If you're one of the 3.5 billion people who speak multiple languages fluently, you probably want to add multiple languages to your Mac's Dictionary app. Even if you can't speak two languages, adding more dictionaries is a great way to make learning easier.
Here is a step-by-step guide on how to add a new dictionary to your Mac.
An introduction to the Dictionary app
The Dictionary app is pre-installed on all Mac computers. The easiest way to access it is through Spotlight. Just hit Cmd + Space and start typing "Dictionary" then press Enter.
It's important to note that this isn't necessarily the dictionary apps apps use to spell checkwords in documents. Some apps like Microsoft Word have their own dictionary. Others rely on the operating system's native spell checker.
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The dictionary app is for reference only. You can look up words, use them as a thesaurus, or even install translation glossaries.
If you bought your Mac in the United States, the app preloads the New Oxford American Dictionary, the Oxford American Writer's Thesaurus, the Apple Dictionary, and Wikipedia. You can add as many additional dictionaries as you want.
You can download many common foreign language dictionaries directly from the app itself. However, if you're looking for another niche, you'll have to manually download and install the necessary files.
How to add a dictionary to macOS
Depending on where you live, you can have up to 30 dictionaries that are not enabled by default. Fortunately, activating these dictionaries is a simple process.
Open that up before making any decisions dictionary App and choose the All Tab to see which dictionaries are already installed. You can click on each dictionary's individual tab to work specifically with that dictionary.
Activate additional dictionaries
Navigate to to download available dictionaries directly from the app Dictionary> Settings. In the list of dictionaries, check the box next to the ones you want to install. This is the easiest way to add more languages to the Mac dictionary app.
A progress bar will appear in the lower left corner. Once you see it, you can close that Settings Window. On the All The main app's tab will now display the dictionaries you have selected for installation and a download message.
Change the order of the dictionaries
To change the order in which each dictionary is displayed in the app, go back to Dictionary> Settings, and drag the entries into the order you want.
Customizing Mac Dictionaries
Some entries – Wikipedia, for example – have additional language-based options that you can customize. They allow you to search for sources in multiple languages to get the information you need.
This is a useful and often overlooked feature. For example, a Spanish-language Wikipedia entry about something in the Spanish-speaking world is often much more detailed than its English-language equivalent.
You can edit the settings of Dictionary> Settings. Highlight the dictionary you want to install additional languages for and check the list of options at the bottom of the window.
This trick also works if you want to add more languages to the native Apple dictionary.
Install third-party dictionaries
If you can't find what you're looking for Dictionary> Settingsyou need to find a third party solution.
The dictionary app can only read DICT files. Hence, you will either need to find a DICT file for the language you want, or convert another type of file to a DICT file.
Where can you find DICT dictionaries?
Perhaps surprisingly, there aren't many websites that offer a free database of DICT files for download.
One option is the Dicts.info website. It offers bilingual dictionaries, multilingual glossaries, word lists for language learners and a wide selection of regular DICT dictionaries that you can download and use for free.
Make sure to check out the list of other free dictionary projects at the bottom of the page as well. You can find some less common dialects here, including Longdo, Ainu, Kamusi, Catalan, and Xfardic.
Install a DICT file
Adding a DICT file to the app is straightforward. With the dictionary app open, go to File> Open Dictionary Folder and drag and drop the file into the window.
The new dictionary should automatically appear in the main window of the app. If it doesn't, try exiting and restarting the dictionary app.
Find other dictionaries
If you can't find a finished DICT file anywhere, you will need to convert a non-DICT file yourself.
StarDict used to be the best place to find the files, but there has been no active development in many years and much of the original work has been lost due to an ongoing legal battle.
Unfortunately, there is no ready-made replacement. Finding free dictionaries to download is no longer as easy as it used to be. However, Dicts.info has some dictionaries in a non-DICT format, so this is still a useful trick. Make sure to download Mac compatible versions.
Convert a non-dict dictionary file
To convert a different dictionary file to a DICT file, you need to download DictUnifier. It only works with files with the TAR extension, also called tarballs. You can download it for free on GitHub.
Follow the directions on the page to install it on your Mac, then launch the app. To perform a conversion, drag and drop the tar file into the app's user interface.
The app will automatically take care of the rest, including installation. Navigate to to make sure it worked Dictionary> File> Open Dictionary Folder and make sure you can see the file.
Should you be using the Dictionary app?
Despite its low profile, the Dictionary app is hands down one of the best and least-used native apps on macOS. If you've never used it before, then you should try it at least once to see how useful it can be.
The app's support for multiple languages, as well as its ability to act as a translation tool and language learning aid, should make it a popular app for all users.
Of course, it's just one of many apps and features that Mac owners don't use or don't use enough.
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About the author
(1386 articles published)
Dan joined MakeUseOf in 2014 and has been Partnerships Director since July 2020. Contact him for information on sponsored content, affiliate agreements, promotions, and other forms of partnership. You can also see him walking around the exhibit space at CES in Las Vegas every year. Say hello when you leave. Prior to his writing career, he was a financial advisor.
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