Learn Swahili with these Free Swahili Dictionaries

swahili dictionaries

Swahili is one sweet language. You know as much as I exclusively write here in English, truth of the matter is that I tend to and even prefer to speak in Swahili. Over the years I've found English is good for formal contexts though for some reason my mind prefers to reason in English and talk in Swahili. Call it what you will, but I think that's the way the Kenyan Education System has wired us.

For instance, when was the last time you wrote something in Swahili, and I mean fluent Swahili not that mishmash we call Swanglish. I bet it's a very long time ago. Still, even talking in that "Swahili Sanifu" can be rather problematic for some of us though I've come to find out that a visit to the coast does miracles to remedying that end. The more effective healer however I believe is just doing some good old reading or writing if you feel inspired. Try it one of this fine days, and you might be surprised to find out that the damage your Swahili has sustained over the years is nothing close to what the 7PM Swahili bulletin suggests.



Now, if you're willing to tread this path of rediscovery or you're learning the language for the first time, then there's one thing you need more than anything - a dictionary or "Kamusi" if you like. I will assume, just like yours truly, you've long since relieved yourself, or for that case been relieved, of your precious copy by entrepreneurial high schoolers, book hungry siblings or cathartic bonfires. Whichever the case, I have you covered and no less with totally free versions that are sure to match up to your digital infestation.


Online Dictionaries

Let's start with the most obvious medium here, the online dictionaries. You can "fire up" any one of these so long as you've internet and a browser regardless of your device, be it a computer, tablet or phone. The downside though is that you'll need internet to access any of them.

1. Swahili Oxford

swahili oxford
Kirai-what! Did you mean Kiraitu? How about we just stick to Neno?

This is a full-fledged free Swahili dictionary from Oxford. Unlike other dictionaries online, this actually defines words rather than just translate words from English to Swahili and vice versa. You can visit the site here.


2. Wikamusi

wikamusi
Wikamusi

Wikamusi is the Swahili equivalent of the Wikitionary - Wikipedia's English Dictionary. I suppose its total words is not as large as the Oxford dictionary but it's nonetheless a good addition to your dictionary arsenal. Furthermore, like everything else on Wikimedia, its user contributed and therefore it will keep growing. Also, in addition to definitions, Wikamusi also shows pictures, synonyms (visawe) and translations to English and some of our local dialects, something I might add Oxford doesn't have. You can visit Wikamusi here.


Offline Dictionaries

At the moment, the best offline dictionary you can get your hands on is the one in the bookshop. The reason for this, is that most offline dictionaries available are not in the real sense dictionaries. What most of them do, like the bulk of the "Online Swahili Dictionaries" available, is just translate from Swahili to English or vice versa. Now, despite the wording, such a dictionary has its value too especially if it offers a standard definition beside the translation. For that reason I'll include them here.

1. TUKI

tuki
TUKI

Of all the offline Swahili dictionaries out there, the TUKI one is no doubt the most thorough. I've been using it for a couple of years and it has proved itself to be invaluable. The dictionary has both English - Swahili and Swahili - English Dictionaries so it can be helpful in situations where you have a Swahili word and don't know its meaning or word in English.

The dictionary is available in a packaged HTML format and as such you'll need a browser to view it though you don't have to be connected to the internet to use it. Get the ZIP package from here (TUKI_Eng-Sw-Eng_Dictionary.zip), extract it to a folder on your computer or phone's internal/external memory, and then open it from the index.html. If you need to move it elsewhere, make sure you move the whole folder and not just the index.html. You can however always view it online in the Elimu Yetu Website here.


2. Swahili Kamusi in PDF

If you need a Kamusi in PDF format (Swahili to English) you can get one that has been assembled by Bob Beretta from the Google Site here. If you fancy the idea of editing a dictionary, like adding your own words, there's also one in Rich Text Format (*.rtf) available from the same site. Just use Office Word to open it or WordPad if you don't have Office installed on your computer.


3. Stardict Format Swahili Dictionary

If you use a Stardict compatible dictionary app or program like Goldendict or ColorDict, you can get the free Swahili - English & English - Swahili stardict dictionaries from here. They are not through and don't have any definitions, but they're better than nothing if you use the stradict format. If you've the technical knowhow it should be possible to convert the Wikamusi to the Stardict format in the same manner some have done for the Wiktionary.


4. Apps

i. Android
There are couple of Swahili Dictionary apps available for android in the App Store. Since I can't review all of them here, I'd suggest you try a couple of them and see what suits you best. You can skip over the Longhorn ones if you need something that is completely free. Also note that some of the apps may not available for your phone if it's running an old version of Android like Gingerbread (2.3.x).

ii. iOS
On iOS I could only find this app. It could be worth a try as it's free though I haven't tested it.

iii. Windows Phone/Mobile
Windows phone tends to get left behind when it comes to apps but this time they are lucky. Try this offline dictionary by ProDict. It has both Swahili - English and English - Swahili Dictionaries and from my use it's quite fast.



Online Dictionaries for Translations (Tafsiri)

As I said this make up the bulk of the dictionaries out there. Under this definition, even Google Translate is a dictionary. Any way here's a list of sites that offer English - Swahili and Swahili - English Dictionaries:

1. Microsoft Translator
I've been doing some translating of late and the truth of the matter is that most of the dictionaries I've listed above have not catched up with some new terms, especially those in use in the ever evolving tech world. Microsoft Translator however in light of having to localize ther software for the global market can't afford to overlook this. Their translator app (also available online at Bing Translator) is hands down the best translator I've come across for English to Swahili translation. It includes some new words that you won't find in the other dictionaries. It fares better compared to Google Translate which I found to be a hit or miss in some occassions. The translator app is mult-platform supporting Android, iOS and Windows. You can get it here.

Others include:

This is just a few of them because I can't include all of them here.
I hope most of these will meet your needs. If you have a good dicitionary that I've left out and you would like to share with the rest of us, just drop me a comment below and I'll add it to the list. As they say, Kiswahili kitukuzwe, kisifukuzwe!


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