Let’s start with the most obvious medium here, the online dictionaries. You can “fire up” any one of these as long as you’ve internet and a browser regardless of your device, be it a computer, tablet or phone.
Online Swahili Dictionaries
TUKI has for a long time been available as an offline dictionary, and it’s perhaps the best you can find in that regard. The dictionary has however finally find a home on the online MobiTUKI site.
MobiTUKI is by far the most comprehensive and authoritative Swahili dictionary online, as it’s authored by the Taasisi ya Uchunguzi wa Kiswahili (TUKI), University of Dar es Salaam, Tanzania.
The current version is based on the first edition published in 2000 and comes with both Swahil to English and English to Swahili versions. You can seamlessly switch between the two, which should come in handy if you’re learning either of the languages or doing translation work.
Another great feature of MobiTUKI is that it actually comes in a hybrid offline and online mode. What this means is that the first time you visit the site, the entire dictionary is downloaded by the browser so you can use it offline.
As such you can use the dictionary when you’ve no internet connection. Just visit the site as you normally would, or better yet save it as a bookmark or shortcut in your desktop.
2. Swahili Oxford
2021 Update: this dictionary seems to be no longer available!
Swahili Oxford is a full-fledged free Swahili dictionary from Oxford University Press. Unlike other dictionaries online, this actually defines words rather than just translate words from English to Swahili and vice versa.
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.
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.
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/ 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/.
If you need to move it elsewhere, make sure you move the whole folder and not just the index/.
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 MS Word to edit 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 stardict format.
If you’ve the technical know-how, it should be possible to convert the Wikamusi to the Stardict format in the same manner some have done for the Wiktionary.
Swahili Dictionary Apps
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 phones running old versions of Android like Gingerbread (2.3.x).
On iOS I could only find this app. It could be worth a try as it’s free, though I haven’t tested it.
3. 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.
Swahili Translation (Tafsiri) Dictionaries
As said earlier, this makes up the bulk of the online dictionaries out there. Below is a list of sites that offer English – Swahili and Swahili – English
- Microsoft Translator (Android, Windows Phone & iOS Apps)
- Google Translate (Android & iOS Apps)
- Babylon – Swahili Dictionary
- Glosbe: The Multilingual Online Dictionary – This allows you to translate Swahili to other languages not just English.
- Kiswahili.net – Online Swahili and English Dictionaries
- African Languages Dictionary
- Lexilogos – This one combines some of the above dictionaries so that you can search any of them from one place.
This is just a few of them as it’s not possible to include all of them here. If you have a good dictionary 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.
Kiswahili kitukuzwe, kisifukuzwe!