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Estimates suggest at least 50 percent of the world’s population is bilingual. Almost 20 percent of Americans speak Spanish, and more than 80 percent of students in the European Union speak at least two languages.

If you’re one of the 3.5 billion people who are fluent in multiple tongues, you will presumably want to add multiple languages to your Mac’s dictionary app. Even if you can’t speak two languages Learn a New Language Just by Browsing the Web in Chrome Learn a New Language Just by Browsing the Web in Chrome This extension makes it easy to pick up new language vocabulary without any effort on your part. Read More , adding more dictionaries is an excellent way to help you learn Learn a New Language With Duolingo Clubs Learn a New Language With Duolingo Clubs Language learning can be tough, mainly because it's too easy to run out of steam and lose motivation. That's where Duolingo Clubs comes in to help. Read More .

But how do you do it? Here’s a step-by-step guide to adding additional languages.

An Introduction to the Dictionary App

All Mac computers come preinstalled with the Dictionary app. The easiest way to access it is via Spotlight Search More Efficiently In Mac OS X With Our Top Spotlight Tips Search More Efficiently In Mac OS X With Our Top Spotlight Tips Spotlight has been a killer Mac feature for years, with Cupertino regularly schooling Redmond in the art of desktop search. Here are a few tips to help you find more on your Mac. Read More — just hit command+space and start typing “Dictionary” then hit Enter.

It’s important to realize this is not necessarily the dictionary that apps use to spell check words in documents How To Spell Check A Document Without A Word Processor How To Spell Check A Document Without A Word Processor Still copying text into Word so you can check your spelling? Stop. It's 2013, and spell check is built into everything from browsers to PDF readers. Read More . Some apps – such as Microsoft Word – come with their own dictionary, others will rely on the operating system’s native spell check feature.

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Image Credit: AN NGUYEN via Shutterstock.com

The Dictionary app is for reference only. You can look up words, use it as a thesaurus, or even install translation glossaries.

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If you bought your Mac in an English-speaking country, the app preloads the Oxford American Dictionary, the British Oxford Dictionary of English, and Wikipedia. You can add as many additional dictionaries as you need.

You can easily download many common foreign language 5 iPhone Apps That Will Help You Communicate In A Foreign Language [iOS] 5 iPhone Apps That Will Help You Communicate In A Foreign Language [iOS] World travel is an exciting and adventurous activity, but one thing that hinders many from taking part is the language barrier. Fortunately, there are several iPhone foreign language apps that will help you translate simple... Read More dictionaries from directly within the app itself. However, if you’re looking for something more niche, you need to download and install the necessary files manually.

Mac’s Additional Dictionaries

Depending on where you live, you could have as many as 30 inactive dictionaries. Thankfully, “turning on” these dictionaries is a simple process.

Before making any decisions, open the Dictionary app and select the All tab to see what dictionaries are already installed. You can click each dictionary’s individual tab to work with that dictionary specifically.

Activating the Additional Dictionaries

To download any available dictionaries directly from the app, navigate to Dictionary > Preferences. On the list of dictionaries, mark the checkbox next to the ones you want to install.

You’ll see a progress bar pop up in the bottom left-hand corner. As soon as you see it, you can close the Preferences window.

download-dictionary-mac

On the All tab of the main app, you’ll now see the dictionaries you chose to install, along with a downloading message.

dictionary-downloading

Changing the Order

To modify the order the individual dictionaries appear within the app, go back to Dictionary > Preferences and drag the entries into your desired sequence.

Customizing Each Dictionary

Some entries – such as Wikipedia – have additional language-based options for you to customize. They allow you to search sources in multiple languages for the information you need.

dictionary-app-wikipedia-mac

It’s a useful and oft-overlooked feature. For example, a Spanish-language Wikipedia entry about something in the Spanish-speaking world will often be much more in-depth than the English-language equivalent.

You can edit the settings from Dictionary > Preferences.

Installing Third-Party Dictionaries

If you cannot find what you’re looking for in Dictionary > Preferences, you need to find a third-party solution.

The Dictionary app can only read *.DICT files. Therefore, you either need to find a DICT file for the language you want, or convert different filetype into a DICT file.

Where to Find DICT Dictionaries

Perhaps surprisingly, there are not many websites offering a free database of DICT files for download.

You could try Michel Clasquin-Johnson’s page; he’s spent the time to convert a lot of non-DICT files into the DICT format. Results can be hit-and-miss – all the files work, but their quality varies. Michel also admits he’s not able to test them for accuracy due to his linguistic limitations.

He’s got downloads for almost every European language (Western and Eastern), the most popular Asian languages, and three African languages (Afrikaans, Kabyle, and Swahili).

If Michel doesn’t have the language you require, you might have some luck doing a simple Google search.

Installing a DICT File

Adding a DICT file to the app is straightforward. When the Dictionary app is open, go to File > Open Dictionaries Folder and drag-and-drop the file into the window.

dictionary-file

It should automatically appear in the app’s main window. If it’s not there, trying quitting and relaunching it.

Finding Other Dictionaries

If you can’t find a ready-made DICT file anywhere, you’ll need to convert a non-DICT file yourself.

StarDict used to be the best place to find the files, but it’s not seen any active development in many years, and a lot of the original work has been lost due to an ongoing legal battle.

stardict-dictionaries

As of today, your best chance is to visit stardict.rrr.rs. It’s not affiliated with the original StarDict project, but the site maintains a repository of old StarDict dictionaries. Aside from countless language dictionaries, you can also download legal dictionaries, business dictionaries, health dictionaries, scientific dictionaries, and a lot more.

Download your desired dictionary’s tarball file to your desktop before proceeding.

Converting the Dictionary File

To turn the tarball into a DICT file, you need to download DictUnifier. You can grab it for free on GitHub.

Install it on your Mac and fire up the app. To make a conversion, drag-and-drop the tarball into the app’s user interface.

dictunifier

The app will automatically take care of the rest, including installation. To make sure it’s worked, navigate to Dictionary > File > Open Dictionaries Folder and ensure you can see the file.

Did You Encounter Any Issues?

Do you use the Dictionary app? Despite its low profile, it’s undoubtedly one of the best and most underused native apps The 20-Year-Old Features Hidden In Your Mac The 20-Year-Old Features Hidden In Your Mac Apple has been making computers and software for a long time, but El Capitan is totally modern —right? There's no way it includes any elements from the 90s. Read More on the entire Mac operating system. If you’ve never tried it, I hope reading this article and learning about the sheer amount of information it can contain has convinced you of it benefits.

I’m also keen to try and assist if you encounter any difficulties while installing your new dictionaries. What went wrong? What error messages did you see?

Leave your problems in the comments below, and I’ll do my best to help.

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  1. Randhir Kumar
    August 31, 2017 at 5:08 am

    I did "Converting the Dictionary File" and now its showing "File > Open Dictionaries Folder" here also. But its not coming in Mac dictionary app. Please tell me the solution.

  2. Ashutosh
    August 24, 2017 at 1:46 pm

    thanks a ton, this really helped.......

    • Randhir Kumar
      August 31, 2017 at 5:09 am

      I did "Converting the Dictionary File" and now its showing "File > Open Dictionaries Folder" here also. But its not coming in Mac dictionary app. Can you please tell me steps after this where i'm lacking.
      Thanks in advance.

  3. Rob
    March 18, 2017 at 6:34 pm

    My dictionaries have disappeared - either after upgrading to Sierra or in creating a new user (issues with the old one). So I have wikipedia...that's all. preferences has nothing but wikipedia. how do I get them back?

  4. gabriella verdi
    February 25, 2017 at 10:53 am

    my mac book air only has japanese as additional dictionary, not the long list to choose from...is it an old version? Can I upgrade it?

  5. Saladin
    January 19, 2017 at 7:13 am

    Stay away from mac, which is just a overhyped expensive and PC -which is hard to impossible or very expensive to upgrade, with another OS.

  6. Ahmed
    April 20, 2016 at 1:33 pm

    Do not buy it. very few words and very rude developer as one asks him for a refund. I do not recommend it.

  7. Vaclav Slavik
    January 23, 2016 at 5:34 pm

    I have made an app that you may find useful given how hard it is to find good dictionaries. It contains translation dictionaries for (currently) 44 languages that are based on a good source (Wiktionary) and look good in Yosemite and El Capitan (unlike many old or stardict-based ones). It's called Dictionaries and is at https://dictionaries.io

    • Jorge Diaz
      February 22, 2016 at 3:20 pm

      Loved it! And happily paid for it, good job!

    • dwe
      June 7, 2016 at 10:24 pm

      can get Burmese dictionary also?

      • Vaclav Slavik
        June 17, 2016 at 11:38 am

        Seems that it’s possible. It should appear in the app shortly if I don’t run into unexpected problems. Please get in touch by email (see homepage) if you want to discuss the details.

    • Dima
      January 13, 2017 at 8:49 pm

      Loved it. Many thanks! Is there any hope to have mobile version?

      • Vaclav Slavik
        January 13, 2017 at 9:41 pm

        Sadly, no -- Apple does not allow such things on iOS, so it's not possible, at least for now.

  8. michael dematties
    January 13, 2015 at 8:59 am

    This no longer works. Stardict has chnaged its interface

  9. Anonymous
    January 3, 2015 at 5:05 pm

    RE: 5. After finish converting, the converted dictionary will automatically exported to Apple Dictionary, and the Dictionary app will be opened.
    Simple enough, but please note that some users reported that DictUnifier can not convert several StarDict’s dictionary. If this is the case, just remember to put the same name in the Dictionary Name and Dictionary ID fields.

    And in some cases, even that doesn't work. I just spent over three fruitless hours trying to add the stardict Webster's 1913 dictionary to my Mac. Thanks for your efforts, though.

  10. Christopher Honey
    February 14, 2010 at 6:31 am

    All You gotta Do Is deselect the "script" checkbox!!!!!

  11. Maria
    October 29, 2009 at 2:58 pm

    PERFECT!!! Got the file from stardict.org and converted it.. It was very easy and IT WORKED!!! THANK YOU!!!!!!!

  12. Anton
    August 20, 2009 at 2:47 pm

    I would like to grab all the words I've made my dictionary learn (I'm a social scientist, so we have loads of silly long jargon words, and we make up more all the time). Once grabbed, I'd like to then import them into the dictionaries on the three other macs I use regularly... Any ideas?

  13. j-hing
    August 6, 2009 at 1:55 am

    The whole of this so-called method to add a dictionary DOES NOT work at all.

    It opens Dictionary with the names of the dictionaries in it, but they do not work "Format not supported" is all that you get for any search word you try.

    So please don't waist your time !!

  14. lilyyukilove
    July 14, 2009 at 5:21 pm

    thanks anyway. i've searched this method and many of them proved it's useful .

    however, after converted the files successfully (.tar.bz2), i have not seen anything in the dictionary, as well as in the dictionary file (/library/dictionaries). i have no idea what happened.

    any solutions?

  15. Samuel WÃ¥hlstedt
    May 22, 2009 at 11:56 am

    I have the real academia española (Rae) in a dict format for debian if somone knows how to convert it to stardict i would be more than happy to share it..

    also put up a file on piratebay with 150 stardict lexicons

    thepiratebay.org/torrent/4902129/babylon_stardict

    • K
      December 7, 2009 at 6:22 pm

      @Samuel
      just put in mediafire.com and I'll be glad to give it a try
      cheers

      • samuel WÃ¥hlstedt
        February 14, 2010 at 8:39 am

        @k here is my mail samuel.wahl@gmail.com . send a message and i mail you the file(s)
        cheers
        samuel

  16. glenn
    May 13, 2009 at 3:17 pm

    I went thru the full routine, but when I tried to make DictUnifier put quick_italian-english into my dictionary, nothing happened [DictUnifier reports "script / not supported
    script / not supported"]. BTW, when I downloaded the .tar file and unstuffed it, DU wouldn't allow me to choose the files generated, but following the imagine in the instructions, I pointed DU at the .tar file, and viola, it seemed to go into the .tar file for what it lists as "quick_italian-english" for "Dictionary" and for Dictionary ID. Needless to say, I'm screwing up something. Suggestions?

  17. sd
    May 10, 2009 at 12:16 pm

    Great!
    One can also browse available StarDict dictionaries on (sourceforge.net/project/showfiles.php?group_id=80679) their SourceForge repository... Just search after *.tar.bz2 files...

    • Gilberto
      May 10, 2009 at 3:56 pm

      Thanks. I actually meant Spanish definitions!!! StarDict has several very useful bilingual dictionaries involving Spanish, as well as a couple of Spanish Grammar dictionaries. But an open source Spanish definitions dictionary is needed as well.

  18. Gilberto
    May 8, 2009 at 2:22 pm

    I've been searching for a spanish.dict dictionary for over a year now, and haven't managed to find one. This really sucks. I'm stuck to using the rae widget dictionary, but I have to depend on the internet for that.

  19. Alex
    April 20, 2009 at 6:17 pm

    Thank you Jeffry but I'm looking for a .dict file in order to add it to the Apple Dictionary, or at the very least one that doesn't cost $25 which is what the Apimac one costs.

    Hopefully someone will find a better option...

  20. Jeffry Thurana
    April 20, 2009 at 6:03 pm

    This is the best that I could find:
    http://www.apple.com/downloads/macosx/home_learning/englishspanishdictionary.html

    Maybe other can help?

  21. Alex
    April 20, 2009 at 5:35 pm

    I'm also looking for a Spanish one! It's ridiculous: such an important and widely used language and its dictionary (.dict file) is nowhere to be found. HELP!!!

  22. Pedro Cassian
    April 6, 2009 at 10:04 am

    Can´t seem to find a spanish .dict on stardict, and the persian one downloaded in .rpm which could not be converted in dictunifier.