Using Trello for learning vocabulary

If you learn something, it becomes your part forever, doesn’t it, even if you don’t use the knowledge anymore…

30 years ago I was learning German and I was quite proficient in the language. Yet gradually I replaced German with English and didn’t feel motivated to maintain and develop my knowledge of the German language. The older I was, the more I regretted that I let the knowledge slip out of my life but I was not willing to invest time and effort into something I did not really need.

Eventually, last July I started to work in a company with German parent company that has further subsidiary companies around the world. As you can imagine, both German and English are important there and that fact finally pushed me towards the decision to take action and brush up on my German.

While I gradually recover my knowledge of German grammar, I feel to be slowed down significantly by lack of vocabulary so I’ve been looking for ways of learning useful words. There are many ways how to do that and I want to show you one of the ways I’ve been using, which is the Trello board system.

Do you know Trello? It is an online board system for planning and organising that can be used by individuals, teams or whole companies, you can read everything about it on Trello’s website HERE. After a colleague of mine had told me about its existence a few months ago, I created my first board and it occurred to me that I could use the system also for learning the vocabulary. I created a new board for that purpose and here is how it works for me. (Sorry for the lower quality of the print-screen images.)

In a nutshell, a Trello board is a set of columns with cards which you can move, label, schedule, share, archive, etc. I started with a system where a column has six cards having six categories as showed in the column on the left – nouns with masculine (article der), feminine (article die) and neuter (article das) gender, verbs, adjectives and miscellaneous, which covers the rest of the vocabulary. Each type of a card has its specific colour label to distinguish and visualise it.

The first column on the left contains sample cards. (I translated the description into English for you but the rest is in Czech as I use them.) The sample cards have all the necessary features so when I need one, I simply copy it into a new column and don’t have to set its properties every time from scratch.

In the following image you can see how a sample card looks inside.

The field “Description” is empty here, that is the place where I add new words. I use Trello’s formatting options to distinguish the words and their example phrases and sentences. I decided on the amount of 7 words (plus sample sentences or phrases, if useful) at each card, it’s neither too much nor too little when going through them.

When I add those 7 words in the card, I tick off that custom field “revise” and I can see right away on the board that the card is full and prepared for revising. Before creating and adding this custom field it didn’t work well because I never knew which card was full and which was half empty, this simple visualisation solved the issue perfectly.

I select the cards to be revised randomly but I always revise the whole card’s contents. Every time I finish the revising, I tick off the field “revised”. After all cards in a column have been revised three times, I archive the column and it’s moved with all the cards from the board to the archive. Cards can be archived individually but I prefer this system.

Here is an example of a card that is filled in and revised once:

I had quite a few words collected in my laptop and in a few notebooks and I transmitted them all into this system. I found out that it would be impractical to stick to the system of those 6 particular cards in a column so I adjusted it and add the cards that I need, just keeping the amount of 6 cards in one column.

The words collected in the cards come from various sources – from textbooks, articles, media presentations, e-mails, etc. I don’t select the words randomly from dictionaries as I want them to be genuine and used.

Let me add that I don’t believe that I would learn all the words and phrases simply by just going through them three times but the important thing is that I work with them, repeat them and try to use them. Some will be remembered this time, some not, but perhaps next time I meet them? I love that the system is online so I have them available and can add new ones anywhere. My intentions are to revise two cards every day, mostly in the evening, and I do try to stick to this scheme. Without knowing proper words, it’s difficult both to understand and express oneself….

I know, Trello is primarily a planning system and my idea of using it for learning foreign vocabulary might sound strange or unusual but I like the versatility and certain playfulness. There are so many ways how to do things and it’s important to find those that work for us. Take this post as a little piece of inspiration for finding your own personal ways. Creativity knows no boundaries!