What a computer can do is put the trial back into trial-and-error.

Windows text games Windows word-search utilities Jackass German versions
Textoys DOS text games and logic puzzles Terms News

Software for learners of foreign languages and people who enjoy language play.

by John and Muriel Higgins and friends—Updated 22 May 2008

Note: In some cases our software has been compiled without all the support libraries in order to save space and download time. The support libraries are usually pre-installed on Windows machines, but if you receive an error message on the lines of "missing Comdlg32.ocx", please follow this link in order to download and install the missing file. (My thanks to Tatiana Altukhova for providing me with this link.)

If you encounter problems on Windows Vista machines, please let me know. However, I cannot promise to do anything about it, since I am long since retired and not actively programming. I do not own a Vista machine or a newer version of VB.

About this software

Most of these programs are about text rebuilding. You play with a text that has been "damaged" in some way and rebuild it using your existing knowledge, your skill in guessing, the knowledge you share with friends working in a group beside you, and knowledge you get from asking questions or looking things up.

Since the texts that the programs use can easily be changed, the programs cover a wide range of levels and abilities. They are not for complete beginners, but anyone who can take a simple reading book home from class and read it with the help of a dictionary is advanced enough to use this software. You can use texts which you have already seen, or you can try with new texts.

What's new since January 2005

Sorry, folks: Nothing. Since the writing of the Jackass program, the ANIMAL game, with several tweaks that make it specially interesting for EFL learners, I have been busy doing research for a biography of one of my favourite authors, Victor Canning. However, I think a lot of this material would still count as innovative, and with the right feedback I might be drawn back into this field of endeavour.

In 2003 we announced an improved version of Verbalist, a program which we first created in the '80s as the culmination of the "exploratory programs" that Tim Johns first wrote on a Sinclair ZX81. Verbalist is a robot that creates all the grammatically possible forms of verb phrase in English. You click buttons for a modal verb, for perfect, continuous, going to, passive, negative, question, and so on. The program displays the phrase, however complex. If you have an Internet connection open, you could then do a Google search to see if the phrase ever gets used. Learners can flick between affirmative and negative or statement and question, and try to work out what rules the program has been given. The program draws on a database of about 1000 verbs, including every irregular verb in English (try to prove us wrong). Other verbs it treats as "unrecognised", but it still correctly gives past tense, past participle, and -s and -ing endings, using a set of built-in spelling rules. Try to catch it out.

The improved version of Findword with proper phonetic characters for input and display of pronunciation is now available from Lulu.com for a download fee of £1.25.

I have intermittently worked with Regine Müller on German versions of the language games. German versions of Switch, Double Up, Sequitur and Addenda (formerly a component of Sequitur) may be downloaded from this page. Mark Up and Eclipse are still on the drawing board.


Please note that
Textoys is distributed commercially via another site. Findword is distributed via Lulu.com. The remaining items are freeware.

All the software is distributed "as is" without any guarantees. All are full versions with text libraries containing material either written by us or believed to be out-of-copyright or within "fair use" limits. New text libraries can be added by following instructions in documentation or help files.

Copyright in the software remains with the authors. We are happy for you to download the software, copy it, and pass copies of the software on to friends, so long as the software itself is not changed and that you do not claim it as your own work. Although there is no charge, we invite you to make a donation of £10 or more to a cancer charity such as Macmillan Nurses if you use the software regularly.

All the software has been written for PCs using Visual Basic (for Windows) or QuickBASIC (for DOS). Sorry, Mac owners! I am, however, assured that all the programs work properly on a Macintosh running a PC emulator such as Virtual PC.

To save space, most of the programs for download do not include the Visual Basic runtime libraries. Most owners of modern PCs probably have these on their systems already; if you do not, you can either download them free from Microsoft or, if you have a problem, you can ask us for a complete installation.



ADDENDA (Windows, August 2002)

This is an activity in which you see the beginnings of three short texts, together with one word. You must choose the text to which the new word belongs, and then again until the texts are complete. This was previously a component of SEQUITUR, but is now a free-standing program.

Download an English version (EAddSetup.exe—735 KB)

Download a German version (DAddsetup.exe—725 KB).


DOUBLE-UP (Windows version, July 2002)

A short text is shuffled into an alphabetical word list. The learner has to pick out pairs of words which are adjacent in the original text. This makes for an exciting way of seeing how words fit together.

The English version for Windows has a release date of July 2002 (minor corrections over the February 1999 version). The new German version for Windows, developed with the help of Regine Müller, has a release date of July 2002. A DOS version of this program, version 3.2 with a file date of 21/03/94, can be supplied on request either in a standard version or in a research version which keeps highly explicit records of keystrokes with timings.

Download the English Windows version (EnglishDoubleUp.exe—750 KB).

Download the German Windows version (Germandoubleup.exe—780 KB).


SEQUITUR (Windows)

In SEQUITUR you see the start of a text and three possible continuations, one right and two selected at random by the computer. When you find the right one, it is added to the text and three more continuations are offered, until the text is complete.

Download the English version (ESequiturSetup.EXE—795 KB)

Download the German version (DSeqSETUP.EXE—830 KB)


FINDWORD (Windows)

This is a utility which looks up a dictionary to retrieve lists of words which match a pattern. You can use it for spellings, for instance all words which begin with, end in, or contain a set of letters, eg <tch>. You could use it for pronunciation, for instance finding all the words which contain the pronunciation /ʧ/ (as in church). Or you could use it for spelling and pronunciation, for instance finding all words which contain the spelling <ch> but not the pronunciation /ʧ/ (as in church), which would give you cache, chalet, chauffeur, machine, and many more.

You can also use it with grammar, finding all words which can be used both as preposition and conjunction, for instance, which gives a list of eleven words from after to until. You can use it to find adjectives which have or don't have -er and -est forms, or you can combine the categories, looking for all verbs which end in -ate for instance.

Click here to download a file of examples of ways the program can be used (Things to do with FINDWORD.pdf—82K). This is being added to gradually, and will eventually be incorporated into the help file. The help file explains the phonetic transcription used. The dictionary has been incorporated into the program.

Download FINDWORD from Lulu.com (FindwordSetup.exe—3.9 MB)


JACKASS (Windows)

JACKASS is a version of the famous ANIMAL game developed by Arthur Luehrmann at Dartmouth College in the 1970s. The computer learns from you by trying to guess an object that you are thinking of; at the beginning it usually fails, since it is very stupid, but each time it fails it asks you to teach it about your object, and it quickly learns. JACKASS can handle objects in three categories, Living Creatures, Transport, and Food, and you can create completely new categories if you want to (this aspect much improved in the new version).

The main distinguishing feature in JACKASS is that it also uses the information it has learned in order to write about the objects. Select any object and the computer will write an essay about it. In order to see how it does this, you can selectively switch on or off several of the grammatical rules it applies.

Download JACKASS from Lulu.com (price £4.00)



Martin Holmes, with our agreement and co-operation, has created a pair of programs to create ECLIPSE and SEQUITUR exercises written in HTML which can be mounted direct on to a web page. The software to create both costs US $33 or £20 stg., though you can download a free trial version that works with short texts only. This is currently the only Windows version fo ECLIPSE.

Download site


ECLIPSE (DOS version)

A Windows version of this software keeps being promised, but is taking me much longer than I expected. Even when I finish it, it may not have all the features of the DOS version.

This is the program which takes a page of text and masks the words, inviting learners to guess them. Features include:

The current DOS version is 2.2 and has a main file date of 28/11/95. The main change over version 2.1 is the addition of a Clipboard feature, making it easier to assemble libraries from diverse collections of text.

The libraries currently distributed are

A special research version has been created for a project at Stirling. This sets time limits and displays a "Time remaining" bar. The program can be set to allow 2 (fast), 5, or 9 (slow) seconds per word of the text by adding F or S to the command line. A very full record of the session is written to disk. We can provide a copy of the special version to anyone interested.

Download the standard program (248KB Zip file). Copy the file to a temporary location and unzip it, making sure the "use folder names" box is checked. Then run INSTALL.EXE



This program strips punctuation from a text and puts all words in upper case. The learner's task is to restore the text one word at a time. In the process they see how punctuation clarifies text.

Download (72KB zip file).



This is a classification exercise; words or phrases have to be asigned to the right column.The current version has a file date of 21/06/95. There are 35 sets of lists, starting with those exploiting grammar choices, then pronunciation, then lexis and general knowledge. We have no immediate plans for an upgrade or a Windows version, but will try to make interesting new lists available via these pages as they come into being.

Download (75KB zip file).



A text puzzle in which letters have to be dropped to the correct line in order to make sense of a message. This program is for DOS only. The current version has a main file date of 06/07/95, and can be downloaded from this page (78KB zip file).



Two logic puzzles, with possible EFL relevance. TRACK provides some background practice in preposition use, while SEESAW concentrates on comparisons with LESS and MORE. These are DOS programs only. The current version of TRACK has a file date of 20/10/91, and that of SEESAW is 22/05/92. They can be dowloaded by clicking on the titles (52KB and 42KB zip files).


VERBALIST (Windows, new version January 2003)

VERBALIST is a verb-building robot, demonstrating all tenses and aspects of English verbs. For each main verb you can create 588 distinct phrases (or 20,000 if you include all the variations of pronoun subject and modal verb).

Click here to see a screen picture of Verbalist.

Download Verbalist from Lulu.com (£1.00).

Click this link to read an article describing VERBALIST in use.


SWITCH (Windows)

Switch shows you a short text with variant readings. These can be grammar choices (active v. passive or different forms of future), style choices (formal/informal, British/US), or literary (what did Swift or Jane Austen actually write?).

Download of the English version of Switch (ESwitchSetup.exe—750 KB). The text library currently has about 20 texts, which can be added to.

Download of the German version of Switch (DSwitchSetup.exe—750 KB). The text library currently has 5 texts, which can be added to.



HOPALONG is a DOS-based reading pacer. A highlight runs through a text at a speed the reader controls, thus finding out what their comfortable reading speed is. Click here for a descriptive article, which includes screen pictures. and here for a download of the program (ZIP file—120 KB).