SOAS University of London

About SOAS

John Okell OBE

John Okell

John Okell OBE was born in Brighton in 1934 and educated at The Queen’s College, Oxford, where he graduated with a degree in Literae Humaniores.

In 1959 he joined SOAS as a trainee lecturer. He attended courses in linguistics and phonetics and was taught Burmese by Dr Hla Pe and Anna Allott. After his first visit to Burma on study leave in 1960-61 he was appointed Lecturer and then Senior Lecturer in Burmese. During his SOAS career he taught undergraduates and postgraduates, intensive courses for the Foreign and Commonwealth Office (FCO), the British Council and other organizations, and taught several times at the South East Asia Summer Institute at universities in the USA.

He retired from SOAS in 1999 and since then has taught short intensive courses annually in Burma and Thailand. He also continues to contribute to teaching for SOAS and the FCO.

He collaborated with Dr Hla Pe and Anna Allott on a major Burmese-English dictionary project, and has published articles on Burmese grammar, literature, music and dialects. His main contribution has been in the field of language teaching, as the author of three language courses and two reference works on Burmese grammar.

Among other activities, he has worked as advisor on romanization for the Library of Congress, as language supervisor for the Burmese language programme of the BBC, and as evaluator for the Burmese language programmes of Voice of America and Radio Free Asia. He designed one of the earliest computer fonts for Burmese script and has been Chairman of the Britain-Burma Society since 1988.

He was awarded the Tuttle Grand Prize for one of his language courses, and was made an OBE in The Queen’s Birthday Honours, June 2014, for “services to UK/Burma relations”.

John continued to teach and develop Burmese language teaching materials during his retirement up until he passed away on 2 August 2020.