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The best font for ESL

What’s in a shape?

It has taken me quite some time to find a font that works for the unique way Japanese students learn English letters, or romaji. As with Japanese, their way of writing has a specific stroke order and shape to it. In order to not add an additional hurdle to learning a new language, I went on a quest for a font that would work for Japanese language learners.


Edit: A huge 本当にありがとうございました to User_One who pointed out that Elementary School and Jr High use different writing methods. I’m currently digging through my font library to find one that meets the Jr. High standards. 

Here’s hoping High School isn’t different as well…


There were a few key things I needed when searching:

  • Lines had to be straight or very round, almost bubbly, so that stroke orders could be marked and understood easily
  • “a” could not have a ligature mark (that thing on top of the letter), it had to look more like an “o” with a line, because new learners would often try to copy the letters by looking at the flashcard, and adding that just makes it worse for them later on
  • “q” could not have a backtick, or anything of the sort at the bottom
  • All the letters (especially K, M, W, and Y) had to be shaped appropriately to mimic the Japanese way of writing, such as the M coming all the way to the bottom, and the W coming all the way up to the top
  • It had to work well when traced with crayons for young learners!

By default, most people choose to use Comic Sans. While not everyone’s favorite font, it gets the job done for the most part. There were a few problems I had with it, though, mainly the fact that it is slightly italic in some letters.

So, did I ever succeed in my quest?

Yes!

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This is the font I recommend anyone teaching English in Japan grab and get in the habit of using for their flashcards, worksheets, and activities. It’s easy to read, easy for kids to understand if they have an understanding of romaji, and makes the transition easy for young learners from English letters to romaji later on (which they’ll learn in 3rd grade and be graded on doing correctly, so you don’t want parents to blame you when their kids muck it up!).

Print Clearly is available free from Blue Vinyl Fonts, and comes with bold, regular, and dotted.

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3 thoughts on “The best font for ESL

  1. Just came across this and tried it out, as I’ve been hunting for the perfect font for use in Japan too.

    Unfortunately, it’s not perfect! There are two issues for the current JHS letter system (which is a little different from the ES system!). The uppercase J has a stroke at the top, and the tail on the current K in Japan meets the upper stroke in the middle – it doesn’t come off the upper stroke.

    Like

    1. Ah poo, really? I did not know JHS was different! I had been primarily with ES, and following the third grade “how to write romaji” books for reference. It seems odd to change later.

      I’ll dig through my absurd collection of fonts that is slowing my computer down to see if I can find one that meets those differences – I’m sure I tossed a ton out due to the “k” difference, as my boss was Very, very explicit that we were doing it all wrong!

      Thank you!

      Like

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