Teaching Your Parrot to Talk

The anatomy of a parrot allows it to ‘talk’ , that is, imitate human speech. This attribute sets parrots apart from other, similar species, and is often the main reason that people decide to get them as pets.

Theoretically, every parrot is capable of talking. However, many parrots will speak in a mechanical manner, with an ‘accent’, or at a speed that is barely intelligible or understandable. If you have a parakeet/budgie or a female cockatiel, it might be particularly hard – if not impossible – for you to get your pet to talk.

In this blog, we will discuss a few tips and ideas you can implement to get your parrot talking.

1)    Understand the Species:

As mentioned, every parrot, at least in theory, is capable of imitating human speech. However, some species are more adept at this than others. Amazon parrots, African gray parrots, and cockatoos are perhaps the best of the lot, but even other species like lovebirds and Quaker parrots can gradually learn to talk. These species are incredibly intelligent, and might even learn to speak intelligible words, phrases, and even full-blown sentences.

So, like most people, if your primary reason behind getting a parrot is getting them to speak, it is best to go for one of the species mentioned above. Senegal parrots, Pionus parrots, Caiques, Macaws, and other popular ‘pet’ parrot species might also learn a few words, but are generally not known to be prolific talkers.

2)    Go Slow:

Even with the smartest parrot species, it is best to go slow with your talking lessons. You should begin with a handful of simple words like ‘hi’, ‘bye’, and ‘bird’. Once your parrot gets the hang of these words, you can increase the complexity and even move on to phrases or sentences. This is how certain parrots learn to recite entire poems or songs – by mastering one word or sentence at a time.

3)    Keep Repeating:

The more your parrot listens to a certain word, the better and faster he is going to learn to mimic it. So, if you want to perfect your pet bird’s human speech, you will have to keep repeating the words that you want them to learn. This is how parrots learn to mimic certain sounds –such as the doorbell or the phone ring – even when they have never been actively taught these.

The point is, you will have to stay persistent, and not feel defeated if your parrot does not begin mimicking your words right away. This is particularly true of African parrots who, despite being some of the best talking species, generally do not speak much (if at all) during the first year of their lives.

4)    Be Clear:

Not only do you need to repeat yourself over and over again, you need to do so clearly. Parrots who hear clearly-enunciated words are far likelier to become better talkers. Hence, it is important that you do not mumble your words. Other than that, you must also ensure that you are facing the parrot while teaching them, and that you say the same word in the same tone every time. Keeping the same tone means that the inflection for each word stays the same, and that you emphasize on the same syllables each time you speak the word.

Also, keep in mind that the higher and more enthusiastic your pitch while delivering a word is, the quicker your parrot is going to learn to mimic said word.

5)    Offer Positive Reinforcement:

Positive reinforcement is one of the best ways to encourage a certain behavior, including encouraging a parrot to learn to talk. Every time your parrot correctly mimics a word, phrase, or sentence that you speak out to them, reward them with a small treat. This treat could be a grape, sunflower seed, or an almond sliver, depending on your pet’s preferences. Find out the foods that your parrot loves the most, and choose one of those foods as their reward. Regardless of the treat that you choose for this purpose, make sure that your parrot only receives this as their training reward.

Initially, say a word and do not offer the treat until your parrot looks at you. Eventually, withhold the reward until the parrot attempts to say the word (give the reward even if the parrot only attempts the word or makes a partial sound). Once your parrot starts making regular attempts at saying the word, wait until their attempts are somewhat close to the actual word before rewarding them. Once the bird realizes that the reward is tied to speaking the word, they will do so even without you prompting them.

6)    Be Patient:

Just like people, different parrots learn at different speeds. Some parrots might manage to master several hundred words within a few weeks, while others may only learn a handful during the same time. Unsurprisingly, the more practice your parrot receives, the shorter their learning time is likely to be. Keep in mind that it might be several days or even weeks after hearing a certain word that a parrot begins to mimic it; they use this time to properly understand, absorb, and process the word that they were taught. Hence, you should start early, go slow, establish reasonable expectations, practice as often as possible, and not let the absence of immediate results exasperate you.

Also, you must remember that certain parrots will never learn to say certain words or phrases, irrespective of the time and effort on your (and their) part.

Final Word:

While the fact that parrots can speak is incredible, it is far from the only incredible thing that they can do. For instance, some parrots might not be good speakers, but they can learn incredible things. Others may not be great performers, but are always open to hugs and cuddles. 

So, if you want your parrot to speak, give yourself the best shot by getting one of the ‘talking’ species, putting in the time and effort required to teach them, and using positive reinforcement. However, even if what your parrot says ends up sounding less like a speech and more like a squawk, you should cherish your pet for everything else that makes them an amazing companion.