Youdao Chinese-English Translator/Dictionary Pen 2.0

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Here’s a first glance overview of the Youdao Chinese-English Translator/Dictionary Pen 2.0 

As heritage Chinese speakers, we are primarily using this Chinese-English translator/dictionary pen for its most basic function of reading Traditional Chinese text aloud and that is already a game changer us. It helps a decently-fluent but functionally illiterate Chinese-American mom like me do the near impossible of teaching my kids a little more Chinese than I thought would be possible. Actually now any English-speaking parent can let this pen do all the reading aloud and translating that Siri, Alexa, and Google never could get quite right. The Google Translate app with scanning function has long been my go to when trying to read Chinese characters that I’m not familiar with, but the process is not as efficient and quick as I would like. Imagine fumbling around with it while trying to read to a squirmy toddler. Tell me I’m not the only one!

I was so excited to get the pen delivery this week. I dropped everything I was doing to open the package…I noted the simple, sturdy packaging…excitement mounded…I ripped off the plastic wrapping and opened the box to find that…the instruction manual is completely in Simplified Chinese (I cannot read much Simplified Chinese)!…but it dawned on me, “oh it’s okay, I’ll just use the pen to read it later”. The pen comes with a half charged battery, so it’s ready to go out of the box. The pen’s menus are also completely in Chinese, but with its touch screen menu with intuitive icons, you’ll find that it’s easy enough to navigate.

The first thing you’ll be asked is to set up the wifi on the device. The only other item I bothered to set up was the preference for an  American accent rather than British when speaking in English. To use the OCR scanning function, grip the pen firmly and press down towards the tip (there are two buttons underneath the pen) until the light comes on. 

Notes on scanning text:

  • This pen reads both Traditional and Simplified Chinese characters. The Chinese voices are quite pleasant.
  • You’ll find that you will be able to read fonts as large as the clear scanning guide at the tip of the pen (approx 1cm wide). 
  • Try to aim the hash mark that’s in the middle of the scanning guide in the middle of the text. (Unless you’re scanning a vertical Chinese text that has zhuyin beside it and trying to avoid the zhuyin. See video for tips on this.)
  • You can read vertical or horizontal…or wavy Chinese text.
  • You can scan at least a few sentences at a time before pausing to let it read aloud.
  • The zhuyin that often comes alongside Traditional Chinese text will interfere with its reading performance. Same goes with Chinese text that may have numbers and footnotes (like a study Bible). The only way around it is if your text is vertical and there’s enough spacing around the characters so that the zhuyin/superfluous markings don’t get in the scanning guide.
  • Sometimes it also picks up random marks/drawings and tries to interpret it as a character.
  • It works best with non-glossy print.

This pen was originally designed for a Chinese speaker learning English. But there are two sides to one coin, right? Hooray for all of us who are learning Chinese and/or are teaching our kids. I think this pen will be used by me and my middle elementary kids the most. However, even my preschooler will be able to use this pen on some children’s books. I found like I have found a key that is able to unlock a whole new world for us.

There are a ton of other nice features that I have yet to mention, such as the dictionary itself and the ability get multiple definitions, star your favorite definition, and keep a tally of vocabulary words you’d like to study. And then there’s the voice assistant features. Want the pen to recite some poems by Li Bai? Just hold down the home button, ask, and Youdao will gladly oblige. 

Here’s a video of my initial impressions and highlights of the pen’s functionality as it would apply to an English speaking parent/child learning Chinese. 

Weighing the pros and cons, I’m still very satisfied with my purchase. In Chinese children’s story books, sometimes there are these “notes to parents” that don’t have zhuyin and I always struggle through reading those. At least this reading pen will help me get through those quickly so I can finally know what these books are trying to tell me, the parent! 

I bought my Youdao pen on Amazon and was able to get next day delivery with Prime. Plus, there is currently a 5% discount. Pretty good deal!

Do you think it would be helpful for you on your language learning journey? If this review was helpful to you, please like and share!

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