Advice for learning onomatopoeias?

I know posts about kana vocab are flooding the forums, but I thought I’d take a different angle.

Tofugu has a pretty good article about onomatopoeias. But the Japanese language became what it is because its speakers have a whole different conception of the kiki/bouba effect than I. I can’t imagine パサパサ sounding like dry hair, ボロボロ sounding like a dilapidated object, バラバラ sounding like scattering, or JoJo villains constantly muttering ゴゴゴゴゴゴゴ⋯⋯.

Thus far, my own solution has been adding these words to my mining deck, with an example phrase as a hint.

Obviously, output practice is a good option as well, when one can. But many are so specific that it can become difficult to find just the right time to drop that word into a sentence.

Any other techniques that you’ve tried?


This is one thing I’ve actually developed some opinions on. I’ve been learning onomatopoeia since like 6 years ago and SRSed probably several hundreds, but they’ve gotten special focus the last year or two because I realized the sheer difference in usage levels between learners and natives.

So, my opinion is twofold.

I couldn’t either at first, and…well…now that’s exactly what they sound like to me. In this sense I don’t think onomatopoeias are special from an acquisition standpoint necessarily. Just like the word ねこ will eventually just directly evoke an image of a cat, パサパサ will also evoke some image related to being dried out. So, I think mining these words is fine and will definitely get you to a state of knowing them when you see them.

Now, going a bit deeper, I think there is specific ways you need to mine them, especially if you want to be using them yourself naturally when you speak:

  1. So the first thing to realize is that the english translation for these are typically less reliable than normal. English translations issue is they tend to be broad, while onomatopoeias and the situations they used in are deceptively narrow. I would always check the japanese defintion to get an idea of not only the meaning, but the scope of the word.

  2. I would learn them in sets with what they modify. So, for example, if you’re learning すっかり and you see it as すっかり忘れた, I would have the sentence you saw it in so you can see those two together. The rest of the sentence really isn’t as important. Its seeing what the onomatopoeia is modifying, really.

Looking at your card, it looks like you’re doing all of those, but the one thing I would suggest is removing the hint. Thats a crutch and I think it will impact your learning negatively. If you want to be able to understand it on your own reliably, you need to be able to do it without needing context, because literally sometimes there just isn’t any. And when you go to use them yourself, theres no hint. I personally found having sentences like this on the front of the card just trained me more to recall the word when I saw the sentence itself and not the specific word and its definitions.

Basically, see it a lot and review what you see it with when you srs and you’ll be getting there. I personally used mnemonics for probably the first 100 I learned, but they are harder to make.


I will be nice if I can relate onomatopoeia to other Japanese words; but there still more difficult ones.

Immersion, probably at least part listening, just after SRS, works to some extent.

I also think of suspending some of those onomatopoeia cards, if there aren’t really critical.

I got this at my local kinokoniya

The cards can be used to play games, like “pairs”, e.g. there are two cards with もし, and you have to fine them both to make もしもし, which helps to learn meanings (out of context though)

— Dave


Maybe try to learn them in context? And practice exercises? I think the old texbook way here works better than SRS or cards. This book has dialogues and exercises,

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I’ve actually just started looking for a new strategy for these myself, after trying and failing to learn them through mining them in native media with Yomichan. Totally agree with Vanilla that English glosses don’t really work for these.

I saw these (print) flash cards and considered buying them, haha, but then I realized that I could replicate that on my own digitally and have a better time learning, so I created a new format of flash cards specifically for onomatopoeia that are sort of structured similarly to those cards.

Here's what those cards look like:

My theory is that learning to associate onomatopoeia with images and a description (preferably in Japanese) of the specific thing they’re invoking is the way to go.

I got the idea of doing a google image search with them and then pulling an image from there to stick on my flash cards, and in the process, I discovered a pretty neat site that has a lot of great info. Here’s ぐちゃぐちゃ, for example. What I like about this site is that they have 1) an image, 2) a Japanese description of it (with English to fall back on if needed), and 3) example sentences that show actual usage (with English translations to give you an idea of how the concepts might translate).

So when I come across onomatopoeia that are featured on that site, I’ve been taking the info off of it and creating Anki cards with all of it on there. I have recognition cards that have just the word (and audio) on the front and then the image, description, and example sentences on the back. My recall cards have the image and description on the front, and the word (and audio) and the example sentences on the back. I also include the specific context sentence I found the word in originally.

Here's the front of one of my recognition cards:

And here's the back:

And yeah, it’s totally working so far! They’re actually starting to stick for me, and I feel like I’m finally starting to get a feel for the actual usage of these words. Generally I don’t read the whole card when doing reviews and I’ll just let the image jog my memory, and will maybe read the definition if the image isn’t enough, but I like keeping track of the extra info so that I have it on hand if I want to quickly look up context sentences for the words, or if I’m trying to figure out how to translate something and want to get an idea of how other people have translated it.


Not a formal studying method by any means, but have you seen this thread?

We basically write a post for (almost) every instance of onomatopoeia we come across, along with the context sentence it was found in and a translation attempt. There’s even a handy index at the top for lookups and reference. Anyone is free to participate.

While I can’t claim I have internalized all the onomatopoeia I logged there, the effort of writing it out and trying to translate it has certainly helped. And at the very least, there are real context sentences from media for any onomatopoeia you may want to look up.


I looked it up, it looks fun (although probably limited after a while). There’s even audio files for every card on their website:
Audio|音声読み上げ - もしもしカードゲーム Moshi Moshi card game (


I knew in my gut that this wasn’t the only thread of its kind, but the little similar-posts search thingy didn’t pull this one up! I plan to beef up my reading practice this summer, so I think I’ll be contributing to that thread before long!

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