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Teaching a Pet Parrot to Talk

Updated on January 24, 2017
Athlyn Green profile image

Athlyn has shared her life with four parrots, written articles for avian publications, and helped owners address troubling parrot behaviors.

Polly Wants a Cracker and Polly Can be Taught to Ask for One

Amazon Parrot
Amazon Parrot

Parrots have bright eyes, beautiful plumage, and express their personalities through characteristic body language and behavior. More interesting still, some parrots can learn to talk, using words and language they hear in their environment to communicate with their owners.

Some parrots learn to talk on their own, others become fluent talkers when their owners work with them to encourage development of talking ability, still others learn to talk via established avian speech training methods.

African Greys and Amazon parrots are considered among the best talking parrots. These parrots usually master a number of words and sentences and may apply them in remarkable ways, using language as a bridge to communicate with their human owners by asking questions, naming specific people or objects or places, counting or keeping time to music, making requests, and expressing their needs or even emotions.

Macaws or cockatoos are capable of learning a couple of words or a few short sentences but are usually not considered the best talkers. There are exceptions, of course, and much depends on the particular bird, its own propensity, and how much time an owner invests.

This article discusses effective ways to encourage your pet parrot to talk.

Starting Early

If at all possible, bird owners should start working with their bird, i.e. speech training, as soon as possible. A baby parrot will carefully listen to the sounds in its environment and attempt to mimic those noises.

A Parrot Will Carefully Observe and Learn

Setting a Good Example

Teaching a pet parrot to talk starts with setting the right example. Simple words should be used and spoken repeatedly and consistently, so that your parrot learns to associate these words with specific foods, specific objects or situations.

For example, each morning, you could greet your bird with "Hi" or "Good morning." Your parrot will take its cues from you, as you are a "flock member," so it will absorb and emulate the routines you establish and this includes sound it hears in its environment.

A good rule of thumb: if you want your bird to learn to talk, talk to him or her all the time.

Simple Words Are Building Blocks for Sentences

Simple words can be enlarged upon once the parrot masters them. A single word, "Hello," can be incorporated into a simple sentence: "Hello, pretty bird."

Use Expression When You Talk

Parrots are musical creatures by nature and express this innate characteristic through whistles and songs.

When teaching a pet parrot to talk, owners can capture their bird's interest by making words sound interesting and musical, using intonation and expression. This infuses life into the words and makes them sound more intriguing and compelling. "Want a COOKIE?" said with expression, will pique your bird's curiosity. We've all had to listen to a discourse or lecture where the speaker spoke in a monotone and no doubt, most of us remember how bored or even sleepy we felt. Your feathered friend is no different.

If you are enthusiastic when you talk, when your parrot learns words, it will usually repeat them with similar gusto. Parrots are expressive creatures and they love to show it. For an owner, it can be a delightful experience to hear a parrot saying something with enthusiasm and intonation.

Patience Needed

While learning to talk, a young parrot will produce a range of whistles and squeaks and should never be penalized for making these noises. Some of these are innate sounds that parrots will naturally make but a parrot will also experiment, carefully listening to sounds it hears in its environment and then trying to replicate them. What may be construed as "noise" may actually be a bird trying to make the sounds it is producing, conform to sounds it hears. Give your bird that latitude and let it experiment and soon you may be rewarded by words or sentences.

"Want an Orange?"

Each time you give your parrot a certain food, say what it is.
Each time you give your parrot a certain food, say what it is.

Word Association: Food Treats Can Help Train a Parrot to Talk

Owners can train a parrot to talk by using word association. For example, while giving a parrot an orange, the owner could say, "Want an orange?" This helps the parrot to associate the word, "orange," with the particular food it is being given. If it enjoys a certain food, it associates something pleasurable with that word and will be encouraged to use that word for a repeat experience or to request that food.

One Taste and Bailey Nailed it

My African Grey parrot, Bailey, was a fast learner. I brought him orange juice and said, "Want some orange juice?" I thought no more about it but I soon learned just how much Bailey had enjoyed his new drink. The next morning, I heard Bailey asking, "Want some orange juice?" He had enjoyed it so much the day before, he'd rapidly associated the new word he'd heard me say with his tasty drink and he now wanted more.

"Want a Nut?"

Positive Reinforcement & Rewards

If a parrot asks for a nut on its own, owners should reward the bird by using positive reinforcement and giving the parrot the requested item.

In this fashion, the parrot comes to associate words with rewards, which makes learning to talk a positive experience.

When a bird learns that it can use words as a means to having its needs met, this encourages it to continue learning how to use human language to communicate with its owners., not only to meet its needs to socialize but also to actively communicate.

A Parrot Should be Near You, Not Routinely Kept in a Separate Area of the House

Location is Key to Fostering Avian Talking

This might seem obvious but if you want your parrot to learn to talk and communicate with you, your bird should be stationed near you during its waking hours.

Unbelievably, some owners lament that their bird never talks and then it is later discovered, the bird spends its days by itself in a bedroom or even on a different level of the house.

A parrot should be in close proximity to its owners so it can absorb daily household sounds. Its cage and any tree perch or play stand should be positioned in an area where the family spends most of its time.

Shutting a bird away in a separate area of the house for large periods of time will not foster avian talking ability and could be a recipe for other problem behaviors. When seeking to train a parrot to talk, working in tandem with its flocking instincts is an good strategy to encourage vocalization.

Household Sounds and Avian Talking

It could be said that a companion parrot is like a sponge, soaking up the sounds it hears in its close environment. This is borne out in how parrots will also imitate common households sounds: the door squeaking, the microwave beeping, water running, a kettle whistling, a dog barking, the phone ringing, the answering machine. So it's obvious why close proximity is the order of the day if you want your parrot to become a fluent talker.

Source

Optimum Talking Times

Parrots tend to be more vocal in the mornings and evenings. When teaching a pet parrot to talk, training sessions should be initiated during times when the bird is naturally receptive and expressive.

Respect your parrot's natural behavioral rhythms, which includes being sensitive to your bird's wanting and needing to interact, needing time to eat and play, needing quiet time, and needing time to rest. Sometimes, just like humans, parrots have an off day and may need time to recharge and recover from over-stimulation, over-tiredness or stress.

When attempting to teach a parrot to talk, for the best results, do not try to fit "talking sessions" around your schedule, rather fit your schedule compassionately and reasonably around your parrot's natural routines.

Combining Words With Actions

A good avian speech training strategy combines words with actions. When returning a bird to its cage for the night, an owner could say " Night, now." This conditions the parrot to associate this routine action with these words.

Caution Needed

Owners should exercise caution. Parrots tune in to words that are spoken with emotion and they will copy angry outbursts, yelling or crying. A parrot will readily master colorful expletives and curse words and won't hesitate to use them at the most inopportune moments, such as when company or the local minister is visiting.

Avian Speech Training at a Glance

 
start early
use simple words
add more words
speak with expression
word association
be consistent
positive reinforcement via rewards
choose ideal location
combine words with routine actions

Have You Tried to Teach Your Parrot to Talk?

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Time and Effort Reap Rich Rewards

Teaching a pet parrot to talk takes time, effort and love, but most parrots, with the right encouragement, eventually produce words or sentences. Hearing a parrot give a greeting, ask for a toy, form a unique sentence all on its own or communicate its feelings is truly an unforgettable experience.

© 2017 Athlyn Green

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