The travel + language dream is real!
If I had a penny for every time I've heard a fellow traveler say, "I wish I could make money while traveling" I might just be a few thousand cents richer.
In fact, this comes up so often that I decided to make up a word for it, I call it "freebreaking".
It's a dream for many to be able to make a living online and travel endlessly, a dream I have pursued myself over the last dozen years running this very website. My particular flavor is to combine this with my love for languages, much like the guest in this episode, Michele Frolla.
The pursuit of this language dream has taken me to many corners of the globe and taught me things I simply could not have learned had I stayed in my hometown of Charlottesville, Virginia.
So it's with great pleasure that I bring you this interview, a conversation with a fellow freebreaker in which we explore her story with languages, how she was able to relocate from Australia to Rome and then London, as well as the personal and linguistic struggles she faced in the process.
We then explore her unique method for learning enough Italian in just eight hours to get by while traveling in Italy.
Who is Michele Frolla?
Michele Frolla is an avid world traveler and polyglot who runs The Intrepid Guide, "a language and travel blog featuring travel tips, language hacks, travel phrase guides, free resources and photography from around the world".
She is an Australian native currently based in London as a springboard for language travel adventures. Michele speaks fluent English, Italian and French and is proficient in Afrikaans and Arabic.
In addition to maintaining her blog, she has a YouTube channel on the same topic where she puts together fun and helpful videos about travel phrases for specific languages and guides you through some of her favorite destinations, exploring history, language and culture along the way.
Why the Intrepid Guide?
Here's an an excerpt from the interview in which Michele explains the thinking behind her brand name:
The definition of the word 'intrepid' is to be fearless and adventurous. And I certainly felt that way when I quit my job and took big risk in moving to the other side of the world, to Rome. I didn't have a job lined up, I didn't have any friends or connections that I could rely on, I was moving into a house and shared a place with a lady I didn't know all that well, I'd only met her once in a previous trip to Rome.
So I was taking a gamble, I quit my job and I was basically throwing myself into the deep end. I had a thirst for travel so that's the 'intrepid' part of the title.
Michele combines this intrepid spirit with a knack for making travel tidbits interesting and fun, hence the 'guide' part. She began all this by posting highly-informative Facebook posts for friends and family and, upon recommendation from her aunt, decided to make something more of it.
And we're glad she did! The Intrepid Guide is a great source for travel and language inspiration imbued with excitement and passion.
But Michele didn't stop there…
Michele's book on speedlearning Italian in just 8 hours
Michele's interest in Italian stems from her family roots - her father was an Italian immigrant to Australia hailing from the Puglia region.
From a young age, she was curious about her father's native language and that of her extended family back in Italy, but frustrated with not being able to communicate with them while visiting.
She decided to take matters into her own hands and relentlessly pursued learning Italian which eventually led to her relocating to Rome for three years, an experience which changed her life an led, ultimately, to the birth of The Intrepid Guide itself.
After becoming fluent in Italian, Michele realized that so many people were spending time on things that just didn't matter that much when trying to learn a language specifically for travel. She again decided to take matters into her own hands and wrote a book called Learn Italian FAST in Just 8 Hours, an alternative approach to picking up the Italian you really need and ditching the superfluous stuff.
Michele's method focuses on using modal verbs to give learners the tools to create meaning from the start, as opposed to rote memorization. It's Italian that is useful and applicable immediately when traveling, with none of the fluff.
In her own words:
Unlike traditional travel phrasebooks that force you to memorise lengthy sentences without any understanding of the backbone of the language, what you'll get is a blueprint on how to speak Italian that's both realistic and achievable.
Readers have responded incredibly well to her approach, and as this podcast goes live, her book has a 4.8 rating out of 5 on Amazon!
Check out Michele's book here.
"For me, it's all about connections, culture + conversations"
In this interview, Michele shares tips about how to engage with people and communities as you travel in order to get the most out of the experience.
She also recommends ways to getting up and running to make some cash while on the road, a topic I will be doing more podcasts on in the near future and covering via a new project launching soon called Freebreaker.
Connect with Michele, "The Intrepid Guide"
The Intrepid Guide Blog
The Intrepid Guide on YouTube
The Intrepid Guide on Facebook
The Intrepid Guide on Twitter
The Intrepid Guide on Instagram
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Transcription of this interview
If you prefer to read, I've got you covered here (though my fingers get a bit numb from typing these out and my head remains in slow motion for a while from listening to it slow enough for me to type!). Just keep in mind it's a transcription and doesn't always read well. I have left out some unnecessary things to clean it up a bit. Please consider listening as so many nuances come through in the recording that cannot be transcribed. That said, here you go!
Chapman: Alright, I'm here today with Michele Frolla of The Intrepid Guide, how are you doing today, Michele?
Michele: Hey, I'm very well, thank you for having me!
Chapman: Well, thanks a lot for coming on the show and I am looking forward to hearing this story about how you got into this life of travel. And I guess first I'd really like to get a bit of background about how you became interested in languages in the first place.
Michele: Yeah, well, I'm from Australia so growing up I was not really surrounded by other foreign languages. But I was born into a half-Italian, half-Australian family. So my dad was an Italian immigrant, he came over from Italy in the 50s and so it sort of started so early because when I used to go visit my grandfather or nonno in Italian, I couldn't understand him and couldn't speak to him and as a child I was always frustrated and also embarrassed because he would look at me and expect a response (laughs) and I just remember feeling frustrated and I was, you know, I felt it was awkward.
And even though I was really young, I would go and visit him from 5, 6, 7, 8 years old and as I grew up it just sort of became even more apparent that I really wanted to learn the language but because my dad spoke, well on my father's side they all speak a dialect of Puglia which is on the heel of the boot of Italy so it's sort of like a bit of a time warp because they don't really speak that way anymore, it's like a time warp of a dialect, he's in his 60s now. He would have Italian-type arguments with his parents, "No don't teach her that, that's how we say it but that's not the correct way of saying it in Italian!" So he sort of got frustrated with that and then, myself and my sisters, none of us learned Italian.
But I was sort of the only pushy one, I was like, "But I still want to learn something, teach me something!"
So on the way back home, dad would start to teach me things like "How are you?" and I would memorize as much as I could, just repeating it over in my mind. But that sort of really kicked off my whole exposure to language and then as I got older and then my nonno, he passed away and it was like a flick of a switch and I sort of regretted never taking and learning Italian seriously enough.
And then from that point, I just started to just sort of seek out resources. So I got a travel phrasebook and I started flicking through it and thinking, "Oh, well, I'll never. What are these people that can speak multiple languages?" I thought, "How do you learn a language?"
So I took baby steps and just did what everyone sort of, you know, you start to look for courses and I started to do that. And then to cut a long story short because it sort of goes through cycles, it sort of snowballed with me learning Italian three nights a week. I was still, I was going to university and as I was working after I finished university, I was still learning Italian and it was still very much a passion and I would go to restaurants just to hear the Italian waiter speak and I could practice ordering in Italian. I would go to the film festival in Melbourne and I would basically go and watch all the films there, anything I could do to absorb the language, I did it.
I guess it sort of came to a point where I was like, "This isn't enough, I want more." I was already at about a B1 level and then my dad could see how much I was pretty crazy about learning the language that he supported me in my decision to move to Rome.
So I moved to Rome and I was there for three years but for various reasons I had to leave, but those three years were basically life-changing and it sort of set me on the path to, I guess, the reason why I am here speaking with you today (laughs)!
Chapman: Wow, so that was a very strong anchor point with your grandfather. So you went to Rome, you managed to live there for a few years, finally learned Italian and then, I guess, from there how did interest in other languages open up? Could you just not stop at one like so many of us (laughs)?
Michele: First I think it made me start with the sound, I really like how the Italian sound was just really beautiful, it really flowed with all the vowels at the end but also I had an emotional attachment because that was my heritage. But then I know that, okay, once I can conquer in quotation marks to the point where I am comfortable with it, I would like to learn French.
It was interesting, I got to a point about two years after I was in Rome, I started learning French at the French Institute in the center. So that was quite an experience to come from an English-speaking country and move to Italy, speak Italian in my everyday life and then learn a third language, basically, But yeah, that was quite an experience, and different again because everyone was translating back into Italian whereas automatically I would translate things back into English. I guess the fascination with languages I think is, for me, the beauty of it. I am a creative person by trade, I've always been drawing things and creating things, I guess the artistic side of language I find very beautiful and even the construction of the language, the etymology and all that, I am really fascinated by that.
So when I started learning Italian and I would trace back the Latin roots and "Oh, that's similar in English!" and always the common words and things like that and it was sort of a nice segue into another Romanic language and that's French. Seeing the commonalities with Italian, it becomes really contagious. It's like you're piecing a puzzle together.
That's where my interest is with language, is how they're built and how they sound and their connections with each other.
Chapman: Alright, so from Italian and French, I'll ask the question of how many languages you're, not necessarily fluent in, but have proficiency in and have spent some time dabbling in.
Michele: So after French when I moved to London, which is where I am based now, I continued with French and I studied that quite intensely for a year and then I wanted to progress onto Afrikaans. I know that's a bit of a strange choice, jumping from Romance into a German language, especially one that isn't commonly spoken in Europe, for example, it's only really spoken in South Africa.
But there are a lot of South Africans here in London, and my boyfriend is from South Africa, he's Afrikaans. I was interested in his language and listening to him and how it sounds and it sounded very different from what I was used to with Italian and French but then all the commonalities with English, so yeah, I started learning Afrikaans but it's basically really difficult to find resources for learning Afrikaans. I basically managed to track down one Afrikaans teacher here in London because I prefer the one-on-one contact with someone. She was moving in-between South Africa and London and I didn't get to the level that I wanted to but I still have a pretty good understanding but I haven't taken the next step into being a bit more proficient.
So Afrikaans and after that I started learning Arabic last year and that was basically a decision I made leading up to my trip to Egypt. Egypt was one of my dream destinations when I was little which came about when my uncle brought back a hieroglyphics print from my mom and she put it on the wall outside my bedroom and I though, "Wow, what is this?!"
I was always watching documentaries growing up and I learned more and more about Ancient Egypt and became fascinated with all of that and I said I'd go to Egypt one day. Since I have this passion for languages, I thought if I'm going to go to Egypt, I want to make sure I learn that I can communicate at least one some basic level and learn some Arabic.
So I started learning Arabic and, again, it's another ballgame learning Arabic, everything is very foreign, there's very few words that I was familiar with. But that was a nice challenge and I am still continuing on with that as well.
I don't speak as many languages as a lot of other linguists, but I definitely have chosen a couple of the most challenging ones, I guess!
A bit more time is needed to develop those.
Chapman: Well, it's at least four times more than most people, certainly than most Americans. Perhaps Australians as well. So you're ahead of the game there.
This is a good segue into The Intrepid Guide because given a woman who desires to go travel to an Arab country, that takes an intrepid person. Not all of the people listening to the show are necessarily native English speakers, so I'd love it if you could just talk a bit about the meaning behind the name and why you chose that.
Michele: I sort of went around in circles trying to come up with a name that meant something to me. Basically, I chose The Intrepid Guide for a couple of reasons. The definition of the word 'intrepid' is to be fearless and adventurous. And I certainly felt that way when I quit my job and took big risk in moving to the other side of the world, to Rome. I didn't have a job lined up, I didn't have any friends or connections that I could rely on, I was moving into a house and shared a place with a lady I didn't know all that well, I'd only met her once in a previous trip to Rome.
So I was taking a gamble, I quit my job and I was basically throwing myself into the deep end. I had a thirst for travel so that's the 'intrepid' part of the title.
And then 'guide', basically, I sort of because this pseudo guide for when my friends would come and visit me. I would talk them around Rome and show them all the sites and I would tell them the history behind the places and share really fun facts and try to give them a cultural understanding of this city because there was so much to learn and I loved learning it and I used to go on so many walking tours and different tours and read up on places and just be drawn to that history. Coming from Australia, we have history, but not as far back as Rome, two thousand years. I was fascinated by the history that we were walking on through those streets.
I became a guide to my friends online that would write to me as I was posting Facebook posts and sharing all my experiences and the things I would learn. So I'd have really informative Facebook posts and then one day my aunt said, "You should do something with all of this stuff!" and I was like, "What do you mean do something?" and she said, "I don't know, create a book or something." And it stuck with me, it was basically the seed that planted and stayed with me and then came about a year or so later when I thought I would create this Intrepid Guide.
So I guess that's how it sort of really came about. The Intrepid Guide for me sort of represents me wanting to be that friend to my followers, I want to show them the cultural side of the world and the linguistic side of travel and the importance of learning just a few phrases while you travel and how much that can enrich your experience and maybe lead to wanting to learn that language more seriously.
Chapman: That's excellent, certainly in your video and your site, the exuberance for travel and that inspiring vibe definitely comes through and I think there are a lot of people out there who obviously want to learn languages but the combination of traveling and learning languages and having some way of being able to work online at the same time is really kind of like "The Dream".
Before somebody plunges into that lifestyle, there's gotta be some kind of fears or doubts that need to be overcome. Do you remember facing any kind of obstacles or anything that was before you broke through to become The Intrepid Guide, just for those out there who may be considering doing something similar.
Michele: I have to set the scene a little bit because, you know, travel before I moved to Italy, it was still very new to me. I had gone on a trip with a friend for a couple of weeks prior to that decision of me wanting to move to Italy. So we went to Italy for two weeks and then to Paris for about five days and that got me hooked on wanting to pursue Italian.
And then before I decided I wanted to move to Italy, I went back by myself for seven weeks basically to test my level of Italian and to see if I could move over there and feel okay about it confidence-wise.
But I was still really worried about moving and quitting my job but I had a really good support system at home, especially from my dad being Italian and proud of me pursuing my heritage.
I guess I felt like it was the right decision even though I was scared and nervous and everything, I'm like, "I'm gonna really regret it if I don't". It's cliché but there was a fire, I just really wanted it so bad and I was determined to make it work. The first year, I was told at the time, is the most difficult when you move overseas. And it was challenging, you know I had my moments where I was like, "What am I doing? Nothing's happening!"
I was looking for a job and it was really difficult. It took me three months to find a job and apparently that was quite quick when I told some Italian later on it was like, that's kinda good. I thought, "Really?| because in Australia you could find a job in a couple of weeks or so.
But after I found a decent job right in the center of Rome and it was perfect, it was everything that I wanted and I had to wait for it but it did come after perseverance.
So yeah, I think that was the first challenging step. The next step was finding my feet in terms of the social life. At this point, I was still going to Italian school so even though I was in Italy, I still wanted to make sure I was getting all my grammar and progressing in that sense.
So I formed some social circles at school, sometimes they stuck, sometimes they didn't because there were lots of students coming and going from other European cities but my Italian teacher back in Rome, he actually put me in contact with his contact, his friends in Rome. Even though I was really flattered and so grateful, I didn't want to burden them, I didn't want to force them to want to welcome me into their world just because of a friend that said that I needed a bit of help, a helping hand I guess.
But Italians are Italians and if you know someone who knows someone you're family automatically and that was so sweet. They welcomed me with open arms as if we had know each other for years and they are still great contacts and still great friendship there. It was thanks to making connections, I guess, as I said earlier, when I was talking about always seeking out Italians in my environment, I didn't have to form a friendship outside of the classroom of my teacher but I did because I was so drawn to the language and the people and the country and everything about it and doing so, you never know where it's going to lead you, and he was the one that offered to put me in contact with his friends and I'm so glad that he did (laughs)!
I hope that answers your question.
Chapman: Yeah, definitely. That actually makes curious about a lot of other things. From what you said before, that you were writing these kind of uber-informative Facebook posts which later developed, I am curious, you also have a YouTube channel as well as the blog, which did you launch first?
Michele: I definitely started with the blog first, I thought, "I'll start with the blog and see where it goes from there" and I set up all the different channels and people sort of cling to certain channels, they identify with different social channels for different reasons and I thought that I would create some YouTube videos and YouTube is a great place to learn things. I don't know how many hours I have spend on YouTube learning about things myself, photography and whatnot, and I thought it'd be a good space to try out doing some videos.
So I created these short little 4-minute fun videos on idiomatic expressions and I enjoy idioms, it's sort of my favorite part of learning a languages, how people express themselves colloquially because in Australia we have so many different acronyms and abbreviations of words and shortening of words and everything is slang in Australian. I come over to London and I understand half the time.
Chapman: I concur, I have some difficulty understanding Australian English as well even though I am a native speaker. There's a levels of slang there that I was now aware of before I made a couple of Australian friends.
Michele: Yeah, and I kind of took it for granted and didn't realize it, I guess. When you grow up in an environment and everyone speaks the same way, and even though I am now in another English-speaking country, just because Australian English is from British English, it doesn't mean that we always understand each other all the time.
There's lots of expressions and cultural differences that I didn't realize until I came here.
So back to the idiomatic expressions, I started off, I think Italian was the first one I did, then French and Spanish and Portuguese and German. And then Dutch. It sort of really took off because it's sort of the more fun part of learning a language is learning how other people express themselves. The literal translations are the funniest part of that and I find that a lot of native speakers that have perhaps moved abroad and want to reconnect with their mother tongue a bit and have a bit of a giggle at their own language really enjoy these videos. I get comments and they'll say, "It's so funny listening to this from the perspective of a foreigner" and so on.
They were quite fun to put together, I wanted to source out native speakers to actually put those videos together so they're quire enjoyable to listen to because you can hear their accent when they're speaking the parts in English and it's really endearing, I love that, I love listening to other people accents.
Chapman: Absolutely. So you were actually doing videos in languages you were not familiar with, you were doing idiomatic expressions in some other languages as well, that's pretty cool.
Michele: Yeah, it sort of helps me to learn other languages by doing that, too. So I'll seek out people that I know that speak that language natively and get them to help me out. My boyfriend was actually the one that did the Afrikaans videos. I've got a friend who is Spanish and she helped me out. I have a friend that's Czech and she helped me out with a travel phrase guide that I did.
Being well-traveled, I've met a lot of people along the way and the benefit of that is that you get to connect to learn more about the world and about their background and upbringing and their language. So I brought them on to partake in The Intrepid Guide and to contribute, it's been quite nice actually.
Chapman: That's really cool. You're very clued in on the whole language and travel tip… when you're kind of getting ready to go travel somewhere where you might not speak the language, what do you do to prepare linguistically for the trip?
Michele: It's actually funny because you interviewed Simon from Omniglot and every time I do a Google search I always end up on his site, he's always like #1 or #2 in a Google search. It's fun, Omniglot.com is a great place to start and he links to other resources around the Web.
I guess most of my research comes from online, doing research and comparing the different results. I always seek out the most essential phrases like, "I am vegetarian" and "Please:" and "Hello" and "Thank you" and "I would like" and so on, the really basic but really important stuff, and once I feel confident with that, I will progress to things that are a bit more complex.
But the key is not to overwhelm yourselves with long phrases that don't really mean anything to you, that you're just memorizing something without any real context of how that sentence was formed, I think that's sort of the danger in some of the travel phrasebooks that you can get is that they're quite thick, you're not going to learn all of these phrases in time for a trip. Nor are you probably going to pull it out in the moment and sift through and try and find a phrase that you're after. I think they can be quite overwhelming.
I guess the best thing to do is just to focus on the five to ten essential things, and once you feel confident with them and if you have time, start to expand on those and learn more specific phrases and maybe the building blocks of those phrases.
Chapman: Right, so focusing on what's practical, what you're actually gonna need in the few interactions you're gonna have initially is key. Is there anything you can think of that people do that could be kind of a waste of time in that sense?
Michele: I guess… a waste of time… when it comes to learning a language, I think nothing's really a waste of time but I guess the pressure that you can put on yourself can be a waste because it can be really off-putting if you've got this thick book, all these phrases and feeling overwhelmed, and that puts a lot of pressure on you. The more pressure you have when it comes to learning a language, the less likely it is that you're going to be able to retain it and recall it later on.
So as I said, I would definitely stick with the five to ten phrases and maybe not even buy those travel phrase guides unless you feel you can dedicate a decent amount of time to learn it. Otherwise you're not going to get through all of it!
I always laugh at these sections where they have pick-up lines (laughs), you'd only use those as a joke. You wouldn't use, or I think you wouldn't use them in a serious situation! I don't those are very practical, even though they are fun to learn, they're not very practical.
Chapman: I know, in fact, that reminds me of when I was fourteen and I went to Mexico with my step-mother to learn some Spanish, you know, just for a month or so and she had this really cool little phrasebook and I remember looking through there and I saw this phrase that said: "Who is the man with the polyester pants?" I thought, when in the world is anybody? Even at the ripe old age of fourteen, I thought, "Gosh, how useful could that really be?"
"Who's the man in the polyester pants?" How did that end up in this phrasebook!
So yeah, watch out for the polyester pant phrases there.
To get a bit into the life, "The Life of Travel", that you and I have really been quite fortunate to live and I think, it sounds like from your story, that your family was a huge part of it and that's also true for me.
What do you have as far as any recommendations that someone who has a passion for language, they are aspiring to travel and make a living online, what would you, if you were gonna have to start over again and with that as a goal, what would you recommend to people interested in that?
Michele: I guess one thing to know that I suppose I didn't really have any idea about before I moved overseas was just how many networks there are, how many social groups there are that are really supportive and are doing something or have done something similar to what you're doing.
In terms of Facebook groups, there are different groups like "Italians in Melbourne" or "Ozzies in London". "Wanted in Rome" is a great place for foreigners in Rome. These places where you can connect with people and get feedback from people about a place if you want to move to a specific part of the world and you're not sure how to do it, these groups provide amazing support, everyone is really active, really talkative, it's a really nice coimmunity to be a part. I think having that support, if you don't have that support from your friends or family, there are other people out there doing it, I think that's a really nice way to tap into that confidence that you need to pursue a life overseas or to create a living online.
When it comes to creating, I think your question was about how people would go about creating a business online to support their travels, is that…?
Chapman: Yes, that as well, for sure, for sure.
Michele: I've neem exposed to being a blogger for a couple of years now and I guess that's a really nice place to start. But with a niche in mind. You don't necessarily need to talk about your travels or the language you're learning or your linguistic interests, it could be anything that you're good at, any sort of hobbies and basically turning that into a business. Again, there are so many great resources out there, different entrepreneurs that you can listen to and where to get information from. Lots of books, as well. I am constantly reading and watching and listening and it seems like there's been a real shift in a way people live, their lifestyles changed, they don't need to be plugged into a desk in the same building everyday, we can do that from anywhere in the world, these digital nomads and learning about people that are living in Asia and creating these businesses that are international, it's inspiring. If they can do it, and not having gone to university, if you think you need to, you don't. All the information you need to get started is available.
There's a really good book called "The 100 Dollar Startup" by Chris Guillebeau, I think his name is, and it's a great book in teaching you that you don't need a lot of money to start up, you only need around $100, sometimes it can go up to $2000, but whatever it is, whatever your idea is, you can start sometime from scratch online and slowly build it. That is the key, that you don't need to go out and take loan, if you have an idea, start to play with it, think about how you can monetize it, is there a product or a service you can provide, and start to build something that way, find a hole in the market and turn it into something of value.
Chapman: Definitely, I think that's inspiring for a lot of people and it made me think in there when you were talking about some of the inspiration, I'd just like to ask if there's anybody in particular that was or continues to be an inspiration for you?
Michele: I follow lots of different people online for different reasons. There's just so many, there's people in the language space, in the travels space, entrepreneurs in general, I gain a lot from listening to their perspectives from their own business, from a high level down to real specifics.
Nomadic Matt is someone that I've started to follow a bit more religiously of late, he's released a blogging course. Just listening to him, the way he talks about his business, about how he grew it, is really insightful.
The Blonde Abroad as well, I like to look at her photography and take inspiration, the way she has grown her business as well, But then looking at the linguists and finding inspiration from them, Richard Simcott, he's like the Godfather of the language community, he's such a wonderful person and he helped bring together the Polyglot Conference that I attended last year along with Alex Rawlings. Those guys are just inspirational for me just seeing how many languages they are able to have learned and maintained and have sort of made a living out of.
So I think whatever your interest is, that you seek out those people in your area but also branch out from there as well, look at what people are doing in different spaces and cross-pollenate the ideas to create something new. I think it's probably a bit, not risky, but sort of, it would be wise to follow the people that are in your vertical, I guess, but also look and listen to people that are in a different space.
So it could be, you know, I'm really into languages and travel, but I may also follow and listen to lifestyle bloggers, for example, or people that into cooking. Branching out and creating a holistic approach and not being too bogged down in just the same people that you follow from your own vertical.
Chapman: Yeah, definitely. So we've got a lot of the inspiration and the motivation and all that, was there ever any time when you thought, "Geez, this might not work" and, if so, how did you overcome that?
Michele: The learning curve is quite steep, especially in the beginning because you realize there are so many moving parts. So moving parts by, you have to come up with a name, then a logo, then put up your website, choose your hosting and then you start writing your first post and now I have to worry about SEO and how that works. Sourcing images. That leads into becoming a photographer, how do I take better photos, how do I edit them right?
Then from there, it's like how do I get my name out there? How can I make a living out of this? How can I monetize my expertise, how can I help other people?
There is a steep learning curve but I don't know how other people feel about this in the blogging space, but I enjoy learning the individual moving parts, there's not one area that I hate. So when it comes to maybe the tech side, specifically, with the website, back end workings, that may be my weak point, I would seek out help for that.
But when it comes to the photography, I am more than happy to attend a course or listen to YouTube videos. And the same with the SEO side, following people that are experts in SEO and learning about that.
Like with languages, I enjoy learning all the individual workings of something. But that might be a personality thing (laughs)!
I find that once I set my mind to something, I do it wholeheartedly and I put in 110% so that helps. You need to have a passion for it.
If you don't enjoy it, then it's not going to work sort of a thing.
Chapman: Yup, yeah. That passion is definitely what keeps you going through the long nights and the SEO videos and everything.
Are there any moments that you remember being breakthrough points for you?
Michele: There was a bit of a mini-triumphant moment and kind of shocked at the same time and that was when I finished writing my book on how to learn Italian and I put it up on Amazon and people started downloading it and leaving testimonials and I'm like, "Oh my God, this is really happening!"
It felt so surreal and I'm like, "Wow, this is incredible!"
Yeah, getting some really nice feedback from people and saying how much they appreciated it and how they were going to use it leading up to their travels, how much it helped them.
So I thought, "I must be on the right track! I am definitely doing something right."
That was a really nice moment.
Chapman: I'd love, actually, to get into your book. It's about basically in just eight ours you can use a 9-step approach to introduce Italian. Could you tell us about how you managed to condense that down into eight hours and what's unique about that?
Michele: When you go to a classroom and the teacher sits you down and you start to go through either days of the week or numbers and I'm like, "Yeah, but how am I actually gonna use this and form a sentence?" It sort of takes you while to get to that stage that you are able to create sentences on your own.
So what I wanted to do with the book is basically get the reader speaking as quickly as possible, and giving them the building blocks to do that. In technical speak, in grammatical terms, it's using modal verbs. So things like, "I want" or "I can" or "I must" and creating sentences from that and giving them a few verbs, so actions, that they can work with to create that sentence.
I wanted to break down the barrier, just to simplify things, because I feel like when you're in a classroom, the teacher overwhelms you with grammatical terms and I don't remember all these terms from school, we didn't really go through all the grammatical terms in high school, I only remember from high school, and then it was really basic: What's a noun? What's a verb?
I assumed that the readers didn't know anything about grammar, so I would explain to them in layman's terms what a verb is, what a noun is, and I simplify it in such a way that they're like, "Okay, I got it straight away". A verb is a doing word, and it's like, "What's a doing word, I mean what can I do?" 'To be' is also a verb, I'm not doing anything, I'm just being!
The definitions that we're given in primary school or in high school, don't really make much sense when you're an adult. I can't wrap my head around that. So I break it down and make it really simple for the user to learn the language and create their own sentences with the words they're given. To make meaningful sentences that they can then put into use when they're traveling.
Each of the steps focuses on a different part of the grammar and that basically leads up to the eight hours that each of those segments add up to.
Chapman: Okay, so that's really interesting because basically instead of giving people things to memorize, you're giving them a way to express themselves. So from the beginning, it's on them to use those modal verbs and to start to create meaning rather than just a wrote memorization of some phrases that they then promptly forget or drop out of mind as soon as they are in front pf somebody and have to say them.
So you're actually giving the ability to stack and to create and get used to that right from the beginning, that language is so liquid, you know, in the sense that there are certain patterns that do repeat themselves which I have found very useful to know, you know, the usual questions you get, like "How'd you learn Italian?" and this kind of thing.
It sounds like you give people the tools to actually construct rather than just memorize which is I think is very valuable there.
Michele: I sort of see it as skipping all the boring stuff and getting to the good stuff.
Michele: Something I can actually like, "I'm speaking Italian!" That point when you get excited about it and say, "I can do this!"
You gotta start off on the right foot, keep the learner interested and that's something that, depending on the teacher, you may or may not get.
So that's what I was aiming for when I wrote the book.
Chapman: Cool. And before I'd asked a bit about how you prepare linguistically, specifically for traveling, and you've also just given us some good insight into your approach. Is there any else from your experience overall, what kind of tidbits could you share with aspiring language learners and polyglots out there?
Michele: I was thinking about this the other day, I think one of the key things which links back to what I was just saying is about keeping things interesting and fun. And you want to diversify how you learn a language. So don't focus too much on the reading or the writing or the speaking, you gotta have a nice balance of everything.
One of the things I really liked to do when I was starting out with Italian was watching my favorite movies dubbed in Italian and with the Italian subtitles on so I could really focus on the language being used because I already knew the plot line, I knew what was being said because I knew the movie inside out and I could just focus on the new words and I would have a notepad next to me and would jot them down. That was a really nice way of picking up everyday vocabulary.
And then I'd listen to the radio in the car or I would get Italian music, some cheesy Italian music, even some classical operas, and you know, have fun finding the lyrics for them and understanding what they were saying better.
So I think diversifying how you're actually acquiring the language is really important.
Next, as important as that, would be that you shouldn't stop. Even if you don't have a lot of time to spare in your day, you still need to make some room for it, you still need to keep it somewhat fresh because if you take one day off or two days off, you can quite easily get stuck in the trap of having the fear start up again, the fear that it's too hard. I feel like if you keep it fresh, and you keep the momentum, keeping the enthusiasm and passion for the language is really important.
Having a nice variety of ways that you're learning a language is key.
Speaking, obviously. Taking to your Italian teacher like I did (laughs) and they would start to feel comfortable with me and they would start to use colloquialisms that they would't necessarily use in the classroom. That way you build up the confidence and that's really important.
Sometimes people say, "You're so confident!" and I'm like, "I may seem that way but actually I can be a nervous wreck!"
But as you keep taking and you keep learning then the confidence builds. And that does wonders for you taking leaps of faith and experimenting with the language and trying to form the subjunctive tense which can be quite challenging and only really advanced language speakers will do that, but being able to do that and being okay that you might get it wrong but then having an Italian to correct you, it makes it so much more enjoyable. And they appreciate that they are now your teacher, so you sort of pass along the teaching duties to your friends and they love it!
Think about when people ask you, "How do you say this in English" or "How do you say that?"
I remember having some colleagues back in Australia, one of my colleagues was from Israel and his English was great but sometimes he would say things like "yesterday night" and I'd say, "Do you want me to correct you or help you or...?" and he's like, "Yeah, please do!" and I'd say, "Well, instead of saying 'yesterday night' you should say 'last night'" for example.
And they know that when you're around them you will keep them in check.
I definitely asked my friends to do the same with me because I didn't want to be forming bad habits.
That comes with confidence because you might be really nervous that people are judging you. I still get nervous as well, with my accent, I have a very thick Australian accent, but when I speak Italian they say, "Are you from Rome?" and I say, "What do you mean? I've got an Australian accent!" and they say "But you sound like you're from Rome!" and I don't know how that happens.
But it's obviously the way that the Roman accent flows, there are so many accents all over Italy. So being like, "Oh, I've got a Roman accent, this is awesome!"
Chapman: That's really cool, thanks for those insights, a lot of good information there.
We are coming up on the time here and I just want to let you share anything you'd like if you have anything else to share, otherwise let people know how to get in touch with you, discover your work and reach out to you.
Michele: My blog is called The Intrepid Guide, you can find me under The Intrepid Guide on Facebook and YouTube. For Twitter it's Intrepid Guide without the 'the'. You and find me in all these channels. If you like cultural tips, videos, I sort of cover a bit of everything. If you guys have anything in particular that you want me to cover then let me know, I am always asking my followers what languages they'd like to learn a bit more about.
And I create travel phrase guides as well, so if you're traveling and need some help maybe with some Spanish, French, Italian, Afrikaans, Arabic, Czech, German, what else, Icelandic, Swiss German… I think I have the basics well, but I am constantly wanting to build those out as well because they come in handy.
Always seeking feedback from anyone and everyone and taking it on board to make it more useful for everyone.
Chapman: Fabulous, Michele, that's really great. I really appreciate you taking the time today and wish you the best with everything and I'd love to check back in further down the line and just see how things are going.
Michele: Absolutely, thank you so much for having me, it's been a real pleasure.