One of the most difficult things about learning Japanese trying to understand its onomatopoeia usage. An onomatopoeia is basically a word that imitates the sound of the thing it is describing. We have a few in English like buzz, plop, and meow. Looking at those three words you might think that the Japanese version shouldn't be so difficult. Well you'd be wrong (sorry). Mastering onomatopoeia is hard. Really, really hard. But if you use them correctly, your Japanese will sound way more natural. Even if you do not have the confidence to use onomatopoeia, familiarizing yourself with them will help you understand the seemingly strange things Japanese speakers around you are saying.
I have always had problems with these words, especially when trying to translate them into English. "He laughed loudly laughing?" No… that's not right. I picked up Jazz Up Your Japanese with Onomatopoeia by Hiroko Fukuda this month in an effort to better my understanding. Let me also mention, it was pretty much the only English book I could find on the subject, so bonus points there already.
The introduction to this book, while not written by the author, is almost worth the price of the book alone. It is called "An Overview of Onomatopoeia" and it covers a lot of useful material. Sound and meaning, sound symbolism, and why things represent what they've been chosen to represent.
Another huge selling point of this book is that the dialogues are in entirely conversational Japanese. If you have only used textbooks to learn how to speak (I'm looking at you Genki users), then you have probably only been using generic, plain Japanese. That is not a bad thing. Seriously, good job getting this far. But people will be able to tell. This book can help you put a little more expressiveness, a little more personality, into your conversations and add variety to the way you describe things that happen in your life.
The dialogues range from drinking and dining with your boss, to explaining how you feel to your doctor, to confrontations with your spouse. It does seem to be very work environment-centric though, as the majority of the conversations are between coworkers. But that is where you probably want to impress people the most, so I don't think there is any harm in it. There seems to be almost as many women represented in the dialogues as men too, which is a big plus if you don't want to sound like a man.
It also includes and explains dialects used in those conversations, specifically Osaka-ben. While it is not exhaustive, it is nice to have a huge footnote dedicated to explaining the way the people are speaking and why.
There are also business related conversations, like I said, and you will pick up some new words and phrases from that too. Pretty handy if you are currently working, or plan on working, for a Japanese company.
The book is set up with the entire Japanese text, then romaji, then English translation all in a row. The problem with this is that the English is usually a page away from the Japanese, so I spent most of my time flipping back and forth to see what each sentence's new onomatopoeia meant. After the first two dialogues I was already pretty tired of it.
In the original Japanese text, every word considered to be an onomatopoeia is in bold. That way you can really focus on what you are supposed to when you read through it. Then, after the romaji and English translation sections, those bolded words are each given their own little section. They describe what kind of onomatopoeia the word is, provide an explanation of what it means in English, and then one or more examples sentences. Once again they give the Japanese, romaji, and English translations for these sentences. This makes the book really helpful for Japanese learners of all levels.
Here, have another example:
Each dialogue ends with a fill in the blank quiz with an answer key in the back of the book. You are to use the new onomatopoeia you learned in the specific dialogue to fill them out. Usually there are not too many words, but these quizzes are rather hard. There are a good number of sentences included in them too (around 20 per section).
Other than the constant page flipping I was forced to do, the content made my head feel heavy. It felt like I was being given too many new words at once and just stuffing them into my brain. That is probably my own fault, but it leads me to believe that you really can't expect to sit down and read this in one setting. It also does not have enough content to make you completely confident in using onomatopoeia. While I do think it is extremely helpful, you really need to use them in the wild to really get them down. This is a great introduction, but it is not all encompassing.
What I really wanted was more dialogue and less new content introduced at once. I'm sure this varies from person to person, but taking this book slow is key. If you want to learn onomatopoeia in a day, it is probably not going to happen. There are way too many types, uses, and different words.
While I had some issues with my hands getting tired, this is still the best resource of its kind. No other book exists in English that offers actual conversational Japanese for the sole purpose of teaching onomatopoeia (at least not that I have been able to find). It is fairly small, so it is great for reading on the go, and the introduction is more than educational enough to warrant buying it. But is it "For All Levels" like the subtitle suggest? No. You need to be well past the beginner level at least. If you are, and you have any interest in jazzing up (haha I'm so funny) your spoken language, I would say it is a good buy.
I. Love. This. Book. If there is one book you read about onomatopoeia it should be this. I’ve ready it at least three times and I discover something new each time.