A long time ago, I saw a famous person in a shop. He was a sportsman, tall, well built, wearing clothes that cost more than my house, and I immediately panned around to look outside and see if I could spot his car. There it was. Looking like a UFO had landed. To this day I don’t know what it was, but I’m guessing it was hand-made from the smelted down golden treasures of a thousand long lost empires. I wanted it. And I hated him for having it. I turned back to cast a glare of “who do you think you are, eh?” only to see that he had chosen a book from the shelf, on art, and was paying for it while chatting to the cashier, a young girl in college. He asked what she was studying, and she happened to reply “art”. He probed further and asked what she liked and didn’t like about her course, giving her advice on different art movements and authors to look up. He was genuinely a nice man, and I couldn’t hate him. And I hated that I couldn’t hate him. But that started something in me … self-improvement is free. Here’s how I do it.

Read something every day

My high school modern-languages teacher always insisted that we read something every day because that would help us to grasp English and in doing so would propel our understanding of other languages. Quite how he thought we would magically contrive of the thinking behind a conjugated verb simply by reading a nightly chapter of Animal Farm is beyond me, but he had a point. You see, books aren’t there to convince us that dragons exist, they show us that dragons can be beaten. Sticking your head in a good book is a bit like sticking your head into a galactic wormhole and peeking into other worlds. You’ll return all the wiser. If you prefer speaking to someone, try Mediumchat for interesting topics to think and talk about. 

Learn a new language

While we’re on the theme of languages, learning to parlais le Franglais as an adult is super rewarding. Or perhaps Spanglish is your thing. Or whatever. The point is, you’ll broaden your horizons more by switching off the radio and spending your commute instead listening to an audiobook teaching you that Polish uses the same word for castle as it does for the zipper on your jacket because they both technically mean to lock away. You could also discover that the French have no separate words to differentiate between mind and brain, or house and home. Swedish, on the other hand, can never come close to delivering a full dictionary to learners, as the crazy Swedes have developed a system where whole new grammatically correct words can be invented on the spot by joining two words together. This is the world you live in. Get involved. It’s fun. Here on In The Playroom we have a few Arabic language resources, and currently in our house we are learning Mandarin Chinese

Wherever you learn, make it your own space

This blog is running out of space. So far, we’ve covered reading and speaking. That’s not going to be for everyone. Some people might want to take up knitting or hang gliding. But know this as a parting piece of advice, you are more likely to stick at any new hobby if you create a space in a spare room or buy a mat or a new table or even any relevant clothes. Make the effort.