Need to look up an intriguing word you came across at a marabenta party on a beach in Mozambique?
Heard cool new vocabulary at a samba rock dance in São Paulo, or a fado concert in Lisbon?
Just snuggled up with a Portuguese book at home?
What should be the go-to tool for Portuguese learners?
There are tons of options in the iOS and Android app stores, but which are best?
The answer, of course, is… it depends. Some are better than others, and some will be better suited to your unique needs than others; in this post I present my shortlist of which app is best for what purpose, and how Portuguese learners can take full advantage of them.
How to Use Portuguese Dictionary Apps
A major consideration for a lot of Portuguese learners looking for a dictionary app is whether or not the app works offline.
Dictionary apps don’t use a lot of data, but any data at all can be prohibitively expensive when you’re outside of your home country in, say, Brazil or Portugal. I suggest some apps with offline functionality below, but even those apps have more features (like pronunciation) when they’re connected.
Because of this, and because you’re probably going to want to look up maps, stay abreast of upcoming events and exchange messages with locals, I’d highly recommend that you get a local SIM if you’re staying in a Portuguese-speaking land for more than two days.
This means you need to travel with an unlocked phone. On arrival, head to the nearest phone shop (or phone stand in the airport) and sign up for a cheap prepaid (pré-pago) SIM card. In my experience this is quite easy in Portugal, but can be a little bit of a headache in Brazil, where some operators are unable to process cards for foreigners who don’t have a CPF (Brazilian taxpayer) number.
If possible, ask to borrow a Brazilian friend’s CPF for that purpose before you go. Also note that some providers can sell you a SIM card with just your passport, and in theory they all should be able to. Just change shops if you run into resistance.
If you’re just studying Portuguese in your home country, there’s no reason to specifically look for an offline dictionary app because these apps tend to use very little data. Still, it’s great to have some sort of dictionary app installed on your phone, because you can quickly look up words while you’re studying, reading a book, in class or in conversation with a language exchange partner.
You might even just be in an English conversation and wonder to yourself how something is said in Portuguese. Your phone is nearly always at hand, so you can then use it to do a quick lookup, and with many of the below apps you can even save the word that you look up to a list for later study.
The Top 6 Dictionary Apps for Learning Portuguese Online and Offline
The apps below are constantly being updated, which means that their features change often (usually improve, of course).
These descriptions are meant to give you a place to start in your search for the best Portuguese dictionary apps, but check the links to the apps themselves for up-to-the-minute info.
This app tops my list for a number of reasons.
I’m a lazy guy, and if I want to tell people that I can look up the word in this app and get not just the principal translation preguiçoso but also a huge variety of other translations for concepts like “lazy day,” “lazy/sloppy work,” “lazy eye” or a “lazy river.” A number of these come with examples of the words used in context.
The chief advantage of this app over others in my book is that at the bottom of such an entry you will also see user discussions of phrases containing the word “lazy.” It turns out others have already had questions about rather unusual or creative uses of the term, what they mean and how to translate them. Plus, if you don’t see your question answered there you can create a free account and ask yourself.
There seem to be plenty of smart translators lurking around the forum just itching to answer your strangest questions—in the past I’ve found this incredibly useful for arriving at an understanding of vulgar spoken Portuguese as well as some flowery song lyrics.
Also useful for Portuguese learners are the provided conjugations and the links to Google Image searches at the bottom of definitions. That’s a lot of info from one simple lookup; perfect for a guy like me.
As of this writing, this app only works when connected to the internet; the iOS and Android apps are basically just windows into the excellent WordReference.com website.
You probably already know this as a translation website, where you can type text to have it translated or speak into it for live translation.
My favorite use ever was taking a photo of a menu to better understand what sort of glorious seafood I was about to be served on a beach in Pernambuco.
Don’t, however, discount this as a dictionary app. If you look up a single word you’ll get a dictionary-style entry with a variety of translations (though without the contextual examples that WordReference provides). Google Translate is also great at predicting what you meant to type, if, say, your Portuguese spelling is not so hot.
You can save Portuguese and English to your device and use this offline; the only drawback is that voice recognition doesn’t work offline in iOS.
Website, Apps Below
Wiktionary is the dictionary companion to Wikipedia, and its English version is an excellent way to, in theory, look up any word from any language. It’s run by volunteers, so you never know exactly what you’re going to get in terms of quality, but Portuguese words tend to have conjugations, synonyms, etymology and—key for frustrated Portuguese learners—verb declensions and noun plurals.
I think your best bet is just to save the webpage as a bookmark to your phone’s home screen, and you can then click it open just like you would an app. But if you still really want an app, there are options.
Android doesn’t seem to have a Portuguese-specific app with this content, but there is an official Wiktionary app that only works online. For iOS, this Portuguese Dictionary app by iThinkdiff has Wiktionary content and runs offline.
This app is handiest when you have a phrase in Portuguese or English that you want to see how a great number translators have handled in the past. For example, if you look up “laze around” you’ll discover a number of interesting ways that this was handled in Portuguese, depending on the context: descansar, deitar-se, relaxar, etc.
I’ve found that this app tends to be particularly useful for seeing how official Portuguese government bodies and terms tend to get translated into English and vice-versa. Still, it’s harvesting information from the wild Internet, so take any specific option with a big grain of salt.
The app does work offline, but only as a dictionary; it won’t give you this lovely array of actual translations in context unless you’re connected.
Offline English Portuguese dic by movin’App
This is an option for simple Portuguese-English look-ups if you’re offline.
If you’re looking for something nice, smooth and simple that just gets the job done, this is the right one for you.
There are pronunciations of Portuguese words and you can bookmark words that you’ve looked up. This is great, for example, if you want to remember which words you learned to make flashcards later, or to add them to a personalized vocabulary list on FluentU.
6. Portuguese Dictionary & Translator + by Ascendo
This dictionary app also works offline and gives basic translations, but it does so without providing context.
This is another sweet and simple app, and it includes some useful additional features such as pronunciations, verb conjugations and vocabulary quizzes for learners.
Wherever and whenever your vexing Portuguese lexical issues strike, I hope you’re now ready to answer them.
Portuguese is a vast language, but you should now have easy access to understanding every piece of it—right in your pocket.
Mose Hayward writes about the best tech and gear for digital nomads.
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