Learning how animal sounds are written and pronounced in a foreign language is something that is not typically taught in textbooks, at least in most of them I’ve used (with the exception a Spanish one I used in high school). To be sure, if you meet someone on the street you are not likely going to need to squak like a duck or tweet like a bird in order to ask directions for where you are going. But if you actually use Japanese in your daily life, you’ll find many opportunities where they come up, especially if you are interacting with children. One place I’ve gotten to experience animal sounds (in Japanese: 動物の鳴き声, doubtsu no nakigoe) is in the Shimajiro series of books which I wrote about here.
The funny thing about animal sounds in a foreign language is often when you first come across them, you may read them out loud and think to yourself “This doesn’t sound like that animal at all”, whereas in your native language the corresponding way of expressing the same animal sound somehow seems more appropriate. But the secret here is how you pronounce it – as opposing to pronouncing each syllable robotically, try to act and make your voice sound like the animal in question, and soon enough you’ll find out the foreign language versions are also fitting in their own way.
Here is a sampling of sounds for popular animals. Often these types of words can be written in either Hiragana (わんわん）or Katakana (ワンワン). There are many variations of these, so I’ll just give the most common ones.
- Dog: わんわん (wan wan)
- Cat: にゃんにゃん (nyan nyan)
- Duck: がーがー（gaa gaa)
- Cow: もうもう (mou mou)
- Frog: けろけろ（kero kero) [Also, for a larger, deeper frog’s voice: げろげお, gero gero)
- Bunny: ぴょんぴょん (pyon pyon) [The sound of jumping]
- Bird: ピピー (pipii)
- Horse: ヒヒーン (hihiin) [Neighing sound]
- Rooster: コッケコッコー (kokkekokkou)
- Pig: ぶーぶー(buu buu)
- Sheep: めえめえ (mee mee)
- Bee: ぶんぶん (bun bun) [sound of bees flying around]
Another reason to learn these is sometimes there are animal nicknames which derive from them, for example “wan chan” for dog and “nyanko” for cat.