The fear factor

A woman with an anxious expression

Listen to the extracts from different radio programmes talking about fear and phobias, and do the exercises to practise and improve your listening skills.


Do the preparation exercise before you listen. Then do the other exercises to check your understanding.

Remote audio URL


Extract one

You will hear part of an interview with an expert on phobias.

Interviewer: So what exactly is a phobia?

Expert: Well, nearly everyone fears something, but when the fear becomes exaggerated and irrational, it's a phobia, which is the most common form of anxiety disorder. There are many types of what are known as specific or simple phobias. Common phobias include a fear of animals, particularly spiders, a fear of darkness or nyctophobia, or perhaps a fear of clowns, flying or a fear of public speaking. Now, you may not be keen on some of these things I've just mentioned, but most of us find a way to cope with the situation and don't let it interfere with our daily lives. However, if you have a phobia of one of these things, you may suffer from symptoms such as an increased heart rate, dizziness, excessive sweating or even a panic attack. You might end up going to extreme lengths to change your daily life so as not to come into contact with the thing or situation that causes your phobia. For example, imagine a friend of yours has a pet tarantula. If you're not a huge fan of spiders you may not enjoy spending time in his house, but most of us would put up with it. However, if you are an arachnophobia sufferer, you would probably refuse to visit him at home altogether. So you can see how phobias can have a real impact on our social relationships.

Interviewer: And why do people suffer from phobias?

Expert: Well, there are a couple of causes. If a child grows up with a parent who suffers from a phobia, the child is far more likely to develop the same irrational fear. Also, many phobias are actually triggered by a traumatic past event, often during childhood. So, perhaps an encounter with a vicious dog or falling into a swimming pool and nearly drowning as a child could feasibly develop into cynophobia, a fear of dogs, or aquaphobia, a fear of water.

Extract two

Listen to part of a radio programme in which someone is talking about why people like to feel scared.

Interviewer: There are many of us out there who actually enjoy the sensation of feeling scared to death on a roller coaster or delight in sitting on the edge of your seat during a horror movie and, Jan, you can explain to us why this is the case.

Jan: Yes, that's right. As you say, millions of us choose to put ourselves in situations where we consciously know we are going to feel scared, like going on rides at a theme park. The reaction we have when we put ourselves into these situations  you know, the rapid heartbeat or sweaty palms  is in part similar to that when we're faced with a real threat. What happens in those cases is that the body reacts to the danger with what we call a 'fight or flight' response. So, when the body detects real danger, it closes off any non-essential systems such as critical thought and reacts with automatic responses which enable us to either put up a fight or run away. We get a sudden huge rush of energy and at the same time the body is flooded with chemicals which protect us from feeling pain. The difference between a situation of real danger and being on a theme park ride is the context. So although we feel a certain sense of fear, we know deep down that the situation does not really pose a true threat and so this energy and lack of pain without any real danger allow us to experience a sense of euphoria or an adrenaline rush, which explains why we are able to scream and giggle in quick succession.

Extract three

You will hear some people talking about their fears and phobias.

Ben: So, have you got any phobias, Liz?

Liz: I'm not sure if I'd call it a phobia as such, but I absolutely hate needles and injections. Even the thought of them makes me feel queasy. When I have to have a blood test, I can't bring myself to watch and I feel faint and dizzy, and if I'm watching TV and there's a scene with someone injecting themselves, I can't watch. I think it started when I was little and I went to the doctor with my mum and my big sister. The doctor gave my sister an injection and I was watching ... I started to feel faint and I passed out on the floor of the doctor's office.

Abi: Oh no! Well, my greatest fear is clowns. There's actually an official name for it, coulrophobia, I think. I don't know what it is about them exactly, but they just freak me out, they're so weird. I've always hated them since I was a kid from birthday parties and the circus and things. They don't look at all happy to me even with a big painted smile. They look sad and scary, even a bit sinister.

Liz: What about you, Ben? Are you scared of anything?

Ben: No, course not!

Abi: Well, apart from heights.

Ben: That's true, I can't look out of the window past the fourth floor.

Abi: And lifts …

Ben: OK, yeah, and lifts. I hate getting inside lifts. I'll always take the stairs if I can. I don't know, they just make me feel uneasy. And, well, I get really nervous if I ever have to speak in public. I start sweating and my mind just goes blank. It's so embarrassing ... that's pretty normal, isn't it?

Liz: Of course!

Abi: Sure.


Do you have any fears or phobias?

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Average: 4.1 (8 votes)
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Submitted by olviz on Wed, 02/07/2024 - 01:19

Listening to this talk about phobias was super interesting! It helped me catch new words and understand how people chat about fears. Plus, hearing the expert and people's stories made practicing listening way easier than just reading. Now, I feel a bit better at catching what's said in English, especially with the tricky parts.

Submitted by DSAC on Tue, 02/06/2024 - 04:49

I don't have any of those fears but I kind of understand people that suffer from them. Maybe with therapies or somethings like that, they may be able not to have that fear or reduce it.

Submitted by rbm-2009'5 on Tue, 02/06/2024 - 01:02

When I read this I was surprised because I discover that phobias are really common,I also learn about a lot of phobias such as the one of being inside a lift.
Also I like the huge explanation about why people have phobias and if they affect in our social relationships.
Finally I discover that I have really common phobias such as: spider and height phobias!!!

Submitted by unknown_explorer on Thu, 05/18/2023 - 01:10

I have talasophobia (fear of the deepness of the ocean, lakes, even pools). I know it may sound ridiculous but sometimes when I'm in a pool I start thinking about strange creatures that could suddendly appear. But paradogicaly I love swimming!

I am also afraid of mirrors. And it is not like I can't look myself to check how I look. But I mean, I would never look in a mirror at midnight or when it is dark. In fact I don't have any mirrors in my bedroom, because if I did I wouldn't sleep at night. But this fear was fault of my dad, because once I heard he was watching a video that said that if you stared at yourself in the mirror for more than 5 minutes without moving, then your reflection would start to move and change. And well that is how I get traumatized.

Submitted by pomelo on Fri, 04/14/2023 - 14:49

I have Glossophobia and Claustrophobia

Submitted by Caner on Wed, 06/01/2022 - 08:19

The act of fear is the fear of what one does not know.
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Submitted by Gunay on Wed, 06/01/2022 - 07:16

This issue confused me

Submitted by Pidgeon41 on Wed, 09/08/2021 - 00:02

It was interesting for me to learn about some new phobias, how people feel when they encounter the thing they fear the most and why people develop them. I do not have any phobias, I am scared of some things,of course, like snakes and I do not like how honeycombs look, but it is not an irrational fear.

Submitted by JohnyC on Tue, 01/28/2020 - 18:07

Yes, I do. But only two of them are the most influencing me. And this is a fear of public speaking or just talking to people on the phone. I don't know exactly why I have these two but I have a thought about it. I guess this phobia has been developing since my childhood, and I can't say why. Maybe somewhen, when I was speaking in front of a public, I did something wrong or said something what made me feel embarrassed and perhaps that's the reason. But in 2019 I started fighting this phobia by doing actions such as speaking in public and just overcoming the fear. And finally now I almost got rid of it. Please, if you noticed any mistakes in my Eng. write about them below. I'd like to get a feedback from you and develop my English. Thanks :)
Profile picture for user JoModerator

Submitted by JoModerator on Wed, 01/29/2020 - 15:23

Hi JohnyC,

Thanks for your post. It's great to read that you are overcoming your fears and phobias.

Your English is great! Don't worry about making mistakes - the most important thing is to communicate :-)


Best wishes,

Jo (LearnEnglish Teens team)

In reply to by JohnyC

Submitted by Nishat on Tue, 04/09/2019 - 17:51

I mostly have three phobias. Archnophobia, Acrophobia and Nyctophobia. When I face any of these, my heart starts to beat faster than normal, my feets start to shake and feel dizzy. Living with phobias is very dificult for me. I remember, when I was a kid, I saw someone mysterious who was sitting in the dark and was staring at me. Since then I am scared of darkness. I am also scared of cockroaches. I don't know whether feeling scared of cockroaches is a phobia not.
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Submitted by Elsa007 on Sat, 04/28/2018 - 15:48

I used to fear a yucky person, but recently I think I’ve overcome the fear. They are just the way they are. The only thing we have to fear is fear itself. ;)
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Submitted by Panama on Thu, 02/22/2018 - 18:15

Yeah, I'm afraid of dentists O.o
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