The Coffee Break Languages series teach languages through podcast-style lessons. The lessons have a casual feel and offer lots of explanations, building on each other nicely. Courses are available for a one-time purchase, but much of the material is also available for free as podcasts or Youtube videos.
The audio is of high quality and the instruction is thoughtful.
There are lots of explanations, and you can start as an absolute beginner, but practice opportunities are limited.
There is a lot of high-quality content available for free; the paid courses might not be worth the price for some.
Explanations are thorough.
Lessons build on each other logically.
The language often feels authentic.
There’s lots of free content.
I DON’T LIKE…
Opportunities to interact with the language are limited.
There isn’t much of a focus on productive skills.
I expected the paid courses to offer more extra materials for the price.
Italian, German, French, Spanish, Mandarin Chinese, Swedish, English
Many audio lessons are free. The premium version of each season includes extra materials and costs £80 (roughly $100).
This company’s slogan is, “Learn a language… on your coffee break!”
Indeed the Coffee Break content is of a casual nature and designed to be used anywhere you can listen to audio. There is otherwise no connection to coffee, dashing my hopes of a coffee-themed resource focused words like percolate, dark-roasted, and pour-over.
Coffee Break Languages offers its podcast-style lessons in seven languages. An impressive amount of content is available for free anywhere you listen to podcasts, and premium materials offer extra practice and written notes.
It’s an especially solid resource for learners at lower levels, as the material progresses at a reasonably slow pace, includes thorough explanations, and starts at the very beginning.
For this review, I tested various seasons and courses in three languages: Italian, German, and French. My Italian skills are just past the beginner level (thanks to a productive two weeks in Italy and crossover with Spanish), and my German and French skills are next to nil.
For learners taking advantage of the free Coffee Break content, the layout is simply any platform for streaming podcasts (Apple Podcasts, Google Podcasts, Spotify, and more) and the play button.
Spotify is my platform of choice, and it’s got a ton of Coffee Break lessons.
The premium content includes extras like accompanying videos and notes with additional information.
This is what the home screen looks like for the German course. You’ll access the audio lessons and accompanying videos via the panel on the left. It’s also where you’ll find bonus materials and language notes. There are only a few adjustable settings, one of which is the ability to toggle the video and audio playback speed from .75x to 2x.
The layout is very simple, and it doesn’t take much getting used to before you can start navigating easily, which is something I like.
There are 40 lessons in each season, and the first two seasons include a quiz after every ten lessons. While the set-up is nearly identical for each language course, each has its unique qualities.
In the Italian course, there are two seasons. The first starts off with material that’s basic enough for absolute beginners, and the second season reaches a lower-intermediate level.
The Italian lessons are hosted by Mark and Francesca, and both seasons feature their conversations with learners of Italian. Francesca is Italian, Mark is Scottish and fluent in Italian.
Sitting in on the lessons with someone that’s learning the basics of Italian keeps the pace slow enough for easy understanding and in-depth explanations — I liked this part of the lessons. The hosts are also quite friendly people. They maintain a cheerful atmosphere that I imagine would appeal to a wide audience.
The learners in both seasons of the Italian course do have previous experience with romance languages, though, which means they’re able to make connections that not all learners will be able to make. The learners may seem to progress at a slightly unrealistic pace, but it’s important to realize that they are almost certainly getting more practice than the on-air podcast time.
There are also two seasons in the Coffee Break German series. They cover material for absolute beginners up to lower-intermediate levels.
Mark appears again in this series, but this time as a student of German instead of a teacher. He instead invites native speaker Thomas to teach the language. Mark only knows a few words in German before starting with the podcast lessons, and this set-up works quite well.
Since Mark is experienced with running a language podcast, he makes a great student. He makes sure the teacher goes very slowly and covers every new piece of language. There are also two extra hosts that show up from time to time, a “Cultural Correspondent” and a “Grammar Guru.”
The French lessons differ from the Italian and German in that there are four seasons instead of only two. These more advanced seasons make a viable option for learners that are beyond the lower-intermediate level and contain much more French.
Host Mark once again assumes the role of the teacher in this series, accompanied both by learners of the language and native speakers at various times.
As is the case with all of the Coffee Break language series, the material progresses at a very manageable pace, builds on itself nicely, and is full of useful explanations.
The materials available for each lesson in the Coffee Break series vary slightly from season to season. They’re all fairly similar in that the language is presented and discussed in audio lessons, and notes provide more detailed instruction.
At the start of each season, there’s a short orientation and introduction to the course. This is where you’ll learn the basic interface functions, have the option to download all course files to your device, and even introduce yourself in a public comments section. The Radio Lingua team might even post a response.
Now we’ll take a closer look at the lessons as they appear in each season.
These seasons make up the entirety of the Italian and German series. It means you won’t get material past the lower-intermediate level in either language, but they’re great for starting out.
The lessons in the first two seasons are made up of an audio lesson, accompanying notes, and a bonus audio lesson. The video provides visual accompaniment to the lesson and is something I found useful as a more visually-oriented learner.
The lessons are all approximately 30-minutes long and have a clear focus. They usually start with some sort of presentation of a language point and then include explanations and practice. You’ll have plenty of chances to repeat the language out loud as you listen along.
The video accompaniment, which is only available for premium members, is helpful for visually organizing the information, for spellings, and for following along at your own pace.
The notes come in PDF format and are available for download. They provide detailed explanations of everything covered in the lesson, including practice questions with answers (as heard in the audio) and notes on the bonus audio.
The notes definitely add significant value to the Coffee Break courses. They might not contain information that you couldn’t find for yourself elsewhere for free, but it’s all organized to match the audio lessons, turning them into much more thorough study sessions.
The bonus audio lessons offer a chance at an extra review of the lesson’s language points, additional tests on the material, and some extra vocabulary. The extra practice is helpful, but I honestly didn’t find this part to add a ton of value.
The quizzes that happen every ten lessons in these first two seasons are pretty basic. They consist of ten multiple-choice questions that test your vocabulary, grammar, and comprehension skills.
There are four of these quizzes in each of the first and second seasons, one for every ten lessons.
The third season of Coffee Break French features lessons that are a little bit different in form. Instead of a dialogue centered around a specific language point, lessons are based around texts written by students of French. You have a chance to learn about three learners, who are all studying French in Nice, through diary entries they make about their experiences.
Here’s what the lesson menu looks like:
You’ll notice that there isn’t a video component to these lessons, and that’s probably because these episodes contain longer, more prosaic segments of French. It’s instead more helpful to follow along with the lesson notes or to simply listen.
The “Text Only Audio” section is a recording of only the featured piece of text for a given lesson, and you have the option to listen to the fast version or the slow version.
I like these lessons. The focused practice on longer-form material is particularly good for improving comprehension skills and practicing the ability to form more complex thoughts in French.
The last six lessons are a bit different from the rest. They take the form of translation and dictation exercises.
The translation exercises are fairly straightforward. The host will say a phrase in English and wait for listeners to try and translate it. He will then go over the correct translation and give explanations. The free podcast lessons include five phrases to translate, the premium version includes ten.
For members of the premium French course, there’s also a dictation exercise. This consists of listening to a paragraph in French and repeating each sentence. Once you’ve dictated the entire paragraph, the host breaks down what’s happening in the paragraph and what it means.
The lessons in the fourth season of the French series follow four different fictional characters. Listeners learn about these four characters through a series of emails, one of which is the focus of each lesson.
In the main lesson audio (available for free), a native speaker reads an email at normal speaking speed. After listening at full speed and getting the gist of the email, the hosts break it down line-by-line.
You can also follow along with the transcript while you listen or use it to check your understanding later. The language study audio presents the email read at a slower pace, pausing after each paragraph for discussion.
This is one of the most notable aspects of the Coffee Break program: they offer a lot for free.
In podcast form, you can access audio lessons in all of the Coffee Break languages, at all of the levels they offer, for free. You won’t get extras like detailed language notes, transcripts, or quite as much audio (especially at higher levels), but it’s still an excellent way to get some quality listening practice in for free. It’s hard to beat.
The Coffee Break Languages Youtube channel is also an amazing resource. There are new videos uploaded every week, and they cover a wide variety of topics in a large number of languages.
Many of the videos are shot on-scene in countries where the language is spoken and feature short interviews of native speakers. This kind of free, authentic listening content is amazing.
Coffee Break offers more than its standard language series in each language. Additional courses include those focused on helping learners improve specific skills such as reading, grammar, or listening to native speakers. They’re all more focused in scope than the standard language courses.
These additional courses vary in price but are all quite a bit less expensive than the full standard seasons.
I can’t comment on the usefulness of each individual course, as I haven’t tried them all, but my general impression is that they might not be quite worth the cost. The “To Go” course series, for example, is mostly available on Youtube for free.
The French Verb Fix courses do provide some focused conjugation practice that some could find helpful, but it doesn’t seem to teach much that you couldn’t find in other free courses.
I’ll say it again: there’s an impressive amount of material available for free with the Coffee Break series in the form of podcasts and Youtube videos. They’re often shorter than the premium material and don’t come with the extra language notes or bonus audio, but they’re still full of value.
Like Coffee Break, this platform also offers audio lessons that are akin to a podcast as well as a Youtube Channel, but it’s different in a few key areas. One of these is that the News in Slow courses are mostly targeted towards intermediate learners, opting to keep most of the content in the target language.
Another difference between Coffee Break and News in Slow is that the latter is obviously more focused on news stories. The lessons are engaging and offer some quality information, but learning happens more frequently through context examples than explicit explanations, and the lessons don’t build on each other as progressively.
Since both of these platforms offer lessons in the style of podcasts, interactive exercises are somewhat lacking from each. You’ll get practice repeating what you hear and speaking aloud, but there isn’t much in the way of reading, writing, or communicative speaking practice.
They’re also different in price. Coffee Break requires a significantly higher upfront cost for access to a whole season, but it also offers much more content for free. The News in Slow courses are less expensive but require a recurring subscription and don’t offer nearly as much content for free. Read our reviews of News in Slow Italian, News in Slow German, and News in Slow French.
Pimsleur courses have been around for a long time, and they’re still quite popular. They teach languages through audio lessons that place a heavy emphasis on listening and speaking. They aren’t as explanation-heavy as the Coffee Break courses, and they aren’t as casual, but they will get you speaking more quickly and with greater frequency.
The upfront cost of a Pimsleur course can be unreasonably high, but they do have a subscription option that’s more affordable. Here’s our review of Pimsleur.
Babbel is another course that offers courses in Italian, German, and French, but this one doesn’t focus on audio lessons. Instead, it’s full of interactive activities that aim to teach and explain the language as you interact with it.
The courses are solid and structured well, but the lessons can get repetitive, and there’s nothing terribly exciting about it. Overall, its courses are solid. They come with decent explanations and practice materials and would make a great choice for someone just starting with a language that wants a very structured approach to learning. Here’s our review of Babbel.
This resource is quite similar to Babbel in that it provides highly structured lessons that are full of interactive exercises. This one has a nicer layout than Babble as well as a nifty social feature that enables limited language exchange for free.
It doesn’t perform quite as well as Babbel in terms of grammar explanations and exercise-design, but it’s a resource that many people seem to like. Read our review of Busuu.
italki and Speechling
In the interest of filling in the gaps where Coffee Break falls short, these two resources could make great supplementary options.
italki connects learners with language tutors and is a great place to get one-on-one practice with speaking. It also has a decent (and free!) language exchange feature where you can get feedback on your writing skills. Here’s our italki review.
Speechling is a great place to get pronunciation practice. It teaches these skills by getting users to practice mimicking native speakers. It also provides an option to get feedback on your pronunciation from real teachers. You can submit a limited number of recordings for feedback each month or you can subscribe to submit unlimited recordings. Read our review of Speechling.
Despite the fact that I don’t usually respond very well to aural learning materials, I really enjoyed the Coffee Break lessons. There are a couple of reasons I think they worked for me: there are visual aids in the form of lesson notes and accompanying videos, and the lessons are scaffolded very well, progressing at a very manageable pace.
I also really enjoyed the Youtube videos. The free material associated with Coffee Break is hard to pass up, and I imagine it’s something I’ll refer to and recommend for convenient and free practice materials in the future.
While I like the resource, I also recognize that it’s lacking in some areas. Namely, it doesn’t provide a lot of opportunities to actively practice the languages it teaches, and this is true for the free and paid content. I’ve read a handful of reviews of people saying they enjoy listening to the podcasts on their commute to work, and I think this kind of passive engagement is what the resource is probably best for.
To get quality practice with productive skills (speaking and writing), you’ll need to supplement with other resources.
There are plenty of resources that teach popular languages like French, German, and Italian. To see our most-recommended resources in the language you’re learning, check out the table below.
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