Interest in an app for learning onomatopoeia?

My wife has been studying Japanese for ~7 years and one thing she always mentions is how much onomatopoeia Japanese has and hope it’s tricky to learn via the usual tools like Anki. I’m not a Japanese expert (have taken a year in college and done a bit of WK), but I have a linguistics degree and the literature (ex this paper) definitely corroborates that learning onomatopoeia is different than learning other vocabulary — they’re really intuitive and squishy, and tools like Anki don’t do a great job because they focus on 1:1 correspondences. We’ve been working on an app that pairs onomatopoeia with sounds, video clips, images, animations, etc. to help form the more intuitive word-cloud association so you can not just recognize the word, but also recognize situations that fit that word so your speech sounds more natural. We want to keep it fun and playful (like WK!), because just using Anki can be very plain, and doesn’t fit the multi sensory nature of onomatopoeia which can describe a sound, a sight, a physical feeling, an emotion, or a combination of any or all of those that may be loosely, though intuitively to a native speaker, related.

Would people be interested in using an app like this? We’re in very early stages so we’re open to feedback and suggestions.


Yes! I feel like learning onomatopoeia is one of those things that gives really high rewards in fluency compared to other vocab. I know when I use these words correctly in context I feel my Japanese is significantly more natural-sounding than it usually is. But it feels extremely hard to learn and find the right resources that have enough precision and ambiguity to help actually learn how/when to use them.

Sounds like a great idea!


I think that would be great!


I would definitely be interested in an onomatopoeia learning app, this sounds awesome!


What would be the benefit of building a dedicated app over creating an Anki deck where the front of the card shows a random sound / video / image /etc. associated with the onomatopoeia and the back is the onomatopoeia?

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I absolutely LOATHE Anki so I would absolutely love a dedicated app!


I am definetly interested in the concept of such an app, but whether I would use (and purchase should that be your intention) such an app would depend on how well it manages to translate these onomatopoeia into something intuitive for me to grasp over rote memorization. So, I can’t really comment beyond “I am interested” at this point in time.

I realize the above paragraph might sound really critical, but I really am looking forward to what you might realize, best of luck and I will be following this thread!


That’s a good point! My hypothesis is that you could force it into the Anki format (and my wife has been using an Anki deck that does!), but the result wouldn’t be as good as a specialized app. Sort of like how you could use an Anki kanji deck, but it doesn’t work as well as WaniKani because it’s not as specialized.

More concretely — I think Anki really focuses on 1:1 correspondences which works well for regular vocab (言語学 <> Linguistics) but not as well for onomatopoeia. For example, ぶつぶつ can evoke little bumps like pimples on your skin, and can also evoke simmering like water. You can see how those two are related, and the way onomatopoeia are used and remixed evocatively in speech means that a native speaker might use this word to describe a situation that’s visually similar to those two, but not described in a dictionary. You could use Anki to memorize ぶつぶつ <> pimples and ぶつぶつ <> simmering water, but then you’ve just memorized those two “pre-defined” definitions. You haven’t built up an intuitive understanding of the word that lets you use flexibly in natural speech. Our goal with the app is to associate onomatopoeia with each other and with lots of multimedia images, sounds, videos, so you can learn the connections between them and gain an intuitive understanding instead of just learning a bunch of unconnected loose cards.


Definitely agree, and no problems with the criticism, that’s what we’re here for. Our goal isn’t to just have people pay for something they could get for free with Anki, but to make something specialized that’s better than Anki in this specific category. We’re not interested in releasing anything unless we accomplish that goal :slight_smile:


I wouldn’t be interested in an app unless I can run it on my laptop. But that’s simply a device choice and not related to the general idea behind the app :blush:

I like your idea connecting one onomatopoeia with different resources to learn from.

  • As you already pointed out the item may be used in very different situations and having multiple examples to experience the item in context sounds like a great idea.
  • As well as addressing different senses (hear / see / …).
  • A feature like bunpro has with referring to different already existing resources that provide a deeper background on the item might be cool as well.

There are already a bunch of great resources out when it comes to learning specific onomatopoeia. So, when encountering an item in the wild I already have resources to go to and check the meaning.

What I wish for would be a resource where I can look up items the other way around. This means there is a certain situation I describe to the resource and it then gives me an ordered list with suitable items.

  • E.g. Onomatopedia does this with the category system they applied for their entries. Depending on how many entries a category has I still have to go through a couple of items to find a suitable one.

Another thing I wish for, and which is what I am kind of doing with my current approach, is to learn items gradually. You already gave an example (ぶつぶつ) that may be used in very different situations. I would be still interest though to learn these different aspects about one item step by step and not all at once.

  • To elaborate a little bit more on this aspect take the 生 kanji as an example. It has a lot of different readings and is associated with lots of different vocab words. They are related somehow but still, trying to learn all of the different meanings at once would simply overwhelm me. Therefore I prefer to start with one or two only. At some point further in my studies I will encounter examples when my limited knowledge doesn’t fit and gradually expand it.

Hope you can draw something useful from this feedback. Feel free to ignore everything else. All the best for your project :four_leaf_clover:


I’d definitely love to have this, I find onomatopoeia to be the area in my Japanese language ability that lacks the most (even though I try my best to learn them :sweat_smile: they just won’t stick). Would be awesome to get to the level of understanding onomatopoeia that Japanese natives have; even if you haven’t heard a certain onomatopoeia before you can imagine what it means. Right now if I hear a new onomatopoeia I have absolutely 0 idea what it means


For sure!!

I would be very interested in this, as I find onomatopoeia very hard to remember (and I confuse them a lot), but I do a bit better when I can associate them with a sound or picture.

As you mentioned you have a linguistics degree, do you have a copy of the book “A Dictionary of Basic Japanese Grammar”? It has a really good intro on patterns in onomatopoeia in Japanese that goes a little above my head I think would be well understood by a linguist. (introduction, part 8, pages 50-56)

An excerpt:

Voiced consonants tend to represent something big, heavy, dull, or dirty; whereas voiceless consonants represent something small, light, sharp or pretty.
a. きらきら((と)光る) ((shine) sparklingly)

To make this app worthwhile, it would have to have definitions that are at least on par with Jazz Up Your Japanese With Onomatopoeia, otherwise the question of, “Why use this?” looms very large.

A subset of words will work with sounds and images, but especially since many of these words can have both a sound and a mimetic component, you’ll have trouble at first fitting in the multiple usages, and secondly there are definitely words that will not be easily explained through sounds and images.

Hi there, I would most definitely be interested in using an application like that. I have a fairly good intermediate grasp of the Japanese language and yet onomatopoeia still goes over my head. I totally agree that it’s not the same process as learning normal vocabulary (although one could argue that all vocab could be learned contextually, as children learn it).
I am open to helping out too if you need it at all. I’m a professional designer with a focus on UX, UI etc. HMU if I can be of any help, would love to help make this happen.

I would be interested! Having a dedicated program/app for this would help with breaking down study time into variety/categories and reducing monotony in scheduling that study time too.

This sounds awesome! Onomatopoeia really are a visceral, instinctive sort of thing that needs to be burned in on a deeper level than word-to-word translation. A resource that helps acquire those deeper associations sounds ideal to me!

I imagine it’ll be a while before we get to see any results of this, but I’ll be looking forward to it!

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