Best (and worst) Hebrew fonts for people with Dyslexia

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Aharon Varady's picture
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Best (and worst) Hebrew fonts for people with Dyslexia
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I was reading about this great open source project to develop a Latin font suitable for people with Dyslexia, OpenDyslexic. I began to wonder about the experience of Hebrew readers with Dyselxia. What is the best font? What is the worst font?

If there are no good fonts yet designed for Hebrew readers, this would seem to me a great challenge whereby Hebrew typographers could collaborate with one another and with the larger community in designing a better font. The GPL+Font Exception seems like the right license to facilitate such collaboration.

I'd love to learn what anyone knows about Dyslexia and Hebrew reading.

Aharon Varady
the Open Siddur Project
http://opensiddur.org

Michael Cunliffe Thompson's picture
Joined: 26 Jan 2005 - 8:47pm
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I found this on the OpenDyslexic website:

Clearly there is an emphasis on the lower part of each latin letter I wonder of this
is a necessary feature for it to be effective? In Hebrew there is a tendency to emphasise the upper part of the letter. In Hebrew instead of a baseline, the letters hang downwards from a line though the top of the text.
Mike

Claire Rosewall's picture
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Joined: 2 Jul 2013 - 8:42pm
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Having worked w/a dyslexic bat mitzvah student, I found, with patience he was able to get through a 2 book series by ARE Publishing (which I can't find right now, & don't quite recall the name). It was, however, by a speech & language specialist. I was much encouraged, but realizing he could only handle chatimot (which was fine by our Rabbi), still realized it would need to be enlarged. Still, we kept encountering problems. I had expected him to do better, but although he actually reads a lot for someone who is dyslexic, there really wasn't much progress. So, I went back to transliteration for him, but since I was typing it myself, decided to add a few extra spaces between words. At some point I realized that that was why he managed the Hebrew readers—they were columns of centered words with plenty of space between the words. I added probably eight to ten spaces between the words, and later saw some research stating that it was the space between the words horizontally that made it easier for dyslexics to read, not the vertical space. Colour coding was also helpful. I would break the Hebrew into phrases in any such siddur, much as Mishkan Tefillah has done (except for central prayers like their V'Ahavta & Tefillah—a big mistake for struggling readers).

Hrant H Papazian's picture
Joined: 3 May 2000 - 11:00am
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{To Follow}

Karl Stange's picture
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Claire, would you be able to share any visual examples of the text you prepared? I would be intrigued to see examples of both the spacing (admittedly much easier to conceptualise) and the colour coding, particularly intrigued about whether there was a range of contrast (minimal vs. extreme) that you found more productive.

While not specifically related to Hebrew I think it is worth referencing the earlier Typophile discussion about the Open Dyslexic font. I would like to think that terrible design is not a solution and the lack of evidence in support of it would seem to support that.

Albert-Jan Pool's picture
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Joined: 30 Aug 2006 - 2:14am
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I think this thread here is a good read on the subject of dyslexia too:

http://typophile.com/node/107355

John Savard's picture
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Joined: 23 Nov 2009 - 8:42pm
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The commercial font Dyslexie, whether or not it's really a good idea, more thoroughly illustrates all the features that some have thought of as being beneficial to dyslexic readers; it was discussed here, but not in the thread pointed to above.

Here's the original thread:
http://typophile.com/node/83691

Claire Rosewall's picture
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Karl, simply using English, it would be something like this:
Blessed are you, A----- creator of lights.
Or, in transliteration, it might have evolved to:
Ba-ruch a-tah A----- yo-tzeir ha-m-o-rot.

In terms of colour coding, since I usually take slower readers, I have found it helpful to use highlighters on their copies of the service. For example, purple for the brachah formula & closing chatimah formula, which also seems to help them understand the structure a little better (as well as reducing the text to concentrate on). Names are in orange, penultimate accented syllables in pink, congregational responses in yellow, kamatz katan in yellow as a reminder of its sound. I might also use little red tick marks on words where they might need reminders of syllable divisions, as above. Colored sheets of paper visually divide different sections of the service, much like the kaddish does. From the responses of my students when they forget their books, it seems to help them focus and navigate easier.

There is also a system of coloured overlays that seem to aid reading abilities of certain individuals who have distortions reading text on a white background. There is a rather interesting book about this syndrome, Reading By The Colors, by Helen Irlen, and further info at irlen.com.

John Savard's picture
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Having worked w/a dyslexic bat mitzvah student, I found, with patience he was able

This appears to be a typo.

An individual who would be preparing for a bar mitzvah is referred to by the personal pronoun "he".

An individual who is preparing for a bat mitzvah would be referred to by the personal pronoun "she".

Unless my cultural knowledge in this area is defective.

Claire Rosewall's picture
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A good catch—it was indeed a BAR mitzvah student I was referring to.

Claire Rosewall's picture
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This did not seem to come through well. Should have been:

Karl, simply using English, it would be something like this:
Blessed are you, A----- creator of lights.
Or, in transliteration, it might have evolved to:
Ba-ruch a-tah A----- yo-tzeir ha-m-o-rot.

Claire Rosewall's picture
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Joined: 2 Jul 2013 - 8:42pm
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Interesting. This self-corrects. I had placed 10 spaces between each word, which self-corrected to 1 space between words.

-'s picture
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Joined: 9 Jun 2010 - 1:39pm
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That's the web for you. Spaces are collapsed. You'd need to use non-breaking spaces (which most browsers don't collapse), or ␢/␣ to visually illustrate spaces.

Libby Cone's picture
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Joined: 14 Nov 2014 - 6:38am
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I am happy I found this interest group. I work as an editor. I read English, my native language, effortlessly. I still remember my high school German. But although I have been going to Japan for thirty years, and have been regularly attending synagogue for almost twenty, I cannot learn Japanese hiragana/katakana (not to mention kanji), and I am hopeless at Hebrew. I just realized a few weeks ago that I have been confusing the pey sofi and the kaf sofi for decades (in L'cha dodi, I have been reading "tof emunei" instead of "toch emunei")! I have been wondering if I am dyslexic in non-Western fonts. It would be interesting to see if there are fonts in the two languages designed for dyslexics.

Hrant H Papazian's picture
Joined: 3 May 2000 - 11:00am
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There might very well be a cognitive "disorder" concerning the reading of non-native writing systems (maybe particular ones) but it doesn't sound related to dyslexia per se.

BTW current Latin dyslexia fonts don't actually work...
http://bigelowandholmes.typepad.com/bigelow-holmes/2014/11/typography-dy...

hhp

Johan Palme's picture
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I dunno, it's not impossible. A recent study suggests dylexia in Chinese writing and in Latin writing are entirely different brain phenomena: http://www.economist.com/blogs/analects/2014/09/dyslexia-chinese

Hrant H Papazian's picture
Joined: 3 May 2000 - 11:00am
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Very interesting (and a conclusion that I think I'd read elsewhere before). But this wouldn't explain Libby's problem with Hebrew for one, since it's essentially alphabetic like Latin (not logographic like Chinese).

hhp

William Berkson's picture
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duplication

William Berkson's picture
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Libby, if you are just decoding Hebrew to pronounce prayers without understanding it as a language, which is the case for most American Jews, then I think "reading" is a fundamentally different problem. Also in Hebrew you have the Nikud, the vowel pointing, which makes the decoding process still more difficult. If you have meaningful language to connect symbols to then I think the process is easier. The symbols to words to sound and meaning is much more motivating than just decoding to sounds. Do you know any Japanese as a spoken language? If not then you would be in a similar position relative to Japanese.

An expert on learning a second language told me that at some point the brain sets up a separate center for the language; before that you will e.g. mix up different foreign languages. I think getting the whole process to function is a problem when you don't have any of the language as a spoken language.

Hrant H Papazian's picture
Joined: 3 May 2000 - 11:00am
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I'm not sure the "separate center" thing makes sense, although it might depend on whether one learns the additional language before or after puberty (which I consider to be a critical cognitive development threshold). What I can tell you for a fact is that certain Lebanese demographics (especially Armenians) can and do fluidly mix three, four or even five languages, depending mostly on who they're talking to.

hhp

William Berkson's picture
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Hrant, she was talking about the separate center in relation to adult learners. I don't know if the architecture tends to be the same for those who grew up with many languages. My wife also grew up with four languages, and slides between them effortlessly and automatically depending on the need. With her I am always impressed that if there is not the exact phrase in English, but is in another of her languages, she will just stick that phrase in the middle of a sentence, without any apparent effort. So you might be right that there is a different architecture at work. That she expects me to understand is another story :)

Libby Cone's picture
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Joined: 14 Nov 2014 - 6:38am
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To answer your questions, William, I know the meaning of a lot of the words, but not all of them. I can recognize only a few words on sight, like "leolam va'ed" and "shalom"; the rest I have to "sound out" letter by letter. I took a course in Biblical Hebrew and was able to do the coursework, but looking at my notes months later I couldn't recognize anything. Similarly, I have a lot of workbooks and textbooks for Japanese, and before a trip I can read the hiragana and katakana pretty well. The last time I traveled there I was able to take along a furigana dictionary (which assumes knowledge of the two syllabic alphabets), but the learning never sticks for long. This is despite the fact that I can speak some Japanese (not enough!), and my listening comprehension clearly improves over my usually two-week stays there, even though everybody wants to practice their English with me. I do nothing to keep up my German, but I remember it anyway!

William Berkson's picture
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I can't account for what you describe, though the fact that you know more Japanese as spoken language and can read its alphabets when you brush up does align with the idea that the spoken language helps.