Parrots have become well known for their impressive ability to mimic human speech. In fact, that’s one of the reasons many people buy them as pets. Many think it’s the owners responsibility to teach their birds this skill, but can parrots teach themselves to talk? This interesting topic explores the cognitive capabilities of these colorful birds and their capacity to imitate human language. While parrots exhibit a remarkable talent for mimicry, the extent to which they comprehend the meaning behind the words remains a subject of study and debate.
Can Parrots Teach Themselves to Talk?
Yes, parrots can teach themselves to talk simply by listening to human language. They pick up the skill the same way anyone learns to talk — by mimicking what they hear. Sound is how birds communicate with their flock. As a pet, they consider members of the household part of their flock, and will teach themselves to repeat sounds they hear made by the people in their environment.
But how can they talk?
Parrots can talk thanks to their exceptional vocal learning abilities. Their distinct vocal tract includes a syrinx which enables them to manipulate sounds in a manner that sets them apart from other creatures. This syrinx acts like vocal cords in humans allowing parrots to copy what they hear — sometimes exactly. Some experts believe the bird’s tongue also plays a role in forming certain tones. African gray parrots are the best at mimicking human speech. Some experts say they have cartilage perfectly positioned to give them more control over their syrinx, granting them the amazing ability to talk exactly like humans.
When raised in a human-centric environment or exposed to human speech, these intelligent birds can mimic words and phrases with incredible precision. The process involves the integration of auditory and motor skills within their brain, allowing them to reproduce the sounds they hear.
How long does it take a parrot to talk?
There’s really no way to tell how long it will take a parrot to talk. Some pet birds never learn the skill at all — or decide against it. That said, the average timeframe for a parrot to start mimicking human speech is at least six months. But don’t worry if you have a parrot that’s older and hasn’t spoken a word. Rest assured, they are listening all the time and could surprise you by talking at any time after that. If your bird doesn’t talk, they will use other ways of communicating with you. While many buy parrots anticipating a talking companion, be sure that is not the only reason you bring this feathered friend into your home.
Can parrots teach each other to talk?
Yes! Once one parrot learns to talk, they can teach others too. Now that they can mimic human speech, it’s one of the ways they will communicate with their family. That family or flock includes the other birds in the house as well as you and your loved ones who reside there.
Do parrots actually know what they’re saying?
That’s debatable, and experts don’t exactly know. Many believe parrots are simply mimicking what they hear without knowing the meaning, while others think the birds have some knowledge about the meaning behind the words. I tend to agree with the latter. When you have a full-blown conversation with an African gray, it becomes clear they know what they’re saying. However, grays have the cognitive abilities of a young child, and not every parrot possesses that capacity.
Experts at the Audubon Society say parrots have a rudimentary idea of what they’re saying and associate words with certain events but don’t understand the complex meanings behind their speech. However, Harvard lecturer and research associate Irene Pepperberg stated birds know what they’re saying if someone trains them properly to understand meaning.
What if you don’t like what they’re saying?
Let’s say your parrot has taught themselves to say something you rather they didn’t — a curse word or the like — and you want them to drop the word from their vocabulary. Can you get them to stop using a particular word or phrase? The answer is: Maybe. The first step is to watch what you say around your parrot. Remember, they use language to communicate with their flock. So, if they hear you using a phrase, even once, your parrot may use those words to try and talk to you or just talk to themselves.
The best advice to stop your parrot from saying certain words is to stop saying them yourself and not react when they use those particular words. By giving those words no attention, that vocabulary should rotate out of your parrot’s chosen phrases.
Which parrots can talk?
The African gray parrot holds the title of the best talker. As mentioned, they can mimic human speech exactly. That physical ability, combined with their high intelligence and excellent memory, make them the best talkers in the avian world. Macaws and Amazon parrots also have a wonderful ability to talk, although they have a more bird-like tone than the African gray.
Other parrots that have the ability to talk include:
- Senegal parrots
All of the birds on this list have at least some capacity to talk but vary in ability and sound. Some can mimic speech well enough for regular understanding by human ears, while others are harder to discern. In any case, they all have the capability to talk.
Yes, parrots can teach themselves to talk and do so by imitating the human speech they hear. Since sound plays a crucial role in avian communication and bonding with their flock, these smart members of the avian family naturally adopt the skill of speech to interact with their human companions and mirror the social behavior they observe.