What is language phobia?

Linguistic phobia, or the fear of public speaking, is the most commonly held situational fear. Public speaking causes anxiety in about 77% of the general population and can sometimes interfere with a person’s daily life. This is especially true in school or work-related situations that involve speaking in front of others.

Read on to learn more about language phobia and healthy ways to deal with it.


“Glossophobia” is the official term used to define fear of public speaking. It is also sometimes called public speaking anxiety.

Phobias fall into one of three categories:

  • Specific phobias: Fears associated with specific objects (such as spiders or confined spaces) or certain situations (such as flying).
  • Social phobia: A fear involving a marked and persistent sense of social anxiety or performance-based anxiety.
  • Agoraphobia: Fear of situations or places that can lead to anxiety, panic, helplessness, or embarrassment. This term is most often used to describe the fear of crowded spaces.

Linguistic phobia is a social phobia that causes stronger-than-normal feelings when speaking in public. Those with speech phobia not only walk on thin ice in their stomachs, they experience extreme distress in situations that involve public speaking, interacting with new friends, or talking in small groups.


Depending on the severity of the condition, people with speech phobia may experience a variety of symptoms. They may only have fears of acting and public speaking, but they may also have other social anxieties.

Symptoms of speech phobia often include:

  • severe fear or fear of public speaking
  • Avoid situations that require public speaking, whether formally in front of an audience or informally through small talk

People with language phobia may also have other symptoms of social phobia. These can happen before, during or after the social situation.

Symptoms may include:

  • Avoid group chats
  • avoid the parties
  • avoid eating with others
  • Worry about events like phone calls or work meetings
  • Worry about doing something embarrassing
  • Worry about blushing or sweating
  • Difficulty completing tasks when others are watching
  • avoid eye contact
  • low self esteem
  • Worry about being criticized or judged

People with social phobia are more likely to experience anxiety and depression than the general public.

Like many phobias, verbal phobias can also lead to a variety of physical symptoms. Panic attacks are also possible and may cause increased heart rate, chest pain or tightness, and tremors. Other symptoms include:

  • hot flashes
  • chills
  • sweat
  • feeling of suffocation
  • feeling short of breath
  • dry mouth
  • headache
  • Dizziness
  • feeling dizzy or fainting
  • numbness
  • needle stick feeling
  • Urgency to go to the toilet
  • sound in ear
  • upset stomach
  • Puzzled
  • feeling disoriented


The fear of public speaking usually begins in adolescence. Social phobias such as verbal phobia can be caused by a variety of factors.

biological factors

Linguistic phobia may be partly due to genetics. Genetics can determine how the brain regulates feelings of anxiety, stress, nervousness and shyness.

Some people may be naturally shy and find social situations difficult to navigate. Most people with social phobia have a shy temperament throughout their lives.

learned behavior

Fear of public speaking may develop after learning the fear from a role model. A child whose shy parent avoids social interaction or speaks in public may be affected, developing the same fear.

Children who witness this avoidance may grow up thinking that speaking in public or interacting with others is disturbing and should be avoided.

Likewise, if parents are overprotective of a shy child, the child will not have the opportunity to get used to situations involving new friends or speaking in public. This can lead to social phobias, such as language phobias, later in life.

past experience

Stressful or disturbing life events or past experiences can cause people to associate negative emotions with situations that involve public speaking or interacting with others.

If someone is criticized or humiliated, they may develop social phobia. If a person is forced to interact in ways they are not used to, they may also develop social phobia.

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Those who were bullied were more likely to avoid others, fearful of exposing themselves to more criticism by speaking out in public.


Since the fear of public speaking is a social phobia, it is often diagnosed as a non-generalizing social anxiety disorder. Recent research has shown that fear of public speaking is a common feature of social anxiety disorder, but it can also exist in the absence of other signs of social anxiety.

For people diagnosed with social anxiety disorder, a mental health professional will conduct a psychological evaluation using the criteria in the fifth edition of the American Psychiatric Association Diagnostic and Statistical Manual of Mental Disorders (DSM-5).

You can also have a physical exam or lab test to look for any abnormalities in your physical health, which usually checks a person’s hormones, vitamins, and blood levels.

How to Diagnose Social Anxiety Disorder


Treating social phobias such as speech phobia can be complex and may require multiple approaches. Psychological interventions such as therapy are known to be effective in treating the fear of public speaking.

Treating social phobia involves talk therapy. These include:

  • Cognitive Behavioral Therapy: Also known as CBT, this type of psychotherapy (talk therapy) is used to change unhealthy behaviors, especially those related to anxiety, trauma, and depression.
  • Exposure Therapy: This therapy helps a person overcome their avoidance of an object or situation by gradually exposing their phobia.

Usually, medication is not used to treat phobias. However, doctors may prescribe medication for people who experience significant anxiety symptoms.

These may include:

  • beta blockers
  • sedative
  • Antidepressants


Dealing with the fear of public speaking is not easy. Many people get nervous if they have to speak in front of an audience, but there are ways to cope.

The American Psychological Association recommends the following techniques for dealing with nervousness in public speaking:

  • Start your talk or presentation with a discussion question: This will keep your audience engaged and talkative, and will reduce your stress for a while.
  • Recognize where your anxiety comes from: Nervousness can be due to excitement. Remember, even if you’re nervous, you can still speak in public without fail.
  • If you’re giving a presentation, remember that it’s about the subject: the person you’re talking to is less about you personally and more about what you’re saying.
  • Try making eye contact: You may find that making eye contact with the individuals in the group you’re dealing with allows you to interact with them, and they may nod or smile while you’re talking, which helps boost your confidence.
  • If you’re going to give a formal speech, do a lot of rehearsal beforehand: it may be helpful to rehearse in the actual space where you’ll be speaking. Practicing in front of a group of people beforehand may help calm your nerves.
  • Try different strategies to calm your nerves: find out what works for you, then prepare in the same way every time you need to speak publicly.


The fear of public speaking is a social phobia that can be caused by a variety of factors, including genetics, learned behaviors, and past experiences. This is the most common fear, and people with verbal phobia may experience anxiety about interacting with others, performing in public, or both. Treatment involving psychotherapeutic techniques may have the best results in ameliorating irrational fears associated with public speaking.

VigorTip words

Fear of public speaking can be difficult, but if you have that fear, you’re not alone. If language phobia interferes with your daily life and causes you to avoid certain situations, it may be worth seeking professional help. Making an appointment with a health care provider, especially a mental health professional, is a positive step in addressing and overcoming your fears.