István Dabi

István Dabi, Sr. (June 12, 1943) is a Hungarian translator. He became famous at the age of 18 for attaining mastery of 18 languages and corresponding with 80 partners spanning 50 countries.

He has worked as a correspondence clerk, guide, interpreter, translator and consulting editor. He mostly publishes his poems in Polish. In 1970, he married a language teacher of Polish origin from Lithuania; they have a son (István Mikołaj, 1971) and a daughter (Mária Rozália, 1973). He is currently a resident of Budapest, but he lived in Gdańsk from 1971 to 1980.

He has always been interested in languages because they help him understand the literature and culture of other nations.



He divides languages he translates from into four categories:

  1. Practically without dictionary (20): Russian, Polish, Belarusian, Ukrainian, Kashubian, Sorbian, Czech, Slovak, Serbian, Croatian, German, English, French, Spanish, Italian, Lithuanian, Latvian, Estonian, Bulgarian, Macedonian
  2. With insignificant dictionary use (33[counting the two Mordvin languages as one.]): Slovene, Dutch, Swedish, Danish, Norwegian, Icelandic, Romanian, Portuguese, Romansh, Turkish, Azerbaijani, Uzbek, Turkmen, Chuvash, Tatar, Bashkir, Finnish, Komi, Mari, Mordvin (Erzya and Moksha), Yiddish, Arabic, Maltese, Hindi, Persian, Urdu, Vietnamese, Mongolian, Buryat, Kalmyk, Armenian, Dari, Tajik
  3. With somewhat more dictionary use (24): Greek, Latin, Nepali, Kazakh, Kyrgyz, Tuvan, Altay, Yakut, Nanai, Evenk, Karachay, Adyghe, Kabardian, Avar, Lak, Karakalpak, Albanian, Japanese, Indonesian, Malay, Udmurt, Sanskrit, Bengali, Georgian
  4. With considerable dictionary use (26): Welsh, Irish, Thai, Lao, Khmer, Malayalam, Kannada, Tamil, Telugu, Sinhalese, Swahili, Lingala, Malagasy, Amharic, Fula, Hebrew, Chinese, Burmese, Tagalog, Nenets, Abkhaz, Chechen, Ingush, Pashto, Hausa, Tibetan

There are 103 languages in total (the two Mordvin variants counted as one), not including his native Hungarian. He can translate from these languages into Hungarian, Polish and Russian.


He fluently speaks Russian, Polish, Czech, Slovak, Bulgarian, German, English, French and Lithuanian and after a few days' brush-up, he could speak 14 more: Ukrainian, Belarusian, Serbian, Croatian, Macedonian, Sorbian, Latvian, Italian, Spanish, Portuguese, Dutch, Danish, Swedish and Norwegian.

His language learning method

  • He chooses 1000–1500 basic words (from the topics of family, work, everyday life etc.) and learns them along with the most important grammar (declension, conjugation, pronouns and word order).
  • He starts reading fairly easy texts with a dictionary in accordance with his interests. (The texts may be newspaper articles, specialized texts or whatever else.)
  • Some people need to write out and repeat unknown words; for others, reading is sufficient. He has found that it is much easier to learn new words by means of conclusion (inference), i.e. through their context.
  • If possible, he starts corresponding with people, possibly those with the same job and interests, whose native tongue is the one he is studying. (It is important for him to not pick up mistakes from those who learned it as a second language.)
  • He starts listening to foreign language radio broadcasts, even if he initially doesn't understand it, in order to gradually get used to the pronunciation of the language.
  • He considers it essential to use the language in some way, every day, for at least 15–20 minutes.


(In this list only his own works are mentioned, his translations are not.)

His poems have appeared in Polish, Macedonian and Belarusian-language Polish newspapers.

He published a book in Hungarian in 1995, entitled A nyelvekről – nyelvtanulásról ("On languages and language learning"), ISBN 963-450-921-5.

His bibliographical novelette was published in 15 serials in 2004 in a Hungarian-language Romanian periodical (Romániai Magyar Szó, ), titled Ötvenöt év viharai ("Fifty-Five Years' Storms").

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