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Dear staff: This one change can boost retention for 10% of Duolingo's learners

Dear Duolingo,

My mother and best friend are both dyslexic and it has greatly frustrated their learning. I believe it contributed to why my friend opted out of attending university.

Duolingo is a leader in language education. It sets examples that other educators are watching. 10% of Duolingo learners have dyslexia. This is yet another opportunity for Duolingo to shine above the curve. Offer learners the ability to select alternative fonts and you'll make learning more accessible. (With the Health feature in mind, alternative fonts could boost retention.)

A little information about dyslexia and fonts:

Around 10% of the people have dyslexia, a neurological disability that impairs a person’s ability to read and write. There is evidence that the presentation of the text has a significant effect on a text’s accessibility for people with dyslexia. However, to the best of our knowledge, there are no experiments that objectively measure the impact of the font type on reading performance. In this paper, we present the first experiment that uses eye-tracking to measure the effect of font type on reading speed. Using a within-subject design, 48 subjects with dyslexia read 12 texts with 12 different fonts. Sans serif, monospaced and roman font styles significantly improved the reading performance over serif, proportional and italic fonts. On the basis of our results, we present a set of more accessible fonts for people with dyslexia.

Most of the recommendations come from associations for people with dyslexia and they agree in using sans-serif fonts. The British Dyslexia Association recommends to use Arial, Comic Sans or, as alternatives to these, Verdana, Tahoma, Century Gothic, and Trebuchet [2].


We can't bring language education to the world if 10% are driven away by the font. While education programs in my own country are being cut, Duolingo has the opportunity to set an international example of care and good sense.

Thank you for reading and considering. :)

Edit: Yes, Duolingo does use one of the recommended fonts. The reason we are still getting concerned comments is because one font does not work for everyone, which is why there is more than one font for dyslexics. It is why I am asking for an additional option. :)

May 6, 2017



Accessibility is an important issue, Usagi, and thank you for bringing it up!

In case it helps anybody who's reading this thread: someone has made a (Chrome) browser extension called Duolexia that replaces the default font with a monotype font. http://duolingo.wikia.com/wiki/Duolingo_Browser_Extensions

It doesn't do what Usagi is asking for, unfortunately--that is, offer several different font options--and I don't know how well it works on the new site, but it might be useful for some people.


I believe the old userscripts no longer work with the new coding. Hopefully, folks will update the scripts so we can use them again. Thank you for mentioning that one!


You are aware of the fact that you can replace the site's css with your own and change the font to your liking? That's not to say that turning it into an "official" feature as you suggested would be a bad idea...


All duolingo's fonts are sans-serif anyway (so, according to information you have posted, DL should already be optimised for dyslexics). There are many free browser add-ons that allow anyone to change the font of any website easily.
Not to say that this is a bad suggestion, but I think it very unlikely to be carried out considering DL's brand-consciousness.

Personally, I find sans-serif fonts for East Asian scripts more difficult to read (and the uniform line thickness gives fewer clues to stroke-order, potentially making it more difficult for learners to look up characters in a dictionary).


You've pointed out some of why I'd like Duolingo to offer more than one font option. Additionally, some fonts work better for some people with dyslexia than others.


I'd love to see Duo offering a choice of fonts. Apart from dyslexia, am I alone in wishing the lessons came in a blacker type? I find the present pale letters cause eye strain if I try and do too many skills in a session (this includes revising). A small selection of fonts would be a good idea. (Not all users are tech-savvy enough to change their css).


It is not just the font which is significant, background colour can be important. Many dyslexia sufferers use coloured acetates to help see the words, my grandson had special coloured lenses made for his glasses to help his dyslexia. There is even special software you can purchase that enables selection of fonts and text / backgrounds to be selected when using other applications like browsers etc.


I wonder if it is a combination of Dyslexia and Skotopic Sensitivity? (The latter of which I do have). In university, they ran a series of tests to figure out the extent my brain injury was causing difficulties and it revealed that bit along the way. I sometimes used a yellow overlay and yellow paper, which helped. I was so harassed by one of my teachers, however, that I stopped requesting the accommodation. He was later fired for harassing disabled students. But it was such a stressful ordeal that I didn't request the accommodation again.


My wife, two children and four grandchildren have all been diagnosed with dyslexia and everyone has slightly different symptoms. My wife thought she was stupid until it was diagnosed and even now, where schools are more aware of the condition there are still many teachers who refuse to accept it is a medical condition and don't give the support they need and deserve.


Your friend can learn Chinese whenever it is released. There is no dyslexia in China, since it uses a different part of the brain to read characters.


It is true that different parts of the brain are used, although the Chinese can still suffer from completely forgetting how to write something.


This Dyslexic teacher also suggests being able to choose the color of the font. Studies have shown that it is easier for us Dyslexics to read when we see certain color fonts.


Thank you for sharing that insight. Hopefully, folks will vote your comment to the top! :)


From my own research, sans-serif fonts are usually best for websites, projections on screens, and other backlit text. Serif fonts are generally preferred for printed material.

Duolingo uses a sans-serif font but it is very difficult to tell i from í and I've seen many complaints about this. Allowing users to choose their fonts and their screen color (the pale gray on white is difficult for many people to distinguish) should be a fairly easy code change. And, as you say, it could potentially help retention quite a bit.

Good idea!


Sienna backgrounds seem to be the gentlest on my eyes. That would be so great! At the very least though, more accommodating fonts would go a long way. I've read comments from other learners here with dyslexia who the font is not working for. I'm hoping Duolingo would offer at least two proven alternatives.

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