In the past few years of learning Chinese with my kids, technology continues to improve and amaze me. Our latest gadget is the Netease 有道 Youdao Dictionary Pen 2 from JoJo Learning! This portable pen reads and translates simplified Chinese, traditional Chinese, and English words and sentences.
During the last few months, my 7-year-old daughter and I have been exploring the 有道 Youdao Dictionary Pen scanner for both Mandarin Chinese and English reading. As many of you know, I’m all about cultivating independence and minimizing obstacles in our learning environment. The 有道 Youdao Dictionary Pen empowers my daughter to learn unfamiliar Chinese and English words without having to wait for an adult to help.
Many thanks to JoJo Learning for sponsoring this review and supporting our quest to raise multilingual children in a town that lacks community resources. As with all content on my site, this review reflects our honest opinions and experiences.
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As with most technology, the 有道 Youdao Dictionary Chinese-English Pen has pros and cons. I’ll share our experience and who we think would benefit from this bilingual reading pen. Please also make sure to watch the videos at the end of the post.
What is the 有道 Youdao dictionary Pen?
The 有道 Youdao Dictionary Pen uses optical character recognition to transfer Chinese or English words or sentences into the pen. Immediately, the pen will narrate the scanned language. This pen scanner also:
- Displays 多音字 (duō yīn zì) with options to hear Chinese characters that have multiple pronunciations
- Translates Chinese text into English
- Translates English text into Chinese
- Provides a definition of the scanned text plus example phrases
- Show the Pinyin with tone marks for words/bigrams but not sentences
According to the product description, the Youdao Dictionary Pen can read up to 15 Chinese characters per second – much faster than an electronic or paper dictionary.
Other 有道 features
- Dark mode display screen (white text on black background)
- Weight: 2oz (60g)
- Works offline (only needs WiFi for updates)
- Comes with a USB charging cord
- Rechargeable battery lasts ~5-8 hours
- Adjustable volume and brightness
- Add select words to “Favorites”
- Review recent history of scanned text
- Ability to choose right- versus left-handed orientation*
- Compatible with Bluetooth and Type-C headphones
*I really appreciate that they have included both right- and left-handed orientation, especially since my 4-year-old son is left-handed. Please note that for left-handed persons, the scanning would occur in a pushing rather than pulling/dragging motion.
What can the 有道 Youdao Dictionary Pen read?
The Youdao Dictionary Pen can recognize:
- English, simplified Chinese, and traditional Chinese words and sentences in horizontal left-to-right orientation
- Text must be < 0.5in (1.2 cm) in height (see below image)
In other words, the Youdao Dictionary Pen can read virtually anything on a firm, smooth surface, provided the text is smaller than the size of the scanning tip, including the following:
- Picture books and chapter books
- Typed documents
- Product labels
- Digital screens (eg, computer, tablets, smartphones)
- Neatly handwritten notes, cards, journal entries
Please note that the Youdao Dictionary Pen cannot read:
- Vertical or right-to-left horizontal text
- Traditional Chinese words that are paired with Zhuyin (bopomofo)
- Hanyu Pinyin
- Text ≥ 0.5 in (1.2 cm) in height*
Examples of 有道 Youdao Pen with various Simplified Chinese books
Here is an example featuring 爱心树 The Giving Tree.
Next is a snapshot of my daughter’s current favorite book, Journey to the West 西游记. My daughter was excited to see that the dictionary recognized this term and included the famous <<西游记>> series in the definition!
We mainly use the 有道 Youdao pen to help us with Chinese chapter books as well as complex picture books. The book below is The Girl Who Loved Wild Horses 野马之歌, a story about a Native American girl.
Examples of 有道 Youdao Pen with various Traditional Chinese books
Although we have only a few traditional Chinese books without Zhuyin, we we were pleased to see it work with this handwriting font as shown below.
And here’s the pen with the table of contents of a Chinese hymn book.
Example of 有道 Youdao Pen with various English books
The Youdao pen also helps my daughter read English books independently and also learn Chinese translations on the spot. Here are a few examples of history and social studies books.
Other examples of 有道 Youdao pen translations
Here’s an example of the 有道 Youdao pen reading and translating my iPhone text message.
While it can scan both English and Chinese words on my computer screen, copying/pasting text into Google Translate would be easier in this situation rather than using the pen.
However, the next photo shows another versatile nature of the Youdao pen: scanning, narrating, and translating the DVD cover of one of our favorite movies, WALL-E!
My kids also noticed words on our pretend play money, so we scanned Chinese and English words for the narration!
How we’ve been using the 有道 Youdao Dictionary Pen
Most often, my daughter and I are using the 有道 Youdao pen to quickly check an unfamiliar Chinese character in various books that we’re reading. We try to repeat what the dictionary says to help us memorize new Chinese words.
In addition, my daughter commonly uses it check the English pronunciation words in her school work and leisure reading. Before she come to me for the pronunciation of names or people and cities in her history books or math word problems.
The 有道 Youdao dictionary pen has also been convenient for translating random English words around my home. For example, if I’m reading a recipe in English and want to know how to say the ingredients in Chinese, then I can just scan the text with my Youdao pen rather than the time-consuming effort of copying the words into my dictionary app.
How accurate is the 有道 Youdao Pen?
Although the product description claims 98% accurate recognition rate, we found that scanning accuracy takes practice. Initially this was frustrating for my 7-year-old daughter, but she is comfortable and likes the pen now.
We found the following factors to affect reading accuracy:
- Ability to scan carefully: Scanning must begin just to the left of the first word or letter. You cannot start the scanning on top of a Chinese character or English word.
- Number of words scanned: We found that the Youdao Dictionary Pen often scans single Chinese characters incorrectly. I wonder if this is due to our challenge with placing the scanning tip at the right spot between words. In our experience, the pen does a much better job with longer phrases and sentences.
- Proximity of neighboring words: For simple books with only 1 line of text per page, such as baby board books, Youdao Dictionary Pen reads these effortlessly. However, if you want to scan the middle of a sentence, sometimes the first or last word might be inaccurate if you accidentally place your pen tip too close to adjacent words.
Here’s an example of how a few Chinese characters were missed, so the Chinese reading was slightly incorrect. In turn, the English translation had errors as shown by the red arrows below.
However, like Google Translate, we’ve experienced inaccuracies such as “马马虎虎洗一洗” (mǎmǎhǔhǔ xǐ yī xǐ) translated to “Wash your horse and wash yourself”. When I rescanned this phrase, the second attempt showed “Wash the horse and the tiger.” Although copying the idiom into Google Translate can take more time, it does a slightly better job with translating this particular phrase: “so-so take a wash.”
I’m surprised that the Youdao dictionary pen did not recognize this common idiom. Therefore, I gave instant feedback by scrolling down to report the “result needs improvement”.
Otherwise, translations between Chinese and English have been generally reasonable. In fact, my daughter has learned a lot of Chinese idioms with the Youdao Dictionary Pen!
Areas for improvement
In addition to the aforementioned inaccuracies, other features that could improve include:
When I want to double check Chinese characters on the display screen, the text is so tiny. Compared to the English words, the Chinese text is difficult for my nearsighted eyes see. Complex characters with multiple strokes are impossible to distinguish, because the strokes blur together.
While the pen size and weight are very comfortable, I’d like to see future versions with an enlarged screen. Even better would be a touch screen that allows for zooming in on the Chinese characters.
Choice of male or female voice
This is a minor complaint, but since my children’s Chinese teachers are all female, we would benefit from more exposure to male Mandarin voices!
Video demonstration of Youdao Dictionary Pen
Please watch my video demonstration of the Youdao pen below. I show how it narrates simplified Chinese, traditional Chinese, and English text.
In addition, you can watch JoJo Learning’s overview of what the Youdao Pen can read:
Does the 有道 Youdao Pen replace other Chinese dictionaries?
I regularly use my Chinese dictionary apps for help with translating spoken conversations. For example, if I’m talking to my kids about the taste of our food and can’t remember how to describe it, I use my dictionary app.
As for physical dictionaries, I enjoy looking at our Chinese picture dictionaries with my 4-year-old child. And I still have my father’s giant, “old-fashioned” bilingual dictionary just in case…. But modern life is too busy for leisurely browsing!
Who would benefit most from the 有道 Youdao Pen?
Despite some drawbacks, I think the 有道 Youdao bilingual dictionary pen is worth considering for elementary school kids, teenagers, and adults who are:
- Non-fluent Mandarin or English speakers who are learning to read
- Fluent Mandarin or English speakers who are learning to read
- Children and adults with reading disabilities, such as dyslexia
So if you’re like me, neither fluent nor literate, constantly looking up words in my Chinese dictionary, the Youdao Reading Pen will save you time. It can help improve vocabulary, pronunciation, and reading comprehension.
If you’re like my daughter, a fluent speaker in both Mandarin and English but learning to read more advanced literature in both, this pen promotes independence.
And if you’re like my auntie who is fluent in Chinese but less so in English, the Youdao Dictionary Pen could be useful, too.
On the other hand, I don’t think the pen is ideal for:
- People who are fluently bilingual and biliterate and rarely use a dictionary
- Children who do not have fine motor skills or impulse control to handle the Youdao pen carefully. In our family, the pen is generally off-limits for my 4-year-old son, but we already have some dings and scratches.
Where can I buy the Youdao Dictionary Pen?
JoJo Learning is the official distributor of Youdao Dictionary Pen in North America. Their version of the Youdao Dictionary Pen has an English user interface and English instructions manual.
Youdao Pen coupon code
Use coupon code CHALK_READINGPEN for an extra $5 off at JoJo Learning!
Amazon carries the English and Chinese versions of the Youdao Dictionary Pen. If you’re curious about reviews, click on the link below.
In Singapore, Elite Linguistic Network is the official distributor of the Youdao Dictionary Pen.
Do you have the Youdao Dictionary Pen or other Chinese reading gadgets?
Please share your experiences below! How fluent is your family in Chinese, and who in your family will be using Youdao Pen??
If you end up getting the Youdao Dictionary Pen, I’d love to know whether or not it was useful for your family or school!
More tips and resources for learning Chinese
- Teach Your Child a Second Language at Home with 5 Key Steps
- 20+ Ways to Get Your Kids to Speak Chinese
- How I Taught My Child 1000+ Chinese Characters as a Non-Fluent Speaker
- Luka Reading Robot is a Game Changer for Bilingual Chinese-English Families
- How A Dictation Journal Improves Speaking, Reading, and Writing