Some things you should know before you begin
Having a bird that can speak can be very cool. It’s often cute to hear them talking to you or other pets. It can be a little daunting at first, but with some basic knowledge, you may have your bird talking in no time.
First off, you need to be sure you have a type of bird that will learn how to mimic words. Not all breeds will learn to talk, make sure yours has the potential before you drive yourself insane trying to train them. It’s also worth noting that every bird has a unique personality. Some birds will start mimicking right away, while others will be stubborn and possibly never learn to speak.
Sometimes it’s good to get them into the hang of mimicking by teaching them to whistle a tune. My current cockatiel learned to wolf whistle first, after that picking up words seemed a lot easier for him. Of course, some birds will take to words faster than songs. Try it out and see if it helps with your bird.
Once you decide to start teaching them words, remember not to overwhelm them. You don’t want to try to teach them a whole slew of words all at one time. Pick a single word, possibly “hello” or the bird’s name, and teach them that first. Say the name or word to them on a regular basis, and try to use it in context if possible. Try to stick to words that are two syllables or less, and words with the long E sound seem to appeal to a lot of birds. However, don’t be surprised if your bird picks up a word you weren’t expecting. I tried teaching Stoli to say hello, but I guess I called him “pretty baby” more often than I said “hello”, because the first thing he learned to say was “pretty baby”.
In addition to not overwhelming the bird with too many words, you also don’t want to spend too much time trying to teach them words. Birds can get quickly bored and frustrated. If you spend hours every day repeating the same word at them, they may refuse just because they find the experience to be a bad one. One of the best ways to get them into speaking is to just go up to their cage off and on throughout the whole day and talk to them, being sure to use the word or phrase that you want them to learn.
Give your bird treats when they start mimicking. Positive reinforcement through treats or extra petting and love will help them understand that it’s something you want them to do more of. Don’t scold them if they don’t get it right in the beginning. If they make sounds that are close, say the proper word or phrase and praise them for trying. The reinforcement will get them to try more often, and pick up new words faster.
On a final note, do be careful what gets said around your bird. It happens more with birds that already know how to speak, but it can happen with any bird: They learn to swear. If a bird hears anything said often enough and with enough enthusiasm, they’ll think it’s something they need to say too. Birds mimic, most of them have no understanding of the meaning, at best they have a vague concept of association, but that’s it. They don’t know that swearing or spouting insults is rude. And once a bird learns to say bad words, you can never get them away from doing it. Your scolding may actually be perceived as encouragement by the bird.
Have fun teaching your bird to speak, and beware of bad influences on their vocabulary. It can be a real joy once your bird can say a few things to you. It starts to feel like they can actually communicate with you, and it can strengthen the bond between you and your pet, as well as just being adorable.