Home » Do Parrots Understand Human Language? [Words + Speech]
do parrots understand what we say?

Do Parrots Understand Human Language? [Words + Speech]

(Last Updated On: January 26, 2023)

Parrots are among the few birds that can learn and mimic human language.

Parrots don’t understand the meaning of human words. However, if owners regularly talk to and interact with parrots, they’ll gain a contextual understanding.

Parrots have advanced mimicking abilities so they can vocalize words and phrases.

Communication is vital for wild flock parrots, so captive birds vocalize and talk to their owners because they see them as part of their flock.

While we want to believe that parrots understand what we say, how much of our language they can decipher is the subject of much debate in avian communities.

Do Parrots Understand What We Say?

It’s unlikely that parrots can understand human words, but they may recognize the context.

For example, if an owner says, “Hello,” as they walk into a room, the parrot will likely say it back because it recognizes that they make this sound when entering a room.

However, there’s no context behind the word, and parrots don’t know what “Hello” means.

Similarly, when an appliance, such as a microwave or oven, beeps, humans rush to it. Therefore, parrots treat the beeping sound the same as a human word.

The “beep” has no contextual meaning, but parrots understand that the sound gets attention.

So, it’s up to owners to spend time nurturing their parrot’s talking ability by engaging in conversation. That way, parrots gain a contextual understanding of the sounds that owners regularly use.

Do Parrots Understand English?

Parrots aren’t advanced enough to distinguish between languages. They learn the languages of their owners, but they don’t understand what the words and phrases mean.

While it might sound like parrots understand English, they’re making similar-sounding words.

Our brains fill in the blanks, fooling us into thinking that a parrot has said a word when it’s made a gibberish sound. Parrots have advanced mimicry skills that sound authentic.

can parrots hold a conversation?

Can Parrots Hold A Conversation?

Parrots can hold conversations in a loose sense. While they don’t understand what they’re saying, they can vocalize enough words and phrases for us to converse with them.

Wild parrots hold conversations with their flock by creating unique songs so that they can recognize each other. They also learn languages in a similar way to humans.

Therefore, making human sounds allows parrots to communicate with you. By returning human sounds to your parrot, you accept that you’re a part of its flock.

How Do Parrots Vocalize Human Speech?

Parrots are vocal learners, grasping sounds by imitating them. Parrots’ brains are unique in that they have a song system within a song system.

The core song system is the same as songbirds and hummingbirds, but the shell is exclusive to parrots. While researchers don’t know how it works, they believe it’s key to their expert mimicking abilities.

Parrots learn human words because they’re ingrained to fit in. Parrots vocalize essential information with their flock using sounds to fit in. Joining a flock provides protection from predators and allows parrots to forage for food together, giving them a better chance of survival.

As a result, pet parrots imitate human sounds because they see owners as their flock. That means they integrate into it by mimicking words and phrases. 

Parrots make sounds by modifying the air that flows over the syrinx. This is a fluid-filled cavity within the spinal cord or brain stem. The syrinx is the vocal organ of birds, located at the base of the trachea.

Parrots use their tongue to create vibrations that pass through the syrinx, reproducing the sounds they hear to make a sound. Because parrots don’t have vocal cords, they don’t “talk” as such, but they mimic human speech sounds.

How Do Parrots Remember Words?

Scientists believe that parrots have memories that are just as good as ours.

They have brain areas that work similarly to the human cortex because they have high neuron densities and advanced cognitive functions, which means that parrots have excellent memories.

It’s also been found that parrots can remember situations, people, and other parrots. Therefore, parrots use their advanced memories to learn and distinguish words and phrases.

Do Parrots Understand What They’re Saying?

Many owners believe that their pet parrots respond to what they say with comprehension, especially when they specifically respond to a question they’ve been asked. Parrots are intelligent creatures, and there are many instances where they seem to understand the words they’re saying.

The Journal of Comparative Psychology examined Cosmo, a pet Congo African grey parrot, to see how her speech and non-word sounds changed with social context. Researchers wanted to determine whether the parrot responded using the correct answers to its owner’s questions.

After various tests, they found that many vocalizations were specific to the context. During the study, the parrot’s repertoire consisted of 278 different units ranging from 1-8 words. Some vocalizations were non-word sounds, and 219 of the units used were English speech units. Phrases included:

  • “Cosmo, go up.”
  • “Cosmo wanna go up.”
  • “Okay, go up.”
  • “Wanna go up.”

Cosmo uttered some phrases with their correct grammar structure, such as, “We’re gonna go for a walk.” Similarly, whenever Cosmo’s owner wasn’t in the room, she would say things like, “I’m here” and “Where are you?” These phrases suggest that Cosmo grasped the concept behind the things she said.

As a result, other parrots may also be able to understand the context of what they’re saying. However, in most cases, parrots may associate some words with their context but not complex meanings. Because they’re attuned to the context in which we use phrases, parrots fool people with what they say.

For example, if a parrot were to say, “How are you?” every time its owner walks into the room, it’s just mimicking something said by its owner.

Do Parrots Know Their Names?

The first thing most owners do when acquiring a bird is to give their parrot a name.

Parrots are unlikely to understand their name without training. However, you can teach parrots to recognize it using the tips below:

  1. Allow your parrot time to adjust to its surroundings so that it feels comfortable and secure.
  2. Work on forming a strong bond with your parrot, handling it, and practicing socialization techniques.
  3. Find a quiet spot to start training your parrot.
  4. Have some treats to hand and say your parrot’s name a few times, rewarding it with food.
  5. Repeat this process frequently for 15-20 minutes. Attempt it several times daily.
  6. Eventually, your parrot will expect a treat every time you say its name. After a few weeks, reduce the number of treats you feed until your bird responds to your name without reinforcement.

Once you have a name, stick to it so that your parrot doesn’t become confused.

Not only can parrots learn their name, but it seems as if wild birds name their babies. As described by The Royal Society Publishing, a team of researchers put video cameras and sound recorders inside and outside several nests containing newly-hatched green-rumped parrots.

After listening to their vocalizations, the team found that the chicks used specific peeps to identify themselves from other birds. They also learned the peeping names of their family in conversation.

A possible explanation is that parent parrots name their chicks, giving them a unique identifier. As a result, parrots may understand the names given to them by their human caregivers.

do parrots understand what they're saying?

What Are The Best Talking Parrots?

Some parrots never talk, while others have an impressive repertoire of human words and phrases. With training, here are some funny things parrots can say.

If you’re looking for a pet parrot with good mimicking abilities, consider the following species:

African Grey Parrots

African grey parrots are the parrot family’s best vocalizers and are famous for their talking abilities. Applied Animal Behavior Science said that African greys speak English like young children. 

Many owners claim their birds can speak in context and learn vocalizations after hearing them once or twice, likely due to their advanced cognitive and memory abilities.

Not only can they vocalize phrases and commands, but they can recite numbers. They usually develop their mimicking abilities at around the age of one.

Amazon Parrots

Amazon parrots are advanced talkers that can learn 100 to 120 words.

They also learn different dialects. When they swap regions after migration, they pick up the local twang. Some owners claim their speech is clearer than African grey parrots.

In particular, yellow-naped Amazon parrots are among the most accomplished singers of human songs and the best chatterers of all Amazon parrots.

Budgerigars

Budgies can learn a wide variety of words and phrases. However, the sounds budgies make are relatively low and gravelly and can be difficult to understand. That said, budgies are social, interactive birds that enjoy practicing new words and phrases with their owners.

Puck, the budgie, holds the Guinness world record for holding the most extensive vocabulary out of all birds and was acknowledged as having a repertoire of 1,728 words.

Even if your parrot doesn’t understand what you’re saying, regularly interacting with them through speech is a great way to bond. By doing this, your parrot will consider you part of its flock.