With one in ten UK students struggling with Dyslexia, it’s clearly an issue that all teachers need to be aware of. Unfortunately for EFL teachers working in countries like Japan, it’s not an issue that’s widely known. Neither is the use of dyslexic fonts.
Dyslexia in Japan
If you have little or no experience with dyslexia then you might wonder why I wrote this post. On a basic level it’s a learning disability that makes letters and words jumble or even move about in the eyes of the afflicted. This makes it very difficult for them to read or write properly. For a more intimate insight into the disorder I found this article to be very interesting.
However, users of the Chinese alphabet (Japanese included) are not affected by dyslexia. It’s not even apparent until people come to study English. As such many students go undiagnosed and are often labelled “lazy” or “stupid”. There are some ways you can spot a dyslexic student in your class. I think the most obvious sign is that the student just can’t grasp basic spelling or vocabulary. Frequently writing “d” instead of “b” is another indicator. One way to help these struggling students is to use dyslexic fonts on your worksheets.
The first, perhaps most obvious font I found is OpenDyslexic, which is freely available and already used in a number of places. The letters are easily distinguishable from one another and are “weighted” to stop them from drifting around too much in the eyes of a dyslexic reader. This weighted look is also present in other dyslexic fonts like Dyslexie, which is slightly more polished but requires a license. Although the personal license is free, it requires you to hand over your postal address and the licence only lasts for a year – a bit of a steep ask compared to the optional-donation model of OpenDyslexic. The downside to these fonts is that they do look a little “comic sans”-y…
Another font that I’ve often heard mentioned in the “easy for dyslexics to read” field is Myriad Pro. This is a font made by Adobe. As such it looks nice and modern and is used by a number of websites. It doesn’t contain any of the special features found in the other fonts mentioned here and could be classed as just a regular font. This might be a good choice for anyone who isn’t willing to alter the look of their worksheets too much just for the benefit of a handful of students. I found it quite easily here.
However, one thing that none of these fonts have, the lack of which I personally find grating, is a regular lowercase “a”. When teaching foreign students to read and write English it’s an unnecessary hurdle to have to say “well, we write it like this, but in your worksheets and textbooks it’s like this”. Thankfully, FS Me is a font developed with multiple disabilities in mind. It remains simple, clear, and contains a regular “a”. I also found it quite easily on this site. Of the dyslexic fonts listed here FS Me is my favourite because I think it still looks smart whilst also containing elements to aid those with learning disabilities.
As a final note, I think I should point out that most fonts require licenses that reflect their usage. Using them to make your humble worksheets to help teach students with dyslexia shouldn’t be a big issue. However, if you were to write a book with them or make a website with them, this becomes a different issue. So, if you intend on doing that, be sure to do your research.
If you’re an EFL Teacher and you’re finding that some of your students struggle with the basics of reading and writing, it may be worthwhile considering whether they have a learning disability. The average EFL teacher won’t have much control over how those students are treated in school. But you may be able to help them with something as simple as the font you choose.
What font do you regularly use? Do you have any tips for helping dyslexic student? Share your thoughts below.
Another thing that helps struggling students is to use a variety of activities.