Hastings & St. Leonards on-line community newspaper
old town game1

Bruce Nicol’s Hastings Old Town game


Local resident, ex-language teacher and inventor, Bruce Nicol, writes about his experience of the classroom, underachieving students, his concerns for the future and his initiatives for change.

I speak for those who had no obvious means with which to assert themselves from an early age: those whose instruction had perhaps been inappropriate, if not downright ruinous as far as a happy, productive future life is concerned.

In this age of peace, plenty and (overstretched) welfare services, our youth have been robbed of common sense and a concept of individual responsibility. This lack leaves only a tremendous appetite for sex, intoxication, food and spectator sports. Combined with the inability to compete in anything which might increase self-esteem through achievement, it is easy to see the causes of feelings of uselessness and insignificance leading to long-term depression, which I think I avoided by the skin of my teeth.

I had what was considered a first-class education because it was exclusive to those who wished to insulate their children from hoi polloi or ‘riff-raff’ as the upper classes would have it. It is no wonder therefore that many reluctant learners refuse to take part in academic learning because it is perceived to be elitist.

A class divide began to exist from a time that high earners were able to compete with the hitherto powerful ruling classes for goods and services. There is one ”ell’ of a difference between God and Gold; our latest successful industries being guilt-free cheating, fraud, fantasy, and tax evasion; not to mention internet robbery on a massive scale and the wholesale murder of our planet by those who dump effluent into our oceans, environment and space itself.

As a species, we must be suicidally mad, bad and sad to be so greedy that we are prepared to sacrifice all we hold dear for the sake of short-term gain and self-gratification. We blithely ignore all the ancient warnings contained in the parables, legends, proverbs and scriptures. The conversion of our world’s natural resources into money, and the conceit that we own and can do in perpetuity what we please with what we are lucky enough to ‘possess’ at the moment is a widely accepted nonsense for which we will be condemned by all generations to follow. We have little reason to be glad about all the wonders we have wrought in the last couple of centuries.

What has led us to the abuse of every known freedom granted to us by a so-called civilised way of life? The ignorance of the issues which endanger our species can only be blamed on the present state of society and what it values. Parenting, teaching, and the powers of law and order have become too dependent on business, money and the forlorn hope that ‘everything will work out for the best’, without any insightful discipline whatsoever on our part.

A misinterpretation of the idea of democracy has made us less able to accept a refusal of our often commerce-generated desires for things we and our precious environment cannot afford. More and more money is demanded for fewer and fewer goods and services instead of common sense restraint, mutual support and social obligation. Lack of social training and self-discipline lead to ever more unenforceable laws, for it is recognised, even by the less-thoughtful, that if enough of us break the rules, the authorities become overwhelmed and will not be able to function efficiently (and catch up with us).

Shortcuts are made, and money is borrowed, for debt helps us to keep up with the Joneses, and is preferable to waiting for what we covet. I need hardly mention that all money-lending agencies delight their shareholders by mortgaging our futures with endless opportunities for credit. But new acquisitions, the consumption of luxury, and having a ‘good time’ give us a powerfully addictive sense of well-being.

Why is it that, in one of the most successful economies in the world, our results in the education sector are so poor, especially in the industrial and post-industrial areas? Perhaps we are too kind and our system too forgiving of laziness, inattention and disruptive behaviour to provide many of our students with the conditions conducive to enjoyable, undisturbed learning. After all, it only takes a couple of badly behaved youngsters fooling about to wreck a well-planned lesson for everybody. Have we, as teachers, failed to provide those we used to call NQs and other less neutral names, with the wherewithal to help them to experience the excitement of learning in the same way as they e.g. love to watch a football match and to identify with their favourite team?

This is a problem which has obsessed me all my professional life, for very early in my career it began to dawn on me that very few children entering our department for the first time enjoyed the experience, mainly because to most beginners a foreign language is quite alien. I used to say that other departments seemed better equipped to introduce new skills to beginners than we, who first of all deprived them of that most basic means of communication – the power of speech.

Yes, children are amenable to imitating jolly French folk songs, but it was not until twenty-five years later, when I became a language teacher, that I, at last, discovered what the words meant. The difficulties of my pupils were much the same as mine when I was a rather rebellious non-achieving teenager, who, amazingly became a language teacher in later life. During my first year’s employment, I began to spend more and more time trying to create ways of helping those who were keen but lacking the opportunity to improve their skills. I wondered how pupils could be persuaded not to abandon their study of my subject at the earliest possible moment, which at one time was actually encouraged by some schools, for obvious reasons.

At my next school, I not only continued my research into the mechanical aspect of language which I hoped would interest and motivate, while preparing lessons based on the textbooks as required by the school’s orthodox curriculum. My efforts finally culminated in a translating machine, which I felt learners would enjoy using. Alas, this machine was hand-made and thus far too expensive at a time when Texas Instruments were experimenting with their prototype ‘translator’, and that phase of the project finally had to be abandoned until a cheaper carrier of the material to be learned could be found. This morphed into a rather interesting series of, for want of a better name, educational games, the programming of which has filled my days since I retired some fifteen years ago.

These games are very simple, only needing a knowledge of the numbers in the language concerned to immediately achieve a lasting knowledge of useful information through the kind of basic interactive communication that one would use when first visiting a foreign country.

When beginner groups are familiar with the first phase of the delivery mode, the ‘master/apprentice method’ should be utilised so that all participants have the opportunity to conduct the proceedings individually and to thus gain extra points, confidence, and perfect pronunciation. Achievement is transparent and recorded in points for participation during each session, enabling the formation of individual running scores, teams and league tables. This encourages motivation and facilitates continuous assessment.

In this way inattention, boredom, cumulative deficit and their accompanying disappointment and sense of failure may be replaced by excitement, healthy competition and above all – enjoyment.

If you’re interested in finding out more about Bruce Nicol’s educational games and/or the rulers, please contact him via email on

© Bruce Nicol 2017

Link to Bruce Nicol’s poem about Hastings published in HOT last year.

Nicol's Rules

Nicol’s Rules

Posted 07:32 Tuesday, Jul 25, 2017 In: Grassroots

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