For many of us, travel is a major motivator behind our desire to learn a new language. This is the core of what we’re all about at Live Lingua — using language to break down barriers and bring the world closer together.
If you’ve done any international travel yourself, you’ve likely heard of The Intrepid Guide, among the web’s most respected travel blogs, run by traveler and polyglot extraordinaire Michele Frolla.
We spoke with Michele about how she brought her dream to life and what’s in store for the future.
First thing’s first. How did The Intrepid Guide start, and what did you find particularly important in being able to grow it to where it is today?
After years of posting all my travel adventures on Facebook, my Auntie posted a comment saying that I should do something with all the photos that I take and share the things that I learn.
That comment stuck with me. A year later, someone told me I should make a blog. I didn’t know anything about blogging or that people made a living from it, so I decided to give it a go and see where it would take me.
Almost five years later, The Intrepid Guide is going strong and continues to grow.
I created The Intrepid Guide not only to spend more time on my two passions in life; learning languages and traveling, but to show my readers the importance of language especially when traveling to foreign countries.
You can turn an ‘OK’ trip into something truly special just but using a few key phrases. Being fluent for travel is a great way to show locals respect and make a good first impression.
To help my readers achieve next-level travel experiences, I create detailed destination guides and videos and free travel phrase guides for them to use.
You don’t need to be fluent to make a difference, knowing a little can go a long way. Just by showing that you’ve made an effort to learn some of the local language brings out the best in people.
I believe it’s important to show respect when traveling to any foreign country. Even if locals can speak a bit of English, it’s still a good idea to greet them in their native language.
What was the first language you learned, and how did you go about learning it?
My interest in languages started when I was very young. I was named after my nonno (Italian for grandfather) so I was always fascinated by his home country and the language he spoke.
As an immigrant, he never learned English so I struggled to communicate with him on a deeper level. When he passed away, I was determined to learn Italian as a way to learn more about him and carry on his legacy.
I didn’t take my first trip overseas until I was 22 years old. Thanks to my Italian heritage and interest in Italian artists and Roman history, I decided to go to Rome and travel around Italy before heading over to Paris.
That trip left a lasting impression on me and really changed the course of my life. That’s when I finally got serious about learning languages. Over the following three years, I studied Italian whilst working full-time.
I attended language schools, had private lessons, and watched countless Italian TV shows and films. Once I reached B1, I decided to move to Italy. It was a real dream come true.
The biggest thing Live Lingua and The Intrepid Guide have in common is a belief in the fact that “language enhances.” What does this mean to you, and are there any takeaways your readers identify with from the phrase itself?
I’m a true believer that language enhances your travels. You don’t need to be fluent to reap the benefits either.
Learning a few choice phrases can go a long way and can open you up to more opportunities, experiences, local tips and recommendations. I’ve personally experienced this countless times, but my favourite anecdote is from a trip I took to Sicily.
Whilst I was out to dinner with my girlfriends in Palermo, a family took an interest in us. They were so impressed with our ability to speak Italian (which each of us spoke at various levels), that they invited us over to their house for afternoon tea the next day!
The mamma even baked three home cakes for us too!
It just goes to show how powerful language can be in connecting with people.
In your opinion, how much knowledge should a traveler have of a country’s language before visiting?
The more knowledge you have the better. However, it’s important not to put too much pressure on yourself. Learn as much as you can whilst it’s still enjoyable. Start small by learning 10 essential phrases, for example, hello, please, thank you, excuse me, goodbye, etc.
If you’re enjoying the process, take things a step further and do a quick Google search for any cultural considerations you should know about.
For example, in Bulgaria, shaking your head side-to-side means ‘no’, while moving it up and down means ‘yes’.
In Italy, it’s generally accepted that people don’t arrive on time for a prearrange appointment. However, in Germany, this would be considered rude.
To hone in on travel, what is the most beneficial language an aspiring digital nomad or backpacker can learn?
The most beneficial language to learn all comes down to your personal goals. Learning a language takes time and a lot of passion.
Some might say that learning Spanish and Mandarin Chinese are the most beneficial languages. This might be the case if you plan on travelling to China or Spanish speaking countries or aspire to work with these languages.
But if your heart’s not in it, it will feel like a constant uphill battle.
If you’re more interested in learning a minority language such as Norwegian (like I am) because you love the country and want to travel there often, then that’s the most beneficial language to learn.
I’m learning Norwegian because I know it will help me connect better with locals when I travel to Norway.
You talk a lot about travel fluency and best practices on your site. Are there any that you learned the hard way? We love a good story.
When you’re new to a language, having the confidence to speak can be a real challenge. Even after studying five languages I still get sky. I feel self-conscious, worry about my pronunciation and being understood.
When traveling to a foreign-speaking country, the best way to start using the language is by implementing what you’ve learned as soon as you arrive. I make it a habit now to chat with custom officers when they are checking my passport.
I greet them in their language, then ask for corrections on my pronunciation. Then I might ask another question or let the conversation naturally take it course.
Custom officers are usually bored and not very friendly-looking, but as soon as you show them an interest in their language, their whole demeanor changed. That’s the power of language.
In your travels, what habits have you developed for working, studying a language, writing, etc? Is there a certain place you like to go, like a coworking space or library?
When I’m writing a new article for The Intrepid Guide or editing a video for my YouTube channel, I prefer to be at home where I can work on my large monitor and not be interrupted.
For things that require less concentration, such as photo editing, responding to emails, and other admin tasks, I save these for days when I cowork with friends.
When it comes to language study, it can happen anywhere. I attend language classes in central London, take online lessons from home, watch TV series on-the-go, and do my homework on the lounge room floor!
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What are your thoughts on blogging, online business, and “the future of work” as it relates to remote work? Is this a fad, or is it here to stay?
Without wanting to sound corny, it really is an exciting time to be alive. This generation has so many opportunities available to them to earn a living, and have the flexibility to do it from anywhere. The best part is that anyone can do it.
Parents can work remotely and not feel guilty about leaving their children in daycare. Anyone who’s looking for a career change can build an online business on the side until the time is right to make the switch.
With people having more choice and the power to create their ideal job, it should lead to not only more job satisfaction, but more happiness in general.
What’s the plan for 2020?
Travel wise, I’ve got a few exciting trips planned this year including visiting the Faroe Islands, Trieste, Trondheim and hopefully Svalbard to see polar bears!
For my blog, I’ll be focusing on creating more travel and language video content which will be exciting. Watch this space!
About Michele Frolla
Michele is an Australian language and travel blogger and ‘guide’ behind The Intrepid Guide.com and author of the 5-star rated ebook on Amazon How to Learn Italian FAST. Michele shares her passion for languages and travel by bringing them together in detailed destinations guides and free travel phrase guides available on her blog.
Michele inspires and helps travellers include language learning in their travel preparation as a way of enhancing their travels. Follow Michele on social media as she shares fascinating and little-known linguistic and cultural facts. Follow her on Instagram, and Twitter @intrepidguide and Facebook and YouTube at ‘The Intrepid Guide’.