear digital

… In effect what we are doing here is to have the candidate give the assessor a listening test. We are certainly making the assessor behave more like a listener dealing digitally with the question "What is the candidate trying to tell me?" rather than like a judge dealing in an analogue way with the question "How well can the candidate make that sound?"

Power to the pupils

... “Who were your teachers?” I asked him, thinking he might have had a native speaker in his school class. “My teachers?” he said, “my teachers were Richard Burton, Laurence Olivier, Vivien Leigh and Gregory Peck.” Pretentious little git, you may be thinking, but there was not much wrong with his English.

Artificial unintelligence

…While computers possess randomness, they can to some extent do without intelligence…

English Homographs and text-to-speech algorithms

…Text-to-speech has made huge advances on the robotic voice we have associated over the last twenty years with Professor Stephen Hawking. … However, it is clear that the handling of homographs remains problematical.

The Drachenland Fable

... people were discussing the integratioon of computer activities into classwork. Looking round the room, I wondered why everybody was looking so glum. Would they still be so glum if the topic were, say, singing?


"Consider. When the colours red and blue are mixed
a third and quite different colour is formed—violet.
Might not the same thing happen with ideas?"
J.M.Scott, The Black Joke. p. 187.

"Knowledge is like water. You can map out boundaries,
but lines on paper don’t hinder currents and tides,"
Reginald Hill, Dream of Darkness. ch. 7.


--and on favourite writers:

The Birdcage books of Victor Canning
(Contribution to Mystery People online journal, September 2017)

…The three best of the Birdcage series, Firecrest, The Rainbird Pattern and Birdcage, constitute some of the best storytelling of the century.

John Buchan and Victor Canning
(from The John Buchan Journal, Issue 43, Spring 2011.)

…It was this middle period work which drew the label “Buchanesque” from many critics. The Golden Salamander (1949) was described as “pure Buchan and very exciting” by the Times Literary Supplement. A Forest of Eyes (1950) was “an unusually well-written adventure story … Iron Curtain Buchan”

Andrew Garve and Soviet Russia
(Entry in The Literary Encyclopedia)

... In his thrillers he has nothing good to say about communism and the Soviet system. However, given the leftist and on the whole rather charming idealism of his earliest work, I would still be surprised if he ever cast a vote for the Tories.

The plots of Andrew Garve
(Contribution to Mystery People online journal, February 2018)

... When you read The Ashes of Loda, his 1965 thriller about a British journalist escaping from Moscow across Ukraine in January, you will surely want to put on an extra sweater, if not an overcoat, scarf and gloves, so convincing is the description of a Russian winter.

Peter O'Donnell & Modesty Blaise
(Entry in The Literary Encyclopedia)

... One gets the sense that O’Donnell is writing for the kind of reader who does not sit down to read a book at a sitting but one who reads for a few minutes before going to sleep or on a commuter train. It is something he may have learned from scripting comic strips, and it is a valuable talent in a novelist.

J. M. Scott
Extended version of entry in Wikipedia.

On Sea-Wyf and Biscuit ... Was this, as Scott maintained, a true story which he learned at first hand fictionalised just enough for the main actors to be unidentifiable, or a plausible made-up story to explain the documented small ads, or had Scott created the whole story, inserting the ads himself in order to supply a hook for the novel? Against the third account is the four year delay. If Scott had invented the story, why wait four years to publish?

Homines dum docent discunt. Seneca, Letters to Lucilius, Book 1, letter 7.
Meaning: people learn while they teach
(and this applies with even more strength when they are teaching computers).

You can reach me by e-mail on
Page last updated on 22 June, 2024.