For me, having an accessible, reliable bilingual dictionary is essential for learning Swahili. I need to be able to quickly look up the translations of words in English and Swahili at any moment. The best way for me to do that is to use my phone, since it’s always with me, and (protip) I can pretend like I’m texting instead of looking up a word that I definitely should know.
I’ve tried a lot of Swahili dictionary apps and resources and have been mostly disappointed. Some contain a very small word list, some lack any detailed information, some require internet access, which is not always available here in Tanzania.
Eventually, I decided to format my own dictionary using data available online. Kamusi Project was a great resource before it was rebranded and redesigned as Kamusi Gold. I liked that their word list was comprehensive (over 25,000 words), and that many words included grammatical details and usage examples.
In 2012, the Kamusi Project dictionary data was available as a Creative Commons licensed raw database export. I worked to convert this data into a standard StarDict dictionary. This dictionary should work with any StarDict compatible app or program.
- Swahili-English StarDict Dictionary (7.7 MB, zip)
Here are my recommendations for free apps and programs that work well with this dictionary:
iOS installation instructions
- Install the Dicty app. Open the link above or search for Dicty in the iOS App Store. It is free and is a small download.
- Download the dictionary file into Dicty.
- Open the app and tap Dictionaries
- Tap the download button at the top (it’s a cloud with an arrow pointing down)
- Paste or type this link to the dictionary file I created: http://swahili.vickio.net/files/Swahili-English.zip
- Once the download is complete, you should see two dictionaries listed: English-Swahili and Swahili-English
- For verbs, search for the stem only, without the ku- prefix, or any other prefixes for that matter (example: search for “ingia”, not “kuingia” or “ameingia”).
- Various verb forms have their own entries (example: there is a separate entry for “julia”, “julika”, “julikana”, “julisha”, “julishwa”, and “juliwa”, even though they are related words).
- For nouns, search for the singular form only, not the plural! (example: search for “kijiti”, not “vijiti”. Search for “mtu”, not “watu”).
- By default, both the Swahili-English and English-Swahili dictionaries are active, which means you can search for words in either language. If you find a word that exists in both languages (such as “mate”), you will see them both in the word list and will need to select the one for the language you intended.