I am curious about whether "foreign language users" find a difference in readability of text between sans serif and serif.

Here, I am defining "foreign language users" as people whose primary/first language following a "non-Latin script" writing system (for example, Chinese, Arabic, Devanagari, Cyrillic, etc.).

If Latin script is not the primary mode of writing for a person, is there a preference for serif vs. sans serif (in Latin script)?

I would intuitively guess that sans serif is more preferable, but I am curious what research says about this.

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    I don't read any other language than English, but I do recognize a wide variety of writing systems. Cyrillic and Greek both have serif and sans-serif variants, and judging from what I've seen of each, the readability issues for serif vs. sans that occur with the Latin alphabet occur in an essentially identical way with both Greek and Cyrillic. There are analogous differences with most (but not all) other writing systems, but I can't say either way whether the readability is affected the same way. – Jeff Zeitlin Apr 28 at 16:51
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    However, I am curious how readability for those people is affected (between serif vs sans serif) in Latin script (not in their native script). Personally, even though I can read Latin script with ease in both typographic modes, I found it much harder to parse Cyrillic characters in serif than in sans serif while first encountering it in practice. – XYZT Apr 29 at 1:20

It seems that readability between Sans-Serif and Serif is inconclusive. I look at airport/public transportation signage as an indicator that Sans-Serif fonts, especially when large, are clearer to read. I know this doesn't directly answer your question, but hopefully it points you in the right direction.

Here are some helpful references to Airport signage:

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In the book "100 Things Every Designer Needs To Know About People" Susan Weinschenk writes that "People have been debating which fonts are better, easier to read, or most appropriate for centuries. One such debate centers around the use of two types of fonts: serif versus sans serif. Some argue that sans serif typefaces are easier to read because they are plain; others contend that serif fonts are easier to read because the serifs draw the eye toward the next letter. In fact, research shows no difference in comprehension, reading speed, or preference between serif and sans serif fonts." - it's so because people identify letters through pattern recognition. People form a memory pattern of how the letter looks like - so-called geons. The font you choose is not critical as long as it is not so decorative as to make it hard to identify the letters; some fonts interfere with the brain’s ability to recognize patterns.

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  • This does not address the primary question regarding people who aren't primarily using the Latin script. – XYZT Aug 22 at 13:52
  • why? I would disagree. If as research claims - people see everything around them by recognizing 24 basic shapes so-called geons- research by Irving Biederman than I don't think it's a difference between nationalities or what language do you use. In the end, you see every alphabet as so-called geons so as mentioned in the research above - it shouldn't matter. – Lorelei Heckmann Aug 22 at 18:19

There is a modern age parameter that we need consider when it comes to readbility which probably which is the key for me. RESOLUTION!

Readability of fonts has always depended on the resolution of the media in which it is displayed, which is the main reason there has been debates about Serif vs San Serif.

San Serif fonts had some concerns about readability in the initial days of the web as the resolution of the displays was very low. But now with almost every budget device having higher resolution screens, using Serif or Sans Serif has almost no impact on readability.

Unless, you are dealing with low res print media or screen where Serif fonts would perform better in terms of readability, font selection would not be an issue.

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