有道 Youdao Dictionary Reading Translation Pen for Chinese-English Learners

Daughter reading English and Chinese books independently

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.

Versatile Youdao dictionary pen can read and translate simplified Chinese, traditional Chinese, English words
Examples of Youdao Pen’s reading ability: Usborne Human Body Book (Chinese), Beginner’s Bible (bilingual), Kelly Yang’s chapter book (English); Howard Zinn’s history book (English); Everyday Mandarin for Parents (bilingual); Mina Scavenger Hunt (Chinese); Le Le Chinese Leveled Readers; Scavenger Hunt Printables (bilingual); Stream of Praise DVD cover (Chinese)

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 Translation 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 partnering for 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.

This post may have some affiliate links. If you click an affiliate link and make a purchase, I earn a small commission which supports my blog and free printables at no additional cost to you. Please see the disclosure policy for details.

Youdao pen reading Grace Lin's "Ugly Vegetables" book in Chinese and English
Youdao pen reading a word in Grace Lin’s “Ugly Vegetables” book in English while displaying Chinese definition
Youdao pen reading Grace Lin's "Ugly Vegetables" book in Chinese and English
Youdao pen reading a sentence in the Chinese version of “Ugly Vegetables” while displaying English translation

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.

Youdao dictionary pen, box, and USB charging cord
Bilingual Youdao dictionary pen, box, USB charging cord, instruction manual in English

What is the 有道 Youdao Dictionary Translation 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.

Youdao pen Pinyin, favorites, add, report error
Options to see Pinyin, replay narration, add entry to favorites, add more text to scan, and report whether the result needs improvement

Other 有道 Youdao Pen 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.

Daughter added Journey to the West words into "Favorites"
My daughter added Journey to the West 西游记 words into “Favorites”

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)
Youdao dictionary pen can read words smaller than 0.5 inches in height
Youdao dictionary pen can read words smaller than 0.5 in (1.2cm) in height; Sagebooks words are slightly too large to fit the scanning tip

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*

This means the Youdao Pen cannot be used with Chinese leveled readers such as Sagebooks, Odonata, and the beginning levels of 四五快读.

Examples of 有道 Youdao Pen with various Simplified Chinese books

Here is an example featuring 爱心树 The Giving Tree.

Youdao bilingual reading pen narrates and translates simplified Chinese text from 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!

Youdao pen and Journey to the West Chinese book

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.

The Girl Who Loved Wild Horses 野马之歌 simplified Chinese picture books about Native Americans

Related: Where to Buy Chinese Children’s Books Online

Examples of 有道 Youdao Translate 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 Translate 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.

Youdao pen reading and translating 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!

Youdao pen reading and translating Chinese WALL-E DVD cover

My kids also noticed words on our pretend play money, so we scanned Chinese and English words for the narration!

Using scanning pen to translate Chinese and English words on pretend play money

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.

Daughter reading English and Chinese books independently
Reading independently!

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.”

Inaccurate translation (red arrow) of 马马虎虎洗一洗 in 豆豆,去把手洗干净
Inaccurate translation (red arrow) of 马马虎虎洗一洗 in 豆豆,去把手洗干净

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:

Font size

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.

Related: Tips for Creating a Print-Rich Environment with Labels that Promote Literacy

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!

Physical Chinese dictionary versus reading translation pen scanner
Physical Chinese-English dictionary versus translation pen scanner

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 Translation 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 Dictionary Translate Pen coupon code

Use coupon code CHALK_PEN 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 Translation 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

Happy learning, friends!

28 Comments

  1. Dear Betty,

    Thanks for the review, totally agree with larger screen and ability to zoom.
    And wouldn’t it be great if the narration speed can be adjusted 🙂
    Plus if it can scan and read in Cantonese. It will be just perfect.
    I hope the company intend for some enhancement in the future. I would definitely get it then. Even though I can tell from your review that this can be very useful for me, I just hope that I can have a one-for-all Chinese learning gadget hehehe.
    Thanks, Betty.

    1. Thanks for the review! Agreed I’d love Cantonese option too. I’ve only heard one audio from your IG Stories because I don’t often turn my sound on. What is your comment on it and could you compare having Luka with regards to reading stories? Isn’t Luka restrictive to only certain books? Or do your children interact with Luka better? I have a 5yo who might be responsible enough with a pen but a 1yo who might not engage with the robotic audio.
      Thanks!
      Wynne

      1. Hi Wynne! Thanks for your great questions. Not sure if you saw the video at the end of the post, but I gave a longer overview of how the pen sounds. Here’s the direct link to the YouTube video https://youtu.be/TC5G0ekNRfk. I also got a chance to record more clips on Instagram in this post: https://www.instagram.com/p/CIMwzCjHh6R/?igshid=npd0dmzghlu7

        Luka is definitely more fluid and natural with narrations. Also it’s less effort in a way, because you don’t have to scan any words.

        At first, my kids were not interested in Youdao because it’s not “cute” like Luka. But now my 7yo uses it almost daily as she likes to hear the bilingual translations. Of course, my 4yo is now jealous because it’s sort of “off limits” for him haha.

        But I think Luka might be better for most 5 year olds due to the need to scan carefully, not push down too hard, if that makes sense. While Youdao can technically read more things than Luka, Luka can read most of our picture books that have been published in China. Here’s my detailed review about Luka which gives examples of books that can be read.

        Hope that helps answer your questions! Please let me know if I can help with anything else!

  2. I don’t speak any Chinese. My husband is fluent but doesn’t read it write. My daughter speaks and reads and it’s learning how to write.

    My daughter and my husband would benefit the most as they currently have to look up so many words when they read books.

  3. Probably some people would call me fluent in Cantonese but I lack the vocabulary. Would love to be able to speak Mandarin as fluently. My young sons are doing well with their Chinese learning. 🙂 This pen would be great for me and my sons! 🙂

  4. I am fluent in Chinese but my husband is not. So having this pen would help him to understand some Chinese books so he can read to my kids when I am not available.

  5. I am fluent in Cantonese and on a journey to teach Mandarin to my 10,8 and 6 years old. This pen will be very beneficial for me to look up the pronunciation of the words and able to read it to them also my 16 and 13 yo are both trying to learn Chinese with us this pen will spike their interest I think.

  6. Our family does not speak Mandarin at all but my 5-year-old son is in a dual-immersion program. I think all of us could benefit from the pen but my son will the most. He will be able to “read” books in mandarin and gain more exposure to the language at home.

    1. Love this blog! Thank you so much for the detailed review, this would definitely benefit me actually and my little one so I could relearn and try to teach him Chinese! Been eyeing this one when I saw it on your Instagram!

  7. My family doesn’t speak any Chinese. None of us are fluent. My daughter and I are both trying to learn together. This would benefit/help us a lot! 🙂

  8. I am fluent in Chinese speaking but not 100% in reading because Chinese is not my native language. My husband and my almost 2.5yo kids are not fluent at all. This Youdao pen will benefit me in teaching my son Chinese. When I find words that I cant read in Chinese, this Youdao pen will be very useful for us. I love Youdao pen because I personally think it will last longer so my kid can use it when he grows older and it can read more books/resources than Luka.

  9. Our Chinese is not that fluent at home and we hope it changes. I would definitely love to use this:) but the kids would get priority. Hope we win!

  10. Both me and my husband are native speakers, but unfortunately, my 4 year old son prefer English over Chinese right now, but he can finish basic conversation.

    I think the pen can give him a better chance on independent learning and study

  11. We use Minnan Hua more at home and our children and grandchildren are not so fluent in Chinese anymore. I hope I can win this for my grandchildren as I wish that our language and culture continues.

  12. I am only conversationally “fluent” and my husband speaks close to no Mandarin. I have tried to speak exclusively to my child in Mandarin, and he responds in hilarious Chinglish. I am running into a wall for vocabulary, and I look up things on google translate, but it would be nice to look up words in books a little more easily, or have sentences read for meaning.

    Do you know if the pen works for vertical orientation text?

    Thanks for all your posts- they have been so incredibly helpful and motivating for me to keep teaching my child.

  13. Thank you so much for the detailed review! My husband and I are only conversationally fluent in Chinese but definitely need to brush up on our reading! We have a 3.5 year old son and a 1 year old daughter who we’re trying to raise bilingual, so this pen would really help us in translating English words to Chinese!

  14. I enjoyed reading the review. While I’m Chinese, I’m a non-speaker and my daughter was adopted from China and I want her to learn Chinese. No-one speaks it at home and while she goes to Chinese school on the weekends, I think this would help her tremendously. She’s in 1st Grade Chinese school.

  15. Thank you for introducing us to these resources Betty! Although my husband thinks I should stop buying haha. Our Chinese at home is not so good. It doesn’t come out naturally as we struggle with a lot of words. Some of us in the family can understand well with listening but can barely speak. We were more influenced by peers in growing up hence the lack of language retention. Hopefully I can get one of this to help with our reading and vocabulary, especially for my kids who love reading.

  16. I’m trying to teach my son Chinese and it is not easy to do it alone. I’m so thankful to be introduced to your blog through a friend of mine. I’m the only one who speaks Chinese in my family. I actually learned English through a pen dictionary similar to Youdao when I was a teenager. I’m excited to use this to help my son and husband learn Chinese and also for me to continue to learn English. I honestly think the whole family will benefit from Youdao Pen.

  17. I am fluent in speaking Cantonese but not Mandarin. I want my boys to learn both language, as the grandparents only speaks Cantonese. Mandarin is a good universal Chinese language to learn which will be beneficial for them in the future. I think my boys and I will benefit from the pen. We will use the youdao pen to read together .

  18. Hi Betty. I purchased the pen and just started trying it out. One question – my option buttons are in chinese. How did you change it to English? Thanks!

    1. Never mind, I bought the Chinese interface on Amazon. Do you know if, aside from the interface, the pens are the same? For my version – if I look up a word in Chinese, the pen will show a definition of the word in Chinese and a translation of the word in English. If I look up a word in English, it only shows the definition of the word in Chinese (no definition in English). Is your version the same?

      1. Hi Betty
        Thank you for the good article. I have one question. Does the pen have english-english translation feature. If there is, is it good?

        Thank you

  19. Hi Betty, thanks for providing such a retailed reviewed of this pen. Have you used the Chinese Dictionary function before? Does it work well?

    Thanks,
    Chua.

  20. Thank you for the review! It’s definitely intriguing. Did you have to buy a converter with this device to charge it? Or does it work with US voltage output?

    Thank you!

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