IWTYAL 187: Saturday night at the podcast awards with Coffee Break Italian

In this episode, I chat with Mark Pentleton from Coffee Break Italian about the UK podcast awards!

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Olly: Alright I'm here with Mark Pendleton, Mark congratulations and welcome.

Mark: Thank you Olly.

Olly: We should probably clarify what the congratulations and the welcoming are for, unless I've already mentioned it in the intro. You've won a podcast award and-

Mark: We have indeed, yes.

Olly: And I was really privileged to be there and witness it. So what was it exactly that you won?

Mark: Well Coffee Break Italian, one of our Coffee Break Language podcasts on Saturday night won the British Podcast Award for the smartest podcast. So we are absolutely over the moon, felicissimi to win this award.

Olly: So just how smart is the podcast, I mean that's the question?

Mark: I don't know if it's the podcast that is smart, I think it's the listeners who are smart, people who need to improve their Italian in their coffee break because that's what it's all about. We try to allow people to learn in a slightly different way, a very relaxed way but relaxed with very structured pedagogy. So that you're following our structured course.

Olly: So I know lots of listeners to this podcast do follow you guys and people sometimes- I write- I've posted pictures on Facebook before of us having a coffee somewhere and then people have gone and jumped on and commented, “Oh my God, is that Mark from Coffee Break Spanish?” or something and I said, “Yeah.” So they'll be delighted to hear your smooth Scottish voice here over the airwaves. So you've won the award for Coffee Break Italian but tell us a little about the Coffee Break series because I absolutely love it but for those who aren't familiar with it, what's the- how does Coffee Break Italian fit into everything else that's going on?

Mark: Okay well we actually started way back in 2006 with Coffee Break Spanish. That was our first show line and at that time it was just really a project to kind of see how things would go, whether we could run a language podcast. That was in the very early days of podcasting, pre-iTunes, pre-iPhone indeed.

Olly: Pre-iTunes.

Mark: iTunes, yes. We were a creating a manual feed but we don't need to enter all the techy details of the feed but yes, 2006. We started putting Coffee Break Spanish together and the people seemed to like it. People started downloading it and of course we were delighted that that was the case. My background is a secondary school teacher, I was teaching languages in various schools and also working across different schools with a kind of technology project. And I wanted to see if we could create a concept, create a course that would allow people who perhaps didn't have the opportunity to learn something at school to learn the language. So we started the Coffee Break Spanish, then we added in Coffee Break French a couple of years later, and added Coffee Break German in 2012, Coffee Break Italian in 2015 and we just launched the Coffee Break Chinese where we're teaching Mandarin Chinese, coffee break style.

Olly: That's fantastic and you also speak- what's interesting about- what I really like about Coffee Break is that in some of them you're the teacher and in some of them you're the learner as well, right?

Mark: Yes, I like to be involved in everything [chuckles].

Mark: For everyone listening, we've- me and Mark have chatted about this a lot and I am- you know, for a lot of these things you don't really see behind the scenes, you don't necessarily know what goes into creating a podcast or a course or anything like that but Mark is unbelievably involved in everything that goes on in the courses in terms of the planning and the production. He treats it like his children I guess. I don't know if you- it probably feels like a child for you Mark but I mean I- every time we chat I'm just blown away by just how much- by just how much involvement and care and attention you put into everything that you do.

Mark: Thank you. I think from- because it's something that has developed over such a long period of time, it is something we are very proud of. We're very proud of the shows that we've put together but also very, very grateful to our huge audience from around the world, to have been with us, some indeed who have been learning with us for 10, 11 years.

Olly: That's amazing.

Mark: Yes, it's quite a nice thing to- it's really nice for me. We hear stories from our learners who have been working with us for a long, long time and to hear the changes that having a language has- have been to their lives.

Olly: Let's talk about last Saturday night because we went to the British Podcast Awards. You were nominated, I wasn't. We'll fix that next year [laughs] but I went along because I thought it was great and obviously to support you guys. We met and had a couple of drinks beforehand and we were talking about the event and you weren't- neither of us were very sure what to expect because it's podcast awards, I mean it's a fairly niche thing and being in the UK, like podcasts are- what do you think is the status of podcasts in the UK? Is it as popular as the States? I mean it's not exactly mainstream is it or is it?

Mark: I think it's becoming more and more mainstream really all the time and that is largely due I think to the big media organisations who are putting out podcasts, be that the BBC, channel for the Guardian. The major media organisations who are putting out a lot of podcasts and allowing people to kind of time shift their radio listening or they're picking up on something that they've seen on TV or whatever. So I think that has helped bring podcasts more into the mainstream but I think the other main thing that has really helped the development of podcasts is the fact that we can now pretty much on every device get access to podcasts and very often they are right there on the homepage. If you've got an iOS device then the Apple podcasts app is now part and parcel of the operating system. So it's there, you get to see it and therefore you can discover new listening content.

Olly: Yes, that's fantastic. I mean I do sometimes go to iTunes and search podcasts. I don't do that a lot to be honest. I mean I'm a big podcast person, I love listening to podcasts but I don't treat the iTunes Store as I would treat Google for example. I don't use it as a- if I want to learn about cooking, like iTunes is not the first place I would go to search for a cooking podcast but I guess people are doing that more and more.

Mark: Yes, I think it also kind of fits- I think podcasting in general fits so well into people's lives. If they're into it then it's something that is- very quickly snowballs and you think, “Yeah, okay I've got 20 minutes while I'm going to the gym,” or in the car or whatever. And you've got such a wide variety of different types of podcasts, there's really something for everyone, so I think it is something that people-

Olly: That's fantastic. I mean just today, I was at the gym this morning at 6:30 AM, which is-

Mark: Good for you.

Olly: I mean I'm kind of saying that to pat myself on the back because it doesn't happen all the time but I was in the gym and I was listening to Sam Harris's podcast, Waking Up. Which is just insane, insanely good I should say. It's like a masterclass in discussion and clear thinking. Then I got the train into London, got the tube into London to meet my friend Eric for lunch. And I was listening to- what was I listening to? I can't remember, it was something, and then on the way here to record this podcast I was listening to At the SBS Cantonese podcast which is SBS is an Australian station that has a bunch of language podcasts. But just in one day I've already listened to three podcasts and they perfectly filled my time of day, different sections of dead time during the day. I think- yes, it's really wonderful but anyway, back to Saturday night. So there we were in the hotel on Saturday night having a drink and I hope you don't mind me saying this but you didn't think you were going to win. Did you?

Mark: I had no idea what was going on. I think because of the- maybe because of the types of podcasts that were being nominated across the different categories, I did feel that perhaps it was going to go to one of the big ones if you like. One of the media companies.

Olly: BBC.

Mark: Yes, even when you go up there, it kind of felt a little bit media-ish, if I can say such a word.

Olly: Canapés, wine, beards, suits.

Mark: I think I was pleasantly surprised as the evening started to go on. As we've been around for a long time, we've got a big audience and everything else and they may even see that we are kind of part of that media although I am working with a very small team and producing these podcasts from home many times. We don't feel like the big media, definitely not but yes, it was an interesting event.

Olly: Yes, it kind of felt a bit like the Oscars really. You have a lot of people in a room. I imagine a lot of them knew- they seemed to know each other. I mean every time the name of a podcast was announced and everybody was cheering and clapping. So it was just- it's a kind of darkly lit room with a bunch of people crowded in, like most people a little bit drunk by that point. I mean there was an MC who was reading out the category of the award and then he would read out five nominees and then there was a bronze, silver, gold award, right but it was quite funny because they said at the beginning, “Look, there's no speeches guys. So if you do win, you're not going to give a speech.” Did you breathe a sigh of relief at that point? [Laughs]

Mark: [Laughs] I did, particularly because I had had a bottle of water with me the entire day just in case I had to do a speech but yes, after that I had a glass of wine.

Olly: Yes because you had prepared a speech, hadn't you?

Mark: No, I'd written down about six things that I had to say during the speech.

Olly: But you have to do that right because you don't want to be in a position where you've just been given this award and then you have to deliver a speech and you're like, “Um, thanks mum,” sort of thing.

Mark: Let's face it, it kind of like language learning because you've kind of got to imagine yourself in the situation and imagine yourself going to see what is that you're going to see. Be ready to see it with confidence, even if you make some mistakes, that's kind of how I feel.

Olly: Yes, good job bringing us back to language learning but- so the evening progressed and there were one category after the other and we- you and Francesca, who is the- your partner on Coffee Break Italian. Is that right?

Mark: Of course, Coffee Break Italian yes, she's our native speaker.

Olly: Yes, she is fantastic and I don't know if you guys have listened to Coffee Break Italian, you'll be familiar with Francesca. She's perfect as well, she's so bubbly and enthusiastic and wonderful teacher as well. So when every new category was announced, you guys were kind of looking at each other, saying, “Oh,when are we-? When is the smartest podcast category?”

Mark: I kind of thought they had perhaps forgotten about us or maybe they decided that the smartest podcast was not really cool enough for the evening, I don't know but we were I think number 15 out of 17 awards and there was no list published so we had no idea what order things were coming in.

Olly: Right because we were basically- I mean it was literally at the end of the entire- you'd been standing up for a couple of hours by that point, I don't know exactly how long it was but it was really was almost as if they'd forgotten but then finally it got to the end. It was 15 out of 17, is that what it was?

Mark: 15 out of 17, yes. There were two more after us.

Olly: They called out the nominees for the smartest podcast award and do we know what the other ones were? Do you remember the other podcasts in the category?

Mark: Yes, we had Sciencish, there was Sound Matters, there was the National Trusts Gardens podcast, and one more, Chips with Everything.

Olly: Right, there's some big names there.

Mark: Yes, absolutely.

Olly: The big names and they- you just have to sort of picture the scene, they called out- so numbers 4 and 5 don't get a mention, and they called out the bronze. Then they called out the silver and you've got time to call up the gold, and I remember I was standing next to you, you and Francesca kind of looked at each other and said, “Okay, well never mind. We obviously haven't got it.”

Mark: Yes, “It's over, aw.”

Olly: Yes, you know, “We're not going to get gold. Never mind, better luck next year.” And then as they were reading out the award they give a little blurb and they were saying, “Well this year’s award goes to the podcast that combines-” I can't remember what it was but it was a bunch of-

Mark: It was very nice.

Olly: It felt very nice but kind of fairly generic, it could have applied to any of the podcasts really.

Mark: Exactly.

Olly: Until the point where they said, “I don't know how you say that bit there in Italian. The winner of the 2017 podcast awards is Coffee Break Italian,” and that was a fantastic moment because it was like almost the last reading at the last session of the entire night. Yes, the look on your faces was just wonderful.

Mark: We were fair chuffed, as we say in Scotland, fair chuffed.

Olly: You have to give me a transcription of that for the podcast.

Mark: I think- I've forgotten what I was going to say there. The main thing for us afterwards really was we collected the award and then we went round the back and we were interviewed for another podcast, I think it was one of- I think it's the media podcast that was interviewing all the winners round the back, and then we immediately came out and did a quick Facebook live to the Coffee Break Italian Facebook page, which was- it went down well. People were very pleased to hear our immediate impressions of the event but over the next 24 hours we put together a video which had been very kindly filmed by our very good friend Olly Richards. He was with us most of the evening and we basically- he agreed to film various bits and pieces to camera and some [unintelligible 00:14:40] as well, was entering the podcast area and so on. But we were really, really grateful to you for filming the- particularly the part where the awards were read out. So that video is available on our website and on Facebook. So do pop over and see that.

Olly: Yes, we'll put that video- we'll put that in the show notes as well so the people can see it. That was really nice because in case you didn't catch that, we filmed the whole thing so you can actually see us walking down the street and going into the awards and you can actually watch Mark and Francesca going up there and collecting the award. It was a great evening and I just wanted to invite you on just to let everybody know what happened and how cool it is and to- you know, I think there's a lot of language broadcasts out there but I don't know many of those people personally. I guess- I mean I know there's Chris and Kirsten and a few friends of mine who have language podcasts but it's been really great for me to get to know you and Coffee Break and to support you guys. So, very happy to celebrate what's happened and everybody who hasn't heard the Coffee Break podcasts, do go over and check them out. They've got a bunch of languages, it's all totally free isn't it, all the podcasts? So where is the best place for people to go to check out these podcasts Mark?

Mark: If you head to coffeebreaklanguages.com that's the best way to find them or indeed go to the coffebreakfrench, coffeebreakitalian.com or whatever, you'll find them there. One thing, if you don't mind me just adding in here Olly, is that quite often a number of people, and particularly in the kind of language learning world, sometimes say to me, “Why Coffee Break? If it's Coffee Break it must be very light. It must be very easy, it must be very basic,” and yes we do start off with very, very basic content in our Season 1. But for example in French and Spanish by Season 4, we are looking at really complex stuff. So B2, C1, definitely up at that level and really complex grammar. It's not about the lightness of our Coffee Break, it's about the time and even in a 20 minute coffee break, you can do some really heavy hitting subjunctive stuff in there with our episodes if that's what you're looking for.

Olly: Yes, that's what everybody wants isn't it. The heavy hitting, subjunctive stuff. I'll have to go and check out that- the other heavy hitting, subjunctive episodes and in French and refresh my memory.

Mark: Presented in a friendly and coffee break style.

Olly: Yes absolutely and you can also find them on iTunes right. So if anyone uses iTunes, you can just go and search for Coffee Break and you guys are so popular that they will almost certainly pop up as soon as you even begin to type in C-O-F-F-E-E. You'll probably find it pretty easily.

Mark: If you do happen to go to iTunes and are looking for Coffee Break please be aware that the apps that are there currently on the iTunes Store are not our apps. Our apps, we don't have apps but the content, our premium content for Coffee Break has actually been stolen by a group of developers who have put that into an app and they are selling that on the iTunes Store. So please don't buy that app, it's not kosher, it's not real it's not ours. Come to radiolingua.com or coffeebreaklanguages.com and find our content there please.

Olly: Yes, that's a real shame and we've talked about this before and it's one of the features of the world we live in isn't it that people just do things like that but nevertheless, everything is there in the places you just mentioned. So I really hope everybody enjoys that. Mark, I don't know what's next for us, we've been talking about potentially working together on a couple of things. We will let people know as and when we and if we ever get organised enough to-

Mark: Let's hope we get something organised in the near future.

Olly: Indeed, well thanks for coming on the podcast, thank you. Congratulations once again for being the winner of the smartest podcast category in the British Podcast Awards 2017. And yes, we'll talk to you very soon.

Mark: Thank you very much indeed Olly and best wishes to all of your listeners.

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