Crystal studied English at University College London between 1959 and 1962, and was a researcher under Randolph Quirk between 1962 and 1963, working on the Survey of English Usage.Since then he has lectured at Bangor University and the University of Reading and is an honorary professor of linguistics at Bangor.Retired from full-time academia, he works as a writer, editor and consultant, and contributes to television and radio broadcasts. His association with the BBC ranges from, formerly, a BBC Radio 4 series on language issues to, more recently, podcasts on the BBC World Service website for people learning English.
Crystal was awarded the OBE in 1995 and became a Fellow of the British Academy in 2000.He is also a Founding Fellow of the Learned Society of Wales and is a Fellow of the Chartered Institute of Linguists. His many academic interests include English language learning and teaching, clinical linguistics, forensic linguistics, language death, "ludic linguistics" (Crystal's neologism for the study of language play),style, English genre, Shakespeare, indexing, and lexicography. He is the Patron of the International Association of Teachers of English as a Foreign Language (IATEFL, honorary vice-president of the Society for Editors and Proofreaders (SfEP), and Patron of the UK National Literacy Association. He is a consultant for Babel - The Language Magazine, for which he has also written articles.