Skip to main content Skip to navigation

Professor Helen Spencer-Oatey

Helen trained as a psychologist and as a linguist, and after a brief period working in business, went overseas to teach English as a foreign language. Her first teaching job was in Hong Kong, and it was there that she first experienced some of the very different ways in which language can be used in different cultures. Her interest in this area grew when, a few years later, she went to work at Shanghai Jiaotong University and was asked to teach a course on language and culture. She started collecting notes of her experiences in China and wrote about them in her first book The Customs and Language of Social Interaction in English, which was aimed at Chinese learners of English.
Returning to England in 1988, she went to Lancaster University to undertake PhD research on Chinese and British conceptions of the postgraduate tutor-student relationship, and then took up a lecturing post at the University of Bedfordshire. While there, she established Britain’s first MA in Intercultural Communication. She also initiated a collaborative research project with the University of International Business and Economics in Beijing on Chinese–British business relationships, and this revealed some fascinating communication issues which stimulated her interest in the field even further. In 2002, she took up the management (on behalf of the UK) of the eChina-UK Programme, and became based at the University of Cambridge. She joined the University of Warwick in 2007, when she became Director of the Centre for Applied Linguistics.
Helen has published extensively in the field of intercultural communication. Her books include Intercultural Interaction: A Multidisciplinary Approach to Intercultural Communication (co-authored with Peter Franklin, Palgrave, 2009), Culturally Speaking: Culture, Communication and Politeness (Continuum, 2000 and 2008), Handbook of Intercultural Communication (co-edited with Helga Kotthoff, Mouton de Gruyter, 2007), and e-Learning Initiatives in China: Pedagogy, Policy and Culture (Hong Kong University Press, 2007). She has also published extensively in a range of journals, including the Journal of Pragmatics, Journal of Intercultural Studies, Multilingua, the Journal of Asian Pacific Communication and the Journal of Cross-Cultural Psychology. She recently took part in the LACE Study which researched the teaching of intercultural skills in schools in a range of European countries (