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Everyone knows that the most important part of learning a new language is increasing your vocabulary. You can get by without much of grammar but you can neither speak nor understand a language if you don’t know the words. So, the most pressing point in your progress is to try and memorise as many new words as possible. And that can be a daunting task since not many people enjoy spending their time with endless vocabulary lists, learning them by heart. Luckily, there are certain tricks you can use to make the process easier for yourself.

One of the best ways of remembering new words is to have fun learning them. And that’s where onomatopoeia come in. Even the word itself is fun to say!

Onomatopoeia – What are they?

While most language is arbitrary in that words used for real-life objects come about by chance and linguistic change, an onomatopoeia is the exception that confirms the rule. In the easiest terms, an onomatopoeia is a word that sounds like the thing it’s defining. That’s why many animal sounds, for example, are similar in the world’s languages. When we describe the sound a duck makes as a “quack”, the word itself is supposed to mimic that very sound.

How are onomatopoeia used?

These words are common throughout all of the world’s languages. However, that doesn’t mean that a dog goes “woof” in every language. The reason is that onomatopoeia conform to the general linguistic system a language uses. And so an English dog goes “woof”, a Russian one “гав”, while an Estonian says “auh”, because these sounds are more familiar and easily understandable to the people listening to their particular dogs. For wild animals, differences in words also arise from the fact that species around the world make distinct noises. So, different frogs can indeed go both “ribbit” and “croak”.

In addition to animals, many other words describing sounds are also onomatopoetic. For example, machines (“beep-beep”, “whirr”) or bodily functions (“hiccough”, “burp”). While the examples given here are in English, you can find them in pretty much every language.

In addition to these, quite obvious, uses of onomatopoeia, many have also seeped into everyday language, without you even noticing that they’re onomatopoetic. Consider “sneeze” or “cliché”, in addition to other examples.

You can use onomatopoeia to learn vocabulary

While most these words are not necessarily of utmost importance in your vocabulary, they can still help you easily broaden your lexicon. Simply because onomatopoeia are easy to remember, they become a great way to get new words “for free”. You can easily draw parallels between the word and the phenomenon they’re describing.

Additionally, onomatopoeia are a time-honoured literary device – they have been used for centuries to help make writing more expressive and interesting. So, even if you’re an advanced language learner, you can use these words to your benefit.

Wider onomatopoetic trends

Another great way onomatopoeia can help you learn a language is when you discover the wider onomatopoetic trends present in your target language. Take, for example, the English words “glimmer”, “glint”, “gleam”. Notice how they all start with a “gl-” and are used to describe an effect of light bouncing off a surface or something shiny. You can group these words together and even find additional examples (“glisten”, “glitter”). There are similar groups of onomatopoeia found in English. “Growl”, “gurgle”, “groan”, “gargle” all describe deep, throaty noises and the words themselves also look and sound rather similar.

Naturally, not all vocabulary falls into these categories (despite what some might claim), but the clusters are still a great way of recognising words more easily and making it easier for yourself to learn them.

Conclusion – Use onomatopoeia to learn vocabulary

Because onomatopoeia sound like whatever they’re describing, they’re much easier to learn and remember. This can help you acquire more vocabulary in your target language if you’re just getting started. Or, if you’re an advanced learner, you can use these words to make your writing more expressive. In addition, languages have clusters of onomatopoeia which are related in meaning and also look similar – another great way of easily expanding your vocabulary.


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