Technologically and linguistically adventurous EFL teacher, trainer, writer and manager

On fonts

Every morning I use the Memrise app on my iPad to learn a little bit of Mandarin. I’ve been doing it on and off for about seven years now, and almost every day for four years. Since it’s the only way I practise Mandarin, I’m still very much A0, though my progress has been slow, but steady.

Occasionally, I use the browser version of Memrise rather than the app, and it inevitably results in a bit of depression! I always score much, much lower, with only around 10-20% accuracy, compared to my normal 80% or so.

I think the reasons for this are threefold:

  • There is a time limit for typing in the browser – I often need a lot more time than it allows to pull the characters out of the depths of my memory.
  • On the app, I have the option of a kind of multiple choice, where I can select from a limited range of letters that make up the word rather than typing from the whole keyboard. These letters generally appear in a similar pattern each time the same word comes up, and if I think for a while, I can normally get to the right answer. I have it set to automatically accept the answer when it’s correct, so I can keep trying until I get it right. Not necessarily great for my long-term retention though, as I don’t end up repeating the problem words as much.
  • The fonts are different. This is the biggest one for me. Words I’ve been seeing for years in the same font, such as ‘good’ (part of the word ‘hello’, so introduced on day 1!), look completely different and I can’t recognise them at all. I got that one wrong this morning, as well as ‘teacher’.

The browser version

The app version

I feel like this gives me a little bit of empathy with people who have dyslexia, understanding that a word can look completely different in different typefaces, and therefore unrecognisable. These two may not seem that different, but the serifs and line thicknesses add extra detail. I’m used to the more simplified version in the second image.

I knew about how challenging different fonts could be theoretically, but feeling it myself as a learner is different. This is why we should keep learning ourselves! Something to remember when making materials and tests.

Comments on: "On fonts" (3)

  1. Thanks for this Sandy. I have been learning Hebrew for the past four years and also find that fonts have a huge impact on whether or not I can recognise a word. Memrise is also somewhat scary when I get to the timed bits and I often make silly mistakes. But your point about raising awareness is vital. There were some comments after IATEFL about readability of slides and I noticed this as well in watching one of the plenaries online. I have suggested setting guidelines for presenters to make it easier for those in the audience as we did with publications. If we want to be inclusive, we also have to include those who, for whatever reason, have problems making out what we have in writing in our presentations.


    • That sounds like a really useful idea – colour combinations can also be very challenging, like yellow font on dark blue slides which I saw in one presentation!


      • I agree. I also found white on yellow almost impossible to read. A colleague also commented on the specific problems that people with various forms of colour-blindness face so if we want to be inclusive, we need to start with readability.


Leave a Reply

Fill in your details below or click an icon to log in: Logo

You are commenting using your account. Log Out /  Change )

Google photo

You are commenting using your Google account. Log Out /  Change )

Twitter picture

You are commenting using your Twitter account. Log Out /  Change )

Facebook photo

You are commenting using your Facebook account. Log Out /  Change )

Connecting to %s

This site uses Akismet to reduce spam. Learn how your comment data is processed.

Tag Cloud

%d bloggers like this: