Mark Pentleton is the founder of Coffee Break Languages and the award-winning creator of some of the most popular education podcasts ever produced. The Coffee Break podcasts are the very first language podcasts geared toward beginners back in 2006. Since then, their suite of language podcasts have over 300 million downloads.
But how did Mark’s business get here? What’s so different about the Coffee Break teaching style that sets their podcasts apart? Also, since their podcasts are all completely free, how does Radio Lingua—the parent company—actually bring revenue into their business? In this episode, Mark shares his philosophy on free versus paid content. With that, he’ll also address a common question from new creators: is competition a good sign or a red flag?
Today’s guest: Mark Pentleton, Coffee Break Languages
“You can learn all the time. You can be learning new skills and new ideas…and that can be applied as much to the learning process as indeed the teaching process.”
A former high school teacher of languages, Mark Pentleton launched Coffee Break Spanish in 2006. From humble beginnings with basic microphones and a makeshift home studio, he has gone on to create courses in over 30 languages, building a team of native speakers and teachers working from Coffee Break HQ in Glasgow, Scotland.
Mark believes that anyone can learn a language, and that learning can fit around your lifestyle. It’s as simple as maximizing the time you have available, be that when you’re walking the dog, driving to work, at the gym or having a coffee break.
The Coffee Break podcasts have been featured as Best of iTunes on numerous occasions, won European and British Podcasting awards, and are now downloaded over 3 million times every month. With regular video content, blog articles, social media and online courses, Coffee Break learning is helping millions of people around the world turn their downtime into their ‘do’ time.”
Where to find Mark
Read the full transcript below.
Mark Pentleton: There’s value in every medium and some people enjoy reading. Some people enjoy watching, some people enjoy listening, but I think in video and audio you can convince so much more of the personality of the hosts, of the teachers, of the learners and so on.
Melssa Guller: That’s Mark Pentleton, founder of Coffee Break languages and the award-winning creator of some of the most popular Education podcasts ever produced. The Coffee Break podcasts were the very first language podcast geared toward beginners back in 2006 and since then, their suite of language podcasts have collectively been downloaded over 300 million times. But how did they get here? What’s so different about the Coffee Break teaching style that sets their podcasts apart in an increasingly competitive podcast world? Also, since their podcasts are all completely free, how does Radio Lingua actually earn money and bring revenue into their business? Well, today Mark will share his philosophy on what content they always share for free versus what they charge for, and he’ll also address a common question from new creators; is competition a good sign, or a red flag? Stay tuned and we’ll cover it all in this episode of Everything is Teachable.
Announcer: Welcome to Everything is Teachable, the podcast that takes you behind the scenes to learn how everyday creators have transformed their skills and passions into online courses and businesses. To introduce this week’s episode, here’s your host, Melssa Guller.
Melssa Guller: A former high school teacher of languages, Mark Pentleton launched Coffee Break Spanish in 2006 from humble beginnings with basic microphones and a makeshift home studio. He has gone on to create courses in over 30 languages, building a team of native speakers and teachers working from Coffee Break HQ in Glasgow, Scotland. Mark believes that anyone can learn a language and that learning can fit around your lifestyle. It’s as simple as maximizing the time you have available, be that when you’re walking the dog, driving to work at the gym or having a Coffee Break. The Coffee Break podcasts have been featured as best of iTunes on numerous occasions. They’ve won European and British podcasting awards and they’re now downloaded over 3 million times every month with regular video content, blog articles, social media, and online courses. Coffee Break learning is helping millions of people around the world turn their downtime into their Do time. Well, Mark, welcome to the podcast!
Mark Pentleton: Thank you very much indeed. I’m delighted to be here.
Melssa Guller: We are delighted to have you. And I have to say, I’ve actually been poking around some of your Coffee Break podcasts myself on my lunch breaks to really get to know, um, some of your languages. So hopefully I can also greet you by saying, “Hola Mark, bienvenido al podcast!”
Mark Pentleton: “Hola, mucho gusto.”
Melssa Guller: [Laughs] Ok, that’s about the extent of it for me. So let’s go all the way back to the start. Where did your own interest in languages begin?
Mark Pentleton: I think I’ve always been fascinated by language and languages. My grandmother was Italian, she lived in Scotland with us, but we didn’t really use a huge amount of Italian at home. But we would certainly learn some phrases and then she would teach myself and my brother and sister, some, some Italian phrases to use. And if, whether that’d be, you know, close the door, come here, things like that. And I remember also when my sister, my older sister started learning French at high school. She taught me the words and phrases that she was learning at school and they just thought this was so cool. It’s so fascinating that for example, what we call a book has a completely different name in another language and I think it’s always interested me from from that point, and I found that really enjoyable learning French and a little bit of Italian at school and began to develop something of a hobby, collecting language courses. It’s perhaps not the coolest of hobbies, but I really enjoyed it and it’s led to what I’m doing now.
Melssa Guller: Well, it’s definitely a practical hobby to have. You can say hello and greet way more people than I can.
Mark Pentleton: I think the interesting thing is that at that point we didn’t have the same access to things as we have now. It was so much more difficult to get up to date language and to get access to to different languages. And I remember having, you know, really weird and wonderful languages in my head. If I found a course in Swahili or in, in Ukrainian or something like that. This was just such a cool find, no, of course it’s so much easier to get access to all sorts of of language content and to get up to date content as well. So that makes learners have more access to things in the as much easier to to do now.
Melssa Guller: Yeah, that access is huge. And you brought up a great point. So how did you teach yourself languages since it did look much different when you were starting to learn?
Mark Pentleton: I studied French in high school and then in my final year of high school I also did some Italian and then I went on to study languages at university and it was very much a kind of traditional way of learning and we were learning the grammar of the language. We were learning to use the language in a variety of ways to communicate and it’s something that I enjoyed. I enjoyed being in the class and trying out the, the words and phrases with my, my friends in the classroom. But I think also what I really enjoyed was using it myself and trying to, to write some pieces of the language at home and trying to build my own vocabulary and, and learn, get more access to the languages through books and books in the library and so on. I remember at university, we would be doing literature and then poetry and so on in the language, but the only access that we had to up to date language was from a newspaper that was perhaps 3 days old.
Mark Pentleton: It would be delivered to by train to Glasgow from France. And it would be very text-based. There wouldn’t be many pictures in it. This is the one. But that was the, the only access that we had to that language. But that even gave us the chance to see what the language, how the language was used in, in real life. And uh, we started to see the ideas that the things that we were interested in were being talked about and this language. So it’s always, I, I feel it’s always about trying to find content that interests you in the foreign language. And that was done very differently back then from from how it is now and how it can be done though.
Melssa Guller: Mhmm and at that point, did you start to pursue anything about languages professionally or you just kept it a hobby?
Mark Pentleton: Well, I went on to study at university. I did some French, Italian at school and then I added in some Spanish and a little bit of Norwegian at university with a view to becoming a language teacher. That’s what I always wanted to do. I always, uh, I came from a family of, of teachers, still many, many teachers in the family as, as many teaching families are. But we, I, I wanted to become a language teacher at in a sense to share my passion about languages with other people, be that younger learners in schools or indeed with adult learners. I did quite a number of, of adult evening classes with adult learners and while my, my local [inaudible],
Melssa Guller: and so you had a pretty clear idea early on you wanted to go into teaching. I think that’s probably unique for a lot of people to be surrounded by teachers.
Mark Pentleton: Yeah. I mean, I think perhaps nobody’s, um, people would be discouraged by other teachers in their family from going into teaching, but I just thought it was such a powerful thing to be able to share of what I love with other people and hopefully inspire them to be as excited and as, as inspired by the, the, the subject matter as I was. And I think it’s a, it’s a, it’s a huge honor to be able to share that in that the, the, the inspiration with, with other people.
Melssa Guller: Yeah, I agree. It’s one of the most rewarding feelings as a teacher when you see the light in somebody’s eyes light up when they finally get something or they’ve applied some of the concepts that you’ve taught them. I mean, there’s nothing that really can compare to that feeling
Mark Pentleton: and indeed could. Yeah, absolutely. Right.
Melssa Guller: So you had the idea of being a teacher, certainly, I’m sure most of your family at that time was teaching in traditional settings in person typically. So how did that evolve into the idea of for Lingual Web and kind of into your earliest days?
Mark Pentleton: Okay. So I started teaching in a school in the south side of Glasgow and I absolutely loved teaching there. The idea for creating Lingual Web, which was my very first website, came from the fact that we only ever have a certain amount of team or with the learners in any one group of learners. So perhaps one class of, of learners that are only with you maybe three hours a week. But I wanted to give them the access to learning French or learning Spanish more than those three hours in the week. So I used to create exercises and games and sample answers for tests and so on. And, and I set up a very basic website to provide my own students with those additional resources to help them improve their, their French and Spanish. And then at that point, teachers from other schools started using the site and I began to see the ways in which publishing information online could benefit lots of learners, not just my own students. And that was suddenly quite exciting. Being able to provide access to materials, uh, for, for learners from all across Scotland at the, at that time. It was really exciting.
Melssa Guller: Well, that’s interesting because not only are you giving your own students more opportunities outside of just those three hours, like you said, but now you’re able to reach more students who are learning from other people or even in other ways.
Mark Pentleton: Yeah, absolutely. What was very interesting at the time is that the fact that that was probably before a time where, teachers generally are very willing to share their resources. I think at that time there was perhaps more an idea of when a teacher taught their class, they taught their learners and expected their learners to knew what they had taught them. So at the time when we, I remember a teacher from another school being surprised when one of their learners came out with this answer that they had got from Lingual Web, they, they said, well where did you get that? And so they thought they were getting a tutor or something like that, but they actually had found this answer on my website at the time and used, the phrase or the, the expression that they had learned there. And it was in a time before learners were able to get access to that kind of, uh, information and, and perhaps it was, were difficult to, to get other teachers to contribute to, uh, Lingual Web at the same time. But thankfully the, the, the world has changed. And, I think teachers everywhere realize the, the power of being able to share, learning and share their, their ideas and, and with, with our teachers and with learners.
Melssa Guller: Hm. I mean credit to you for being open minded to share because like you said, it wasn’t really the norm back then to be so open to letting so many people use your resources.
Mark Pentleton: Ultimately I just wanted my students and any other students who happen to benefit from the, the materials too, to get the opportunity to use them and to, to build their own skills.
Melssa Guller: That’s a wonderful quality though I think of a lot of teachers who are really good teachers is that the core of what you want is just for more people to learn and to be as helpful as you can.
Mark Pentleton: Exactly. Yep. Absolutely.
Melssa Guller: So this started I believe in 1998 with Lingual Web. And then can you talk to us about how did that kind of evolve and then move into Radio Lingua?
Mark Pentleton: There was a stage in between and that was a project that I ran for 29 schools across the West of Scotland. In the year 2000 I was appointed the, the project coordinator for this project. It was a, uh, a very innovative project at the time, which would bring together young people from some very small schools to some very large schools and they would all be brought together in a sort of virtual center of excellence for languages. This involved as convening language learning through filmmaking and with music and animation and photography. And then in 2005 we started making it on podcasts with the students. Now this was in the very, very early days of podcasts. We launched that podcast for the project, which other students involved in the project to build their language skills and to keep up with the latest news and developments of the virtual school.
Mark Pentleton: But I was suddenly really, really excited a bit podcasting as a, it offered the perfect medium for language lessons. Listening I think is such a key skill when you’re learning a language and the versatility of a podcast meant that learners could learn with whatever suited them. And for early learners at the time, our learners were more younger learners, learners between the ages of 13 and 18 and very often for them, it’s not really cool to be seen to be learning, but if they’ve got their ear buds then on the bus on the way to school and no one needs to know if they’re listening to music or if they’re learning a language. And this idea of being able to share that learning through podcasting was just wonderful. And that’s, that’s really where I began to think yet that this is definitely something that we should, we should look out further.
Melssa Guller: Hmm. I’ve never considered that before. That with a podcast kind of similar to now the Kindle people don’t know what you’re listening to or what you’re reading, so if you want to learn a language on the subway or read a dirty book on the subway, you can and no one will know.
Mark Pentleton: Absolutely. Yeah. And I guess the, the idea is that being able to layer in with no one else, knowing that you’re learning is a very powerful thing.
Melssa Guller: It is. It’s almost like it gives you the permission to not have any judgment that other people could be putting on you. Hmm. So back in those earlier days, you mentioned that that was very early in podcasts. I can’t even say picking up popularity, I would say. I hadn’t even heard of them yet. So how did you teach yourself and the students as well, how to podcast?
Mark Pentleton: By trial and error early, we, we recorded the earliest episodes of these podcasts and then on to Coffee Break Spanish when we started Coffee Break Spanish. I’ll explain how that happened in just a moment. But these were recorded on, on pretty cheap microphones. I actually cringe a little too deep when they, you know, the early episodes, I think as everyone does with their first episodes. But I’m a musician, so I had some experience of plugging microphones into computers and so on. But I just learned on the go with podcasting.
Melssa Guller: I love that you mentioned how cringy they were because I think that’s a good sign later on because when you’re first getting started, it’s OK if it’s cheap Mike’s, it’s okay if it’s not perfect, but just getting something out there so that later on you can evolve and grow and look back and say, Oh God, what did I do? That’s a sign of growth. It’s a good thing.
Mark Pentleton: Absolutely. And I think even to d, what we find is that our most popular podcast episodes are the podcast episodes which were recorded back in 2006 as the beginning of the, the Spanish course. So, uh, even now the, the top episodes are episodes that recorded like 13 years ago, so that’s still quite cool.
Melssa Guller: Hmm. That is very cool. Well, you mentioned this earlier. Let’s take us back to early days of Coffee Break.
Mark Pentleton: Yeah. So, uh, in 2006, I was still working for this project that was bringing together all the secondary schools in the area, but in my evenings and weekends I started developing this idea of Coffee Break. I wanted to, to create something that would be a course that would start at the beginning and then continue on from there. And the, the daughter of a friend of, of someone that I, I worked with actually was wanting to learn Spanish. So it kind of fatigued that we were going to record this, this idea of me teaching Kada Spanish and we recorded a few episodes and we thought, yeah, this, this, this works, this seems to be good. And we put them out as Coffee Break Spanish. It had nothing to do with my day job. This was very much a seeds project, but I was still working full time until 2008 so I didn’t go full time on, on Coffee Break until 2008 two years, two years later.
Melssa Guller: Mhmm so what did those two years look like for you?
Mark Pentleton: Very, very busy. Um, the also coincides with my children being, well one child being born and then the other one growing up a little, um, so very, very busy too to balance everything to balance daily life and obviously to give 100% to the job that was paying my, my salary and so on. But also this idea that suddenly what we were doing was starting to be picked up, starting to have an effect and people were enjoying the podcasts when we launched Coffee Break Spanish in 2006, we were the first beginner Spanish podcast on iTunes. So it meant that there was no, in a sense that as teacher, there’s no competition, there was nothing else really similar around. And we recorded the audio, we put the audio out there and people started listening. And then we had the idea that while people were seeing, they wanted transcripts or lesson notes, so we thought, well, we could charge a dollar per [inaudible] per license for the transcripts.
Mark Pentleton: And we couldn’t really believe it when people started paying for them. So thats when we started to think, well actually this could become something that was, you know, that that is sustainable and that is actually perhaps we could buy some new microphones with it or something like that. And then it just began to develop from there. So right up until 2008 we put, I think it a full 80 episodes or two seasons of our podcast covering Spanish and all the time we were, we were selling the additional materials as lesson notes and does a, then we started doing enhanced podcasts, which were a little bit clunky at the time, but it allowed us to put the words in and phrases on the screen of people’s devices, which the devices started having word, having screens to put the, the, the word on. So we were trying to grow with grew with technology as it happened
Melssa Guller: Mhmm and something interesting too for people who haven’t yet had the pleasure of listening to your podcasts. I think it’s very unique that the way that your seasons are built is that their lessons or even stories that build concepts on each other and that you have early seasons geared towards beginners and then later seasons as people listen. It advances and I had never seen anything like that before.
Mark Pentleton: Yeah, I mean I think know that are a lot of of podcasts out there that just sort of, have an intermediate level and keep going in that intermediate level. Just providing more content for intermediate learners who perhaps want to increase their vocabulary or see [inaudible] that examples of the language and use. But in the early days, we felt, well there’s no point in putting something out there that is for intermediate learners because then the people who haven’t reached that stage still lead something and therefore we wanted to start at the absolute beginning and really focus in the early stages on building a very, very solid foundation on which then learners can build with our later seasons. And the idea that also that we’ve, we tried to do from the very beginning was emulate the learning process through having a teacher and the learner on the podcast.
Mark Pentleton: So in every episode of the early seasons for all our languages, there’s always a learner and a teacher and sometimes an additional native speaker as well, depending on the, the, the language. We, the also the, the other key element in everything that we do is progression. So ultimately people need to move on from where they left off. And if they’re coming back to the, the, the, the, the next episode of the podcast. Then we always build in a little bit of review from the previous episodes and then continue on with new content. And then perhaps two or three episodes down the lane. We’ll pick up again on on materials that were covered a few episodes previously, so repetition at key points and this allows us to in a sense program the learning and give people a path to follow because I believe that that yes its great if you knew which path you want to take in your learning and lots of of content is is available that allows people to choose their own path. For me, if I’m learning something, I’d quite like someone who knew already the path or had already gone down that path themselves to tell me which path to take because then I’m going to avoid the potholes and I’m going to avoid the, the, the detours and so on and that will follow me to to follow the path that someone has already identified.
Melssa Guller: Okay. When you it like that I think your, a teaching background is quite apparent that you approached podcasting like a teacher instead of an interviewer or a lot of the other still very effective methods. But for something like languages it seems like it’s a natural fit for the podcast. And then kind of moving forward, I know your business did continue to evolve past transcripts, so do you want to talk a little bit more about how that continued to grow?
Mark Pentleton: Yeah. Um, well we, we thought about the transcripts and the transcripts. We, we had this sort of business model from, from the beginning that, um, we would never put the written word anywhere on any lesson notes that would available on the website or anything like that. Because if people wanted to see how the language was written, then that was behind the p wall, if you like. So ultimately we gave enormous amounts of free audio there, but we kept any written content behind the, the p wall. And this meant that people who wanted to access the written content would have to, in some way pay to get access to these bonus materials. Now the bonus materials initially were put on basically our membership site. We started to to, for each episode that we published, we will put out a, what we call the, the main podcast and a bonus podcast, which give a little bit of of review.
Mark Pentleton: And then we also put, uh, the enhanced podcast, which would have the words on the screen, which then developed into a video version of that and the lesson notes as well. So these were all organized through a membership site and that’s where people would buy a membership to, to access the bonus materials for each season or for each level of the language. And we also then started to introduce new languages. So in 2008 we introduced French, we started Coffee Break German in 2011, Italian 2015 and then Chinese in 2017. So adding more languages and levels. We also started to put together a shorter course season and a number of languages. So we actually have a, a short course called one minute French, one minute German, one minute Latvian and so on. And that’s now available I think in over 30 languages. So trying to develop it, the range of content that we had.
Melssa Guller: Hmm. And as you were developing out those different content types, certainly you have many today between the podcasts, I know the videos, the blog and courses. So how do you see each of those different elements of your business?
Mark Pentleton: I think for us it’s all about building the Coffee Break brand. We have a podcast as you see, we’ve got videos on Youtube, we’ve got our blog with articles about language learning and and about specific languages and of course our, our online courses. And in a sense everything should lead back to the course. Everything should kind of be the funnel towards getting people to buy the course of these ultimately is by selling the courses that we can afford to continue to build the team and and make more stuff. But I think it’s also about making learning possible and affordable for everyone. We put massive amounts of free content out there every single week for learners through the podcast episodes, through social media content and encouraging people to to try out the languages on on social media or blog articles, Youtube videos and all of that free content. Yes, there is some point in this content, a mention of if you’d like to get more out of your learning then consider the course, but it’s, it’s a balance. We want to provide free content and we do provide an enormous amounts of free content, but ultimately we are a business and we do sell our courses in order to be able to continue to make you content.
Melssa Guller: I think that’s a really important point that you made about how it’s a balance in that you are a business and for languages in particular. I think it was interesting when earlier you said that you decided that you would keep written content behind a pay wall because I think a lot of people might default to the opposite, that you can read our website, you can read blog posts, but then anything audio or video even you would have to pay for. But for languages, the ability to kind of like you said, to try out the languages, to listen to a few podcasts, to see if they enjoy the way that you guys teach, which is very well done. Uh, even the type of language or which language they might want to learn. I think that that’s a really smart approach and it’s clearly working for you guys. After how many millions of downloads are we at now?
Mark Pentleton: About 300 million.
Melssa Guller: Well, seem like they might be enjoying learning with you. Just a few.
Mark Pentleton: I think sometimes you can convey, I think there’s, there’s value in every medium and some people enjoy reading, some people enjoy watching, some people enjoy listening. But I think in video and audio you can convey so much more of the personality of the, the hosts of the teachers, of the learners and, and, and so on. And that for me, I think is a key thing. I mean, anyone listening to this will definitely have picked up my Scottish accent and the, the, the Scottish accent can’t be conveyed in, in a, in a book, uh, in, in a written piece of, of, of material. And equally the, the interaction between their hosts, between our teachers and learners on the courses. I think all of that is, is so important and that can be conveyed so much would effectively through audio and video so in a sense having people read something like a blog article, which then potentially converts them into a paying customer for audio and video materials is a much bigger jump than someone who is already kind of bought into the, the relationship in the sense that they’re experiencing that they’re, that they’re evesdropping on, if you like, that they would get much more through audio and video.
Mark Pentleton: And even in, in in the podcast for example, with with uh, my colleague Francesca with whom we do the Coffee Break Italian podcast for example, one day we were talking about a different masculine words in, in the Italian language for different things that you could put on a pizza and I suggested the the word pollo, which is the word for chicken. Now, Francesca almost had a heart attack there in the studio. As soon as I said this idea of putting chicken on a pizza because for an Italian that’s just ridiculous. It’s ludicrous putting chicken and a pizza, but this has your, the laughter from that particular moment lasted about maybe two minutes in the podcast, but it’s lasted two years in the, the ongoing discussion about chicken on the pizza over the course of the different episodes and through the social content, but we’re never, then we’re looking for an example of of something. The chicken pizza always comes back and this kind of have fun in a sense. This is educational fun, but that always comes back through much were clearly through video and audio. If we had done the same in written format, it just wouldn’t have worked. So I think that’s why we like doing it that way. Going from the audio and the video to the the, the written side of things.
Melssa Guller: Yeah, I love that. I don’t know if you can have a spontaneous chicken pizza moment in a blog post. I don’t think so. I think that kind of thing can only happen when two people just have a moment and then other listeners get fortunate enough to hear it later on. Actually, speaking of your audience, I’m curious, how did you find listeners, especially in the early days, how did you find people to start tuning in
Mark Pentleton: In the early days, again, because we were there in the very early days of of podcasts, I mean, I think we went onto iTunes when there were about 200 podcasts on iTunes and we were the only learn Spanish podcast, so we didn’t, we didn’t well I was going to say, we didn’t spend money on advertising, we didn’t have money to spend on advertising or anything like that. We, we simply put the content out there and hoped that traction would, we’d come from people sharing it and, and people commenting and then the, the natural algorithms of, of iTunes and mean we, we were podcasting before iTunes, so that kind of content was much harder to go there. But as soon as iTunes came around, we also g0t featured a few teams in, in the early days in iTunes and that helped to get more people to, to Coffee Break Spanish.
Mark Pentleton: But then the idea of having Coffee Break Spanish and then, uh, I’ve had these similar recognizable logo for Coffee Break French with different colors and so on. That helped to, to even if someone was only interested in learning Spanish, the saw the Coffee Break French content and perhaps share that with, uh, other people that they knew that wanted to learn French. So there’s a little bit of crossover between the different podcasts. Again, in those days we were talking about advertising. We weren’t talking about having things like Facebook ads or something that just didn’t exist at the time. Um, so it was very organic, uh, at the beginning.
Melssa Guller: Mhmm. And then how have you seen podcasting shift between that and now? I mean it’s grown so much.
Mark Pentleton: It has a, we, we used to have to explain what our podcast is all the time. Um, when we would do trade shows and go to like the language show education shows was we always had to start the conversation with do you knew what a podcast is? Then for a time we, we stopped using the word podcast. We thought, yeah, let’s try just focusing on, on audio content. And that didn’t really, if we said it’s like our radio show and in a sense our content was a bit like a radio show because it was very informal, very chatty. Fortunately we can now use the, the, the idea of a podcast again because it’s almost universally understood. Um, I think the other [inaudible], the other aspects of, of the shift in podcasting is for us there’s, there’s lots more competition. There are a huge number of, uh, language podcasts out there and some of them are absolutely fantastic, but I can feel, in a sense, there is a place for everyone.
Mark Pentleton: We’ve stayed very true to our style and each time we launched a new language, we use a very similar structure. And the same friendly approach we always say, it’s like having a coffee with your friend who happens to be able to help you learn the language. Now there are other podcasts that do different things and do a, I don’t know, up to date news about the country where the language is learned or the languages spoken rather or interviews with people and, and so there’s lots of different ways of, of doing a podcast. And as I said, that is space for everyone because some learners will like one, some the learners will like the other, but the fact is the vast majority of learners will listen to both. And that’s where there’s a, a benefit when you’re talking about free content as a, an initial start, people will engage with all that free content and then perhaps make the decision as to, or they want to to put their money, uh, based on the content.
Melssa Guller: That’s an excellent point about how you stayed true to, you know, the, the friendly type of conversations you were having. And how there is space for everyone. I imagine a lot of listeners who are maybe considering any content, whether it’s a podcast of blog, a video, of course of their own. It’s easy to look out there today and think there’s no space for mine. There’s already a podcast about languages. There’s already a blog about health and wellness. Who am I to do this? But to your point, people have different tastes. There are listeners who will happily consume, you know, 10 to 15 podcasts a week around some things, so I love that, that there’s space for everyone.
Mark Pentleton: I think also the, the fight is that if, if there is already a podcast or a course and the idea that that you’re thinking about, it means that there’s an audience for it. So that gives us all the more reason for you to go ahead and do something. For example, when we decided that we were going to do our Coffee Break Chinese, a couple of years back, we, we thought very, very carefully about whether we should do a Coffee Break Chinese because there is so much excellent content out there for learning Chinese. But ultimately we felt that our style was very different from everything else that was out there and our approach and their structure that we’ve established over the years. So we went ahead and with our Coffee Break Chinese, and it’s been a very popular course. Uh, so we’re very pleased with that.
Melssa Guller: Mhmm yeah, the approach, like you said, that’s what differentiates you or anyone listening from anybody else. So the topic, sure. Maybe it’s very popular. To your point, that’s probably a good thing, but who you are and your personality, that’s something that only you have. So hopefully people might feel, you know, inspired to start even if they see a lot of other people doing what they hope to do. Absolutely. Well, I just have a couple more questions for you. I’m curious, are there any you feel like big misconceptions that people have about your work or your business?
Mark Pentleton: Um, initially the, the misconceptions that people had was about the size of our business. And I think at the beginning of the, the thought we had a, a huge team with premises and studios and so on. Um, for the first 10 years we recorded everything in a, in a makeshift studio at home. Indeed at the time we started, my small home office was [inaudible] in their bathroom, but we were still asked by people if, if they could come and do a studio tour and if there was parking available. Um, but we weren’t really encouraging people to
Melssa Guller: [inaudible]
Mark Pentleton: Yeah. I think it’s important to see that individuals can have a huge impact even if they’re on their own in a small home studio with very little equipment. That is the beauty and the freedom of, of online courses and podcasting. We obviously are a lot bigger than that now. And we do have our own studio and on premises and not just at home, which is nice. But, um, I think the other misconception that has been a very specific misconception with regard to, uh, language learning is the whole idea of a native speaker versus a, if you like an expedience learner. So in the first two seasons of, of Coffee Break Spanish, I am the teacher and I’m not a native speaker of Spanish, but when I teach, when, when I speak Spanish than Spanish speakers understand me perfectly. Um, I’ve spent a lot of time in speaking and I think at the beginning some people thought, well, why should I be learning Spanish from a Scottish person?
Mark Pentleton: Will they start speaking Spanish with a Scottish accent? Um, of course that’s not the case. But I think for, we conveyed through the lessons and through the, the content that we’re producing is the fact that our non native teacher can actually exemplify the path that the listener would take themselves. So if I’ve reached level of speaking fluent Spanish, then you can too, because you are listening to this and you can go through that without the need of a native speaker and, the, the skill that I have as an built skill and how could you possibly reach that? So that was a bit of a challenge to get over. Um, but I think people have kind of understood that actually kn0w it makes sense to learn from someone who’s done that learning already.
Melssa Guller: That’s a great point because native speakers, they never had to learn in the same way. It’s just something that happens to you as you grow up.
Mark Pentleton: Yep. And they perhaps haven’t had the troubles or the, the, the experiences that you’ve had overcoming particular concepts that you can explain in your own language or in the language of the learner.
Melssa Guller: [inaudible] and they probably haven’t gotten stuck in the places that somebody who’s learning has gotten stuck before and then can describe. Yup, absolutely. So in terms of what your business and life looks like today, I mean, first how many people are working now? Today? [inaudible]
Mark Pentleton: we have, uh, well there are that are just four of us who are full time. But we have a number of other people who do two days a week or three days a week and, and perhaps combine that with, with other things. So for example, I mentioned Francesca earlier, she teaches, uh, three days, uh, the University of Strathclyde and then just does two days with us. And, likewise, we have other people who are teaching in schools and then do two days with us. But there are in total that are 16 of us involved on a, on a weekly basis to, to put the content together. And then we also work with, uh, sort of freelancers to do particular aspects of or to work in particular languages. We have a fantastic team and, and we work together in our premises and in the studio in Glasgow now. Um, so we got there most of the week.
Melssa Guller: Hmm. And then what is your week look like in terms of what are you spending your time on and do you feel like you have a balance with, you know, your family and the rest of your life?
Mark Pentleton: I’m still pretty busy. I always thought of it as day, we’d go on that, that we’d be able to take a little bit of a step back. But I guess now with where people, my work has started to include much more management of people and projects than actual production. I’m still involved in the production, but I guess I’m more involved in the strategic side of the company and looking at ways in which we can grow and, and to, to develop either new content or new content, new languages and, and, and you ed, as for, for learners to people to practice their languages.
Melssa Guller: [inaudible] and what is kind of coming up next for you guys or what are you curious about? [inaudible]
Mark Pentleton: um, well, we definitely have some new courses in the, in the offering. Um, we’ve got new levels of our current courses and, uh, perhaps a new language, but I’m not allowed to talk about that quite yet. Um, uh, it depends when this podcast goes out, but we will be announcing that, uh, later in the year. We’ve also just started building a, a new video studio, so we’re going be doing lots more video. I think video is as it is interesting for within the point of view of, of video content for the likes of Youtube, but also content for our online courses. And we are trying to build our new video studio. The plan at the moment is to build it a sort of like, uh, a kitchen. So the idea would be that you’re actually literally coming from a Coffee Break and then in the kitchen, um, as we make these videos with, with the team sitting with their coffees and teaching in the kitchen. So that’s the keynote idea for our studio.
Melssa Guller: That’s very fun. Clever because then you can drink coffee the whole time.
Mark Pentleton: Absolutely. And sometimes we need to, especially if it’s a, a long lesson. I think mainly we’re looking at building our own skills and getting better at what we do and getting better at ways of, of, of sharing what we do with our way, their audience. And I think really, I’m very excited to see where podcasting and, and online courses are going because I think it’s, there’s still so much to happen to, there’s still so much coming. It’s, it’s just the beginning. I think. Um, this is fantastic to see podcasting being so mainstream and everyone and every device having some way of accessing the content and hopefully that will just continue.
Melssa Guller: [inaudible] I am very excited to, well, before we wrap, where can people connect with you? Or if they do want to be the first year about this secret language we can’t talk about yet, where can they keep up to date?
Mark Pentleton: Well, if the head to a coffeebreaklanguages.com, uh, that’s the, the main website or all their courses are the coffeebreakacademy.com. Um, and of course you’ll be able to find us and on social media by searching for Coffee Break languages or the individual language that you’re looking for, Coffee Break French, Spanish, Italian and so on. And you’ll be able to find us there.
Melssa Guller: Perfect. And any final words of wisdom or any inspiration for our listeners today?
Mark Pentleton: Um, for anyone who considers themself a learner. And I would hope that that kind of means everyone because I think everyone is a learner. I, uh, there’s a quote I, I love, uh, from Sita Coldwell. Uh, she was involved in opera and she said, learn everything you can, any you can from anyone you can because there will always come a time when you will be grateful you did. And when I’m doing presentations with, with young people in schools. And so, and I think that’s such an important message to convey to them. You can learn all the time. You can be learning new skills and you, you ideas and that can be applied as much to the learning process as indeed the teaching process. So if you’re a course creator, I would see all your passion into your courses and then your learners will learn more effectively. If you can convey that excitement about your subject matter, uh, your course, these will be all the better for it. But also, for course, creators keep learning, keep learning to be a better teacher and to investigate new strategies of, of shooting. You’re passionate about what you do.
Melssa Guller: I love, well, I’m certainly feeling inspired to go learn something over my Coffee Break today. So I just have one final burning question for you. How many languages do you know?
Mark Pentleton: Uh, no speak of communicating. Um, I always see that it cane of defect depends on your, your definition of, of how many languages did you speak or whatever. But I, I’m fairly comfortable in quite a few languages. Um, definitely in French and Spanish and Italian and less so in German, Portuguese, Norwegian, a little bit of of Chinese. No, some Japanese, some Swedish. Um, yeah, a few like [inaudible] love learning though, but doubling is good. Stumbling is good.
Melssa Guller: Agreed. Well Mark, thank you so much again for joining us today.
Mark Pentleton: No, that’s all I have. It’s been a pleasure and a, just I wish you well with the podcast I think is a fantastic way of of sheeting. Passionate about learning.
Melssa Guller: Thanks so much for joining us this week. You can learn more about Mark, Coffee Break languages, and Teachable and our episode show notes at teachable.com/eit6. Before you go, make sure you subscribe to the podcast so you can receive new episodes right when they’re released. And if you’re enjoying the show, we hope you’ll leave us a five star review in apple podcasts reviews. Let apple know that great listeners like you are enjoying our show and they help us reach an even larger audience. So thank you so much for your feedback and your support. On behalf of Team Teachable, we hope you enjoyed this episode about learning and teaching languages with Mark Pentleton. We’ll see you in the next episode of Everything is Teachable.
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