Those of you who have seen me speak, or gone through one of my presentations on this site, know that I am very interested in typefaces (fonts), especially how L2 learners cope with different typefaces and I have recommended a number of typefaces in the past. These recommendations are based on a number of criteria, specifically a number of difficult letter combinations/contrasts that L2 learners struggle with, for example, the lower case l and the uppercase I. I strongly argue that only typefaces with good legibility, that is to say letter shapes that are sufficiently different, should be used. Because of this all of my recommendations have been for serif typefaces, like New Century Schoolbook or Bembo Infant. I have yet to come across a good sans-serif typeface that had the legibility required for L2 learners, until today.
Taking a step back for a moment, my recommendation, for supplemental materials that is based on a number of studies which report that the typeface easiest for readers is the typeface they are most familiar with (see Felici, 2003: 67-8 for example), is to use the typeface found in the textbook you are using in class. For me this year, that has been Myriad Pro, the typeface used in the English Firsthand series (Smiley, 2012). It’s a very nice typeface and as an L1 reader I enjoy it a lot, but I have been quite frustrated with it for my students. It has a number of the problems that I have identified for L2 users: indistinguishable I l, insufficient contrast between dbpq, double-story minuscule a, etc. I have been thinking for the better part of the year, that I would like to find something different and for whatever reason, this morning I decided to have a look.
- The uppercase I is actually serifed, and the lowercase l has a slight bend to the right
- The lowercase d, b, q and p are unique letter shapes, not just mirror images turned around or flipped over.
- The lowercase i and j have sufficient contrast.
- The lowercase f and t have sufficient contrast.
- The lowercase c and o have sufficient contrast.
- Both the lowercase a and g are single-story.
In other words, it’s the perfect sans-serif typeface for L2 learners. And it should be because it was designed to be used in educational materials. Here’s the blurb from Aviation Partners website:
I am happy to recommend it. Now I just have to get some funding together from my university so I can buy it.
Felici, J. (2003). The Complete Manual of Typography. Berkley, CA: Peachpit Press.
Smiley, J. (2012). The Anatomy of a Page in a Single Typeface. Between the Keys, 20 (1) 31-35.