Podthoughts by Colin Marshall: Coffee Break Spanish


Vital stats:
Format: Spanish class
Duration: 15m-20m
Frequency: every week or two
Archive available on iTunes: all

Both the weirdest and most obvious thing about this show is that its hosts are Scottish. This isn’t terribly strange in itself, though most podcast listeners seem to hail from North America, where voices with full-blown Scots accents remain rare. What’s mildly unnerving is having such a voice teach you Spanish. These particular Scots are good at what they do, no doubt about it, but if you’re a Yank like me, it’ll be all you can to do keep your “Ach!”s, haggis references, and Groundskeeper Willie quotations to a minimum.

But it would be unfair to focus on the exotic provenance of Coffee Break Spanish [RSS] [iTunes], especially since this kind of unexpected internationalism is one of those special delights podcasting has made possible. Stand back and ponder the fact that you can get a grasp on most any reasonably widely-used language — we remain in wait for most of the ones involving tongue clicks — quickly and for free, just by downloading and listening to a few audio files. I don’t know anybody who’s become fluent in a foreign language through podcasts and podcasts alone, but that’s not the point; the point is to get you going.

This is one of the most popular language podcasts around — hell, one of the most popular podcasts around. I chalk this up to two things. First and foremost, the Spanish language itself seems to be in healthy demand. Us North Americites, especially those of us in the southern border states, most likely want to be able to talk with our friends in Mexico. I myself have a jones to visit Mexico City, which seems just strange enough to be deeply fascinating. Failing that, we tend to try to “find ourselves” with extended backpacking journeys across Guatemala. Being from Scotland — er, Escocia — I would bet that the hosts, teacher Mark and student Kara, are more interested in Spain. Y’know, Barcelona. Madrid. García Lorca. Frank Gehry. All that.

This introduces another accentual quality that some might find off-putting: they usually use Spanish rather than the Latin American pronunciation. This strikes me as no big deal, since the latter sounds — from what I can tell — to be a lisp-intensive version of the former, but I sense that some listeners have written concerned e-mails to the producer. In the same way, you may or may not enjoy the goofy sense of humor that periodically surfaces, as when Mark expresses shock and dismay that Kara lacks a rock-solid grasp on the work of Billy Joel, but I can’t say as I mind it. I eventually did get a little irked by the cha-cha-cha flavor of the interstitial production, since it reminds me of everything I disliked about high school Spanish classes.

Yes, I took four years of this language back then, but the merciless sands of time have since reduced my Spanish to ruins. Given my aforementioned Mexico City jones, I figured I’d use Coffee Break Spanish as a first step toward rebuilding my skills. The show claims to be geared toward the absolute beginner, and, for the first few dozen episodes, boy is it: your holas, you buenos diases, etc. If you really are just starting down the Spanish road, it’s one of the easier, friendlier, more accessible ways to do it. There’s nothing especially innovative about the actual linguistic education it imparts — Mark introduces new material every time, Kara learns it, the listener’s given plenty of time to answer themselves, sometimes unusual things happen like cultural discussions or appearances by what sounds like a toddler — but nor is there anything to complain about.

This brings me to the second reason the podcast is so popular: consistency. Language shows tend to podfade rather quickly; they’re second only to maybe hey-my-buddies-are-kinda-funny comedy podcasts in that regard. But Coffee Break Spanish has endured with supreme clarity and regularity. For my own purposes, I wish they’d move a little faster, but hope has appeared on the horizon: about 50 episodes in, they get to the past tense, on which I could use some additional tutelage. The price is definitely right. (Unless you step up to this “freemium”-model show’s additional materials, in which case you’ll have to decide how right the price is yourself.)

[Podthinker Colin Marshall also happens to be the host and producer of public radio’s The Marketplace of Ideas, the blogger of The War on Mediocrity and the writer of The Ubuweb Experimental Video Project.]


More about Coffee Break Spanish; the price of premium is great!!

I've just finished comparing their price for the premium materials, and let me tell you, that is a deal and a half!

For all of Coffee Break Spanish, about 80 lessons consists of over 150 actual podcasts, the cost is about half of ONE textbook for a one semester class.

Recall that there are bonus podcasts for each lesson, so you are getting 2 podcasts for each lesson; then, written materials which will help you become fluent, and when you join the "club" for just a few bucks, then you can buy anything else for a whopping 30% off.

SOLD!!! I've decided to sacrifice a few lunches for the entire series of 80 lessons/160 pods. You cannot beat the written materials, helpdesk with live people ... are you ready? ... Estas Listo?

Fluency thru Podcasting as you mentioned ...

I have listened thru all episodes of Coffee Break Spanish and many of the next generation of spanish instruction from Radio Lingua entitled "Show Time Spanish". I found your comment doubting one's ability to become fluent thru podcasting interesting, rather inequitable to this body of work. In the time that I've listened, I've been a casual listener. Now that I need to pass an exam, i'm very focused and can tell you that while practicing every aspect of learning from these pods, I have been speaking to natives and they do understand me. Had I applied myself more seriously 3 years ago when CBS launched, i'd be speaking natively now. The phrases being taught in CBS, I hear in songs every day; Chino y Nacho, Tito El Bambino, Ivy Queen, Aventura,etc.

For my ear, and I'm a busy adult mother who has 2 jobs and college on hand weekly, this is top notch learning which has exceeded my expectations. The enthusiasm of Mark and Kara is second to none. I would like to challenge everyone to keep a really open mind and go thru the Coffee Break Spanish and Show Time Spanish pods and watch your fluency in Spanish be a huge surprise. But I don't think fluency is the important message, its the ability to communicate that's ROCKIN!!!!
Signed, someone who is thankful for the work of Radio Lingua & Mark P/Team, and a learner of Spanish & French next !!!! love CBSpanish, California

Thanks for the review

Thanks for a thorough and honest review of Coffee Break Spanish. You've identified exactly the point of our course - to get you going and to start to experience another language in a progressive way. We know that much of the interaction on the show is cheesy, but it's the way I used to teach my French and Spanish classes when I taught in schools so for me it's just what I do. Given that this isn't a 'come and go' show we hope that listeners experience the show through multiple episodes, and get a feel for the range of styles and techniques we use to deliver the learning. Above all we hope that learners see that learning a language is about taking small steps and building in what you've previously learned.

Incidentally, if you're looking for more advanced practice of your past tenses then you may be interested in Show Time Spanish - the 'hermano mayor' of Coffee Break Spanish which moves more quickly and is presented mostly in Spanish. It's also perhaps worth mentioning the introduction of our first click-sound language podcast - a mini course in Zulu - One Minute Zulu!

Muchas gracias, y ¡que sigas con tus estudios del español!

Coffee Break Spanish / Radio Lingua Network