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The best way to encourage a bird to learn a word is to apply the principles of positive reinforcement. Initially, every time you say the new word to the parrot, give a small treat that he or she only receives during training. Small food items such as an almond sliver, sunflower seed or part of a grape work well, depending on your bird’s preferences. The key is to find what your bird loves most and offer this item only during training, rewarding the bird immediately after he performs the desired task. Initially, offer the bird the treat every time you say the word. When the bird realizes that he will get the treat when you say that word, wait until the bird looks at you after you say the word before giving the reward. Eventually, wait until the bird starts to try to say the word before giving the treat, even if the sound he makes is just part of the word. Once the bird starts to attempt to say the word regularly, wait to give the treat until the attempt approximates what the word actually sounds like. Eventually, the bird will see you holding the treat and may say the word without your prompting just to get the reward.
Just like different people learn at different rates, so do different birds. Some birds are capable of mastering literally hundreds of words over just a few months, while others may only learn a few. In part, the speed with which a bird learns depends on how often you practice with him; however, some birds will just not learn certain sounds no matter how often you try to teach them. Go slow, be patient, set reasonable expectations and start early. While most parrots won’t repeat back what they hear for days to weeks after they start listening, they are still absorbing and processing what you are saying. So, the sooner you start speaking to them, the sooner they’ll likely start talking back to you.
Birds learn through mimicry and you will need to repeat a word and follow it with a treat, over and over, to teach your parrot new vocabulary. However, it’s best not to pack too many repetitions into any one training session. Five or six word repetitions, each followed by a small unique treat, is plenty for most birds a couple of times a day. More than that can be too tiring or frustrating for a parrot, and he may lose interest in training.
Just like people have good days and bad days when it comes to learning, so do birds. Some days, your bird may be too tired or distracted to focus. If your bird seems disinterested at any given time, take a break and try again on another day. Try not to get frustrated. We all have varied moods and so do our parrots. Don’t push too hard.
Some birds will pick up a new word in its entirety right away, while other birds will only get a part of the word at first. Some birds may never say a word as clearly as a human does. The key to training a bird to talk is to consistently reward the parrot immediately after he makes any attempt to say even part of the word initially, and then to raise the bar bit by bit to try to get the bird to say the word completely. Not all parrots can be taught to talk, though. Many will make certain sounds in response to human behaviors, such as attempting to say goodbye every time the door opens if the owner says goodbye each time he or she leaves. However, the bird’s version of “goodbye” may just be squawk or a chirp, rather than the actual word. Language and communication for every bird is different. Be appreciative of your bird’s efforts to please and interact with you even if they are not perfect.
Speaking human words is only one of the many amazing things parrots offer as pets. Some parrots don’t speak well but can be taught to perform incredible tricks, while others aren’t performers, but prefer just to be held and cuddled. Parrots can make phenomenal pets for so many different reasons. If a talking parrot is what you want, adopt the appropriate bird species and be willing to put in the time to teach and train it. But if your parrot prodigy’s efforts end up sounding more like squawks than speech, just remember to still cherish your pet for all the other reasons parrots make great companions.
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