Unlock the Power of Pinyin: Vocab.Ai’s Game-Changing Online Spreadsheet for Chinese Language Learners and Educators

4 min readApr 26, 2023

Students and Teachers of Chinese are familiar with Pinyin. I previously introduced the Google Sheets Pinyin Addon. This addon is used by thousands of people daily however it has shortcomings. It doesn’t show pinyin alternatives when they exist, and is subject to google limitations on very large spreadsheet sizes.

Introducing Vocab.Ai: the online language-learning spreadsheet. It looks like this:

In this table, the Pinyin and English Translation columns are automatically generated.
And here’s the major difference with the Google Sheets addon. Here, you are shown with the pinyin alternatives and you can choose the one which seems most suitable.

In this article, i’ll walk you through how to setup automatic Pinyin conversion. first, go to https://words.vocab.ai/ , and create an account. Once done, you’ll see the following dashboard:

A few concepts: Vocab.Ai is a product based on the online database Baserow, with some language-learning features added in.

  • the Workspace is shared by different members, initially it’s just you, but you can add your teacher, or your student(s).
  • Databases contain tables.
  • Tables are like spreadsheets.

We’ll just create a new table in the existing database, and call it Mandarin. Expand the database on the left (named Luc’s company), then click + Create table. Name the table Mandarin, then click Add table.

Create a new Mandarin table

The default layout of the table will contain a few columns, which we’ll modify:

Change the following things:

  • name of the field should be Chinese
  • Field type should be Language Text
  • The language should be Chinese (Simplified)

Then click Save.

We can remove the other columns, Notes and Active (click the triangle on the right, then Delete field). Then, let’s add the Pinyin field:

Pick the following settings

  • Field Type: Chinese Romanization
  • Source Field: Chinese
  • Transformation Type: Pinyin

Then click Create. You can start entering Chinese text in the Chinese column, and the pinyin will automatically populate.

If you’d like to check the pinyin conversion for a particular sentence, you can double-click the Pinyin field, and you’ll be presented with all possible conversions:

The ones in blue show the currently selected pinyin. The ones in grey are alternative pinyin solutions. You can click the ones in grey, and your text will update to reflect your choice.

Congratulations, you’re now generating Pinyin automatically ! Some more things to know about this platform:

  • Translation is supported, you can try it by adding a Translation field type. However since those translation engines require payment, currently they are limited to 5,000 characters/day (for those interested, a higher tier plan will appear later).
  • If you want to share this spreadsheet with someone else (like a student, or teacher), you can add them to as a member to your workspace. You can also anonymously share the table (see the Share View button on top)
  • Eventually, I would like to have a community-led process to suggest better pinyin alternatives if some exist, so that feedback from teachers and students could make the pinyin conversion more robust. More on this to come later.

Any questions ? Please email luc@vocab.ai !