Presentation Summary: Visual design and L2 learners: What teachers need to know

On Saturday June 11, 2011 I gave this presentation at the inaugural Asian Conference on Language Learning (ACLL) in Osaka, Japan. The theme of the conference was connecting theory and practice and in this presentation I attempted to connect theories about visual design, that is to say document design, to second language learners.

I began by giving a quick overview of some the research that has shown the visual design of a document effects the reader’s motivation, efficiency/speed, comprehension and recall of the material in the document. I then looked at five different aspects of visual design, explained the theory and showed examples to illustrate the issue.

First, I discussed typefaces. I explained how the best typeface to use with L2 learners is the typeface they are most familiar with. I showed teachers how they could determine which typeface is used for the textbook that were using in class and if they weren’t using a textbook I explained why using a serif typeface is usually the best choice.

Then I talked about line length and spacing. I discussed how that with long lines of text the reader has a tendency to lose their place when they finish a line a move to the next. I explain how the best solution for this is to use shorter lines with extra line spacing. I suggested that I good rule of thumb was to use two columns for an A4 portrait document and three columns for an A4 landscape document.

Next I showed some examples of white space and talked about the importance of white space to keep the document easy to use and not intimidate the reader. Then I discussed using lines and shapes to break the document in sections and guide the reader’s eye around the page. I showed how powerful simple things like adding a rectangle around in important information can help novice readers navigate a handout.

Finally, I discussed graphics which I defined as illustrations and photographs. I noted that many teachers like to fill empty space with clipart, but that often just distracts and confuses the reader. I ended by suggesting that graphics only be included if they served an instructional purpose.

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