Easy introduction to dictionary creation

I am trying to guide some speakers of a language that I work on (Logoori in this specific case but it’s a general question that could arise often). The idea is that those folks would like to create an English-Logoori dictionary app for the phone, but they aren’t linguists and they aren’t programmers. DAB might be the optimal app for creating / installing the executable (way above my pay grade). But then they need to create data files; and SIL has a bunch of powerful data-manipulating software, but I have not used those tools. I did try WeSay but that seems to better suited for speakers in situ who are doing tasks set up by a (WeSay) technically proficient supervisor.

I am looking for the best program that can create the requisite data file(s) that can easily be used by a bunch of language speakers who don’t program, and aren’t linguists. Therefore, I’m also looking for the most self-explaining program, since one version of what I’ll advise is “Download this, and good luck” (I won’t be constantly supervising and giving programming advice, because my programming skills are archaic and rudimentary). Assume that I will be giving advice on linguistic aspects. As a supplementary question, are there any simple demo dictionary databases that would give a handful of words in The Local Language, their English (for example) equivalents, a bit of grammatical information and some examples – which would clarify the logic of the data file that DBA is looking for. Less powerful would be good for starters.


Hi Dave,

In my experience, WeSay has been the best available software to give a non-linguist person for building a simple dictionary. In one case, when I was living in Africa, a pastor came to me for help to build a lexicon for his people. I spent one hour with him, setting up a WeSay project for his language and then showing how to add words to his lexicon. After that, for about two hours I had him add words to his WeSay project on his own. During that two hours you would come to me if he got stuck and I would then help him out. Then I sent him home to do his work. Only once after that about a month or two later, he came to me with a problem that I was able to sort out for him. At time he had over 1000 words in his lexicon.

Saying all that, I have attached a word list that has over 5000 entries with English gloss, parts of speech and semantic domain info. All the person has to do is add the equivalent in his language in the vernacular column. I have used this to create word lists in several languages. I do have a method that can import this spreadsheet into a FLEx project. I (that I have documented this method which I can send you, if you like. Using FLEX, you can export a HTML or Lift file that can use be used by Dictionary App Builder.

I hope this was helpful.

Kent Schroeder
Language Technology Consultant

SIL Language Technology Use Dept

Waxhaw NC 28173


(Attachment Generic MLE WordList.xlsx is missing)


The system will not allow me to send the formerly attached .xlsx file. If you would like me to send it to you, send an email request to me (kent_schroeder@sil.org)


Kent is right, WeSay is the most user-friendly program for this sort of work. You can also consider LanguageForge, which is web-based, but I had to give up on it because it wasn’t very user friendly for large amounts of data. Language Forge also requires constant internet access.

You can just download WeSay, teach someone how to use it, and then come back after a while. It has a Semantic Domains tool built it, which is helpful once someone’s learned how to use it.

For DAB, you’ll need a .lift file. It’s possible you can get this directly from WeSay, but the most common is to import the WeSay data into FLEx and then into DAB.

It’s possible to do send/receive between WeSay and FLEx over the internet. It’s a bit of hassle to set up but allows collaboration between computers in different locations. First you create the project in FLEx (I think it has to be version 8, not 9), then you go to languagedepot.org and request a new WeSay project, then you can send/receive by using the appropriate buttons in FLEx and WeSay.

Also note that both WeSay and FLEx have tutorials to learn how to use them. These can be found on their respective software pages.