Learning too much can lower your grades

Digital learning lowers the fear of foreign languages

The future of English teaching is being researched at the Burgenland University of Applied Sciences in international cooperation. The first results show that there are deficits in Austria's schools. The quality of digital teaching depends on the teacher, although there are gender differences.

Learning English on the computer is a matter of course for many older students in lockdown. For some, digital language teaching is even a huge benefit. Those who shy away from actively taking part in face-to-face oral lessons because they don't want to embarrass themselves now benefit in particular.

"Because students who are more anxious about using the foreign language and do not want to expose themselves to the activities in the classroom do the online exercises in a protected setting and can improve," explains Eva Gröstenberger, head of the institute for training and practical studies at the University of Education Burgenland and therefore responsible for the training of around 700 future teachers.

She emphasizes that digital teaching is only as good as the teacher who is giving it. “If only assignments are sent and corrected, instead of also teaching synchronously online, the learning success of the students is at great risk,” she says. “More than half of the students only practice when teachers ask for it and are present online to answer questions or to encourage them. In order to do this, there would have to be guidelines from the school management. ”In her dissertation, Gröstenberger examined how the gender of the pupils and their fears of the foreign language affect their practice behavior. To this end, she interviewed 379 high school graduates at ten commercial academies and higher education institutions for business professions in Burgenland.

Girls have better grades

She came to the conclusion that girls in particular suffer from fear of foreign languages, even though they have better grades than boys. Apparently girls rated their own language skills and abilities significantly worse than their male classmates, explains Gröstenberger.

Here teachers would have to take action and ask. But these are often not aware of the fears of their students. The study also found that boys move much more strongly than girls in a virtual English-speaking environment and are accordingly less reluctant to speak English at school.

Teachers want to practice more

The study also revealed gender-specific differences in the teaching staff. According to this, female teachers insist more strongly than their male colleagues that students practice - and monitor this accordingly. The result: "Students who are taught by women practice more," says Gröstenberger. This can also reduce anxiety. It is a "poor testimony of our school system that many 18-year-olds only begin to study for the Matura when they are afraid of it," says Gröstenberger.

She wrote her dissertation at the FH Burgenland as part of an international cooperation with the International Burch University in Sarajevo. Together with Edda Polz from Lower Austria, she was the first to complete the PhD course in Educational and Communication Sciences, which began in 2017, while working.

Both works were supervised by didacticians in Bosnia. The lawyer and elementary school teacher Polz teaches school law and English at the Lower Austria University of Education. As part of her mixed-method study, in which a total of 614 schoolchildren and 25 educators took part, she demonstrated that reading and writing had to be taught during English lessons in primary school in order to enable the children to enter secondary school without any problems. “Unfortunately, English lessons today have to take a back seat to German special classes,” she says regretfully.


Foreign language anxiety (FLA) was defined by Horwitz, Horwitz, and Cope in 1986 as the fear of foreign language learning in the classroom. It is caused by particularly stressful circumstances, e.g. B. a test situation caused. FLA is not to be understood as a personality trait and has no connection with other types of fear, but specifically refers to the use of a foreign language with a strong focus on speaking and listening.

("Die Presse", print edition, November 28, 2020)