|Alex is an African grey
parrot being studied at the University of Arizona where
Irene Pepperberg is researching smart animals. Alex is
smart in many ways. Although many parrots can
"talk", Alex has proven that he understands
what he is saying. He does not just mimic human speech as
do parrots that repeat phrases such as, "Polly want
This is not the only really interesting thing about Alex. He can also select a shape from a tray as directed. He can also tell what is different between two shapes, for example, "Four corner blue different." This means the shape is a square with a different color - blue. Dr. Pepperberg is currently testing two other birds to prove that Alex is not a "freak", but that all parrots possess this much intelligence.
|Dr. Pepperberg teaches Alex using a
technique called model/rival. Both animals and people can
learn quickly if they can watch someone else learning at
the same time. Dr. Pepperberg will pretend to teach her
assistant a word. For example, she will hold up a key and
ask, "What is this?" The assistant will respond
with, "Key". Then Dr. Pepperberg will hand the
key over to the assistant. Alex will be with them,
watching. This is how he learns.
You can use this same technique to teach your pet parakeet or parrot to talk. Don't sit in front of your bird's cage mechanically repeating, "Pretty, pretty." Instead, get a friend to help you. You hold up an object, a block for example, and say, "What is this?" The friend will respond, "Block". Then you hand the block over to your friend while your bird watches. That way your bird will learn not just the word "block", but its meaning as well.