Want to look up Italian words and phrases anytime, anywhere?
We’re long past the days when one would carry a pocket Italian dictionary around in the streets of Naples, or heft a desk volume off the shelves to help with our Italian studies.
There are a number of excellent English-Italian reference works available for Android and iOS platforms that can help solve your queries without weighing you down; they work on both tablets and smartphones.
This post outlines the very best free apps and paid apps that are out there, and it also discusses the variety of learning and life situations in which you might need them.
How to Use Italian Dictionary Apps Online and Offline
A major consideration for many when planning a trip to Italy is finding an app whose definition database can be downloaded and used offline, as most mobile service providers (except notably Fi) charge you extra to connect while abroad. A number of the Italian learning apps I highlight below can thus be used offline.
However, I think this whole preoccupation is woefully misplaced; you can buy an Italian SIM card immediately upon arrival in pretty much any major airport or train station in Italy. I always do.
Stands for TIM are quite common and you can get a SIM card with some credit for 20-30 euros. Shops for Vodafone and Wind are also easy to find, and if you go to an Italian post office, PosteMobile offers cheap service. Obviously, you should unlock your phone before you travel or else get a second cheap, unlocked (used) smartphone just for the road.
Then you’ll be able to look up dictionary definitions on the fly (and even the offline apps listed below offer better experiences if you’re connected). You’ll also be able to look up info on maps, landmarks and events as well as connect to your FluentU lessons and other learning materials, and it’d be a great idea to have something like FluentU handy at anytime.
Having online connection to such tools can definitely add more educational flair to your travels, making them all the richer.
Most of all, when you’re connected, you’ll be in easy contact with any hosts and interesting Italians you meet during your adventures. Being able to connect can vastly improve your experience with Italy and its people.
If you’re not traveling and just want an Italian dictionary app on your phone for studying or taking to classes and conversation exchanges, there’s no reason to specifically look for an offline version, because these apps already tend to use very little data. Opt for an online dictionary app, and you’ll always have the most complete dictionary look-ups in your pocket, just a tap away. As noted below, some of the apps also let you save the words you look up to a list for later study.
The Top 8 Italian Dictionary Apps for Online and Offline Queries
All of the apps below are recommended, and all of them are in constant development.
These descriptions are meant to give you a jumping off point, but specific features and limitations change quickly, so check the links to the apps themselves for the most up-to-date information.
iOS | Android
This is a very complete, online-only tool for looking up Italian words and phrases.
Upon looking up an adjective like “lazy,” you get the main translation pigro, but below that a number of alternate words that you might use if you’re talking about the lazy flow of a river, a lazy summer afternoon, a lazy job on something, a lazy eye, and so on—with the context explained for each.
If that’s not enough, the app also gives you access to WordReference’s celebrated and very useful English-Italian forum, where it seems that idle translators hang out just for the thrill of solving conundrums like how one might handle “lazy bum” or “it’s a lazy day.” If you make a free account, you can pose your own questions or help others with their queries.
Also useful for Italian learners are the provided conjugations and the links to Google Image searches of the word at the bottom of each definition.
As I noted, this is only for using when you’re connected to the Internet. The apps are basically just windows into that beloved workhorse, the wordreference.com site.
iOS | Android
Yes, this is a translation app: It can do Italian-English translations of typed text, photos of text and the spoken word. But it also functions as a very decent dictionary!
Look up a common verb like affittare and you’ll get the basic English translation “rent,” but below that you’ll also see another handful of other options (“hire,” “lease,” etc.) and various translations for each one of those back into Italian.
This app beats out many other dictionary apps in its ability to handle your misspellings and take you straight to the information you want, without even pausing to ask you if you really meant affittare instead of
affitare, for example.
You can choose to save Italian and English to your device and use this as an entirely offline application. Voice recognition doesn’t work offline for the iOS version, however.
Oxford Italian Dictionary
iOS | Android
This monster dictionary claims to have 450,000 total translations for 300,000 words and phrases. The trial version is online-only, but if you buy it you can use it offline. Like WordReference, it gives a number of translation ideas for a word like “lazy,” although not quite as many and there are no forums.
It offers guesses as to what you meant by misspellings, although it’s not quite as intuitive as WordReference or Google Translate. Still, it offers careful usage guidance and some definitions and uses that you won’t find elsewhere.
Italian English Dictionary by Ascendo Inc.
iOS | Android
This online app dictionary’s definitions and interface are quite simple, which can be an advantage. It’s highly geared to learners.
You can click on Italian words to immediately hear their pronunciations, and you can even annotate the dictionary with your own notes and definitions. It also offers quizzes and other extras for active learning and reinforcement.
Audio Collins Mini Gem English-Italian Dictionary by MobiSystems, Inc.
iOS | Android
This app is free for the first 30 days and can function offline.
It offers translations of words and there’s some usage guidance for those learning English, but not for those learning Italian, so you have to reverse-engineer to get something out of that. There are, however, pronunciations of the Italian words (when connected to the Internet).
Unlike most other apps, it searches as you type, so you may not have to finish typing a word in order to see it pop up.
iOS | Android
There are a few ways to access the wonderful world of Wiktionary, which provides definitions in English of Italian words, plus conjugations, synonyms, etymology and whatever else Wiktionary’s volunteer word nerds endeavor to include.
My recommendation is of course to just get online and go to the website directly from whatever device you’re on. But there are also app versions for example put out by third parties such as Livio (Android) and Wikipanion (iOS) that allow you to access the same material offline.
If your Italian is already pretty good, the Italian Wikizionario may also be useful; it provides explanations and translations of English words.
Italian-English dictionary by AllDict
This app provides simple interface for translations for any word offline. It gives a number of simple definitions but without context or usage guidelines, so you may not necessarily know which word choice is most appropriate in a give situation. Click on any of them to hear how they sound in Italian (this function only works if you’re online though).
An interesting aspect for language learners is that you can add your own words and then create listening and translation exercises out of the list of words you add.
English ↔ Italian Dictionary by Xynotec
The main thing going for this sweet and simple dictionary app is that it functions completely offline. The translations for words are presented without any context or usage guidance, but you’ll get the definition you came for every time.
If you’re looking for something a bit more minimalist that just gets the job done clearly and simply, no frills, this is your app.
Whether you’re on a dusty mountain road in Italy or at home in a hammock with a great piece of Italian literature, these tools should allow you to look up just about anything you need.
Great dictionary apps are meant to let you dive in quickly for what you need, and then hop back out into your life and put those words to use.
Take the above for a spin and see how they revolutionize your life as an Italian learner!
Mose Hayward performs meta-reviews of the best tech gear and backpacks for European travel at SelectoGuru.com.
And One More Thing...
If you're as busy as most of us, you don't always have time for lengthy language lessons. The solution? FluentU!
Learn Italian with funny commericals, documentary excerpts and web series, as you can see here:
FluentU helps you get comfortable with everyday Italian by combining all the benefits of complete immersion and native-level conversations with interactive subtitles. Tap on any word to instantly see an image, in-context definition, example sentences and other videos in which the word is used.
Access a complete interactive transcript of every video under the Dialogue tab, and review words and phrases with convenient audio clips under Vocab.
Once you've watched a video, you can use FluentU's quizzes to actively practice all the vocabulary in that video. Swipe left or right to see more examples of the word you’re on.
FluentU will even keep track of all the Italian words you’re learning, and give you extra practice with difficult words. Plus, it'll tell you exactly when it's time for review. Now that's a 100% personalized experience!
The best part? You can try FluentU for free with a trial.
Start using Fluent on the website, or better yet, download the app from the iTunes store or from the Google Play store.
If you liked this post, something tells me that you'll love FluentU, the best way to learn Italian with real-world videos.