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What is understood if I say "I'm an English teacher"?

  1. "I teach English", or
  2. "I'm a teacher coming from England"?
  • 13
    If you are from England, and a teacher, it is very unlikely that you would use that formulation to say that. – njzk2 Aug 29 '16 at 19:49
  • 3
  • 5
    Note that "I am a(n) X teacher" is a common phrase, such as "I am a math teacher" or "I am a science teacher" or "I am a history teacher" and there is no possible confusion in any of those examples. – Todd Wilcox Aug 30 '16 at 0:29
  • 1
    As an American, I could see a Brit having some fun saying that to Americans...almost like it's a joke. ("What do you do sir?", "I'm an English teacher.", "Yes, but what do you teach?", "I told you, I'm an English teacher", "Yes, but what do you teach?" ...and repeat ad nauseam). But as others have said, without knowing any inflection, people would likely understand that as "I teach English". – BruceWayne Aug 30 '16 at 17:57
64

In writing this depends on the situation, but you are very likely to be understood as meaning that you are a teacher of English.

However, in actual speech it depends entirely on the stress used in the sentence. A teacher of English is referred to as an:

  • 'English teacher

Here these two words form a compound noun and are stressed just on the first syllable of the compound.

However, a teacher from England (who might teach anything at all) will be referred to as:

  • an 'English 'Teacher

Here we see an adjective noun combination. Each word will have its own stress in a normal pronunciation. Because teacher will probably be the last word in the utterance, the first syllable, teach, in the second word will have a higher pitch and seem more prominent than the stressed syllable Eng in the adjective English.

We see this pattern in other compound nouns and adjective plus noun combinations. For example, this is a 'greenhouse:

enter image description here

But this is a 'green 'house enter image description here

I myself am a 'Scottish 'English teacher!

  • 13
    glad you clarified you're a Scot ... with all that Green, I wondered if you were Irish. LOL – Howard Pautz Aug 29 '16 at 20:55
  • 12
    You teach Scottish English? Or you're an English teacher from Scotland? :-) – Dawood says reinstate Monica Aug 30 '16 at 0:30
  • 2
    Just as well. It would be a shame to have to say that you're a Scottish Scottish English teacher. – Dawood says reinstate Monica Aug 30 '16 at 0:34
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    "However, in actual speech it depends entirely on the stress used in the sentence." In actual speech, the stress pattern for "teacher of English" is used almost exclusively. Anybody who wants to say "teacher from England" would say that (or "British teacher", depending on context). I can't think of any context, other than jokes along the lines of "Mr Smith is the English teacher but he teaches French!" in which somebody would naturally say "English teacher" to mean "teacher from England." It's just too open to ambiguity and misunderstanding. – David Richerby Aug 31 '16 at 8:58
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    Speaking of Scottish English teachers: youtube.com/watch?v=YHAJ4VFStUE – David K Aug 31 '16 at 14:40
32

English teacher will widely be understood by native speakers to mean a teacher who teaches English. This is because English is a well-known umbrella term for the subjects taught in English class regarding the English language, like grammar and composition.

English

  1. English language, composition, and literature as offered as a course of study in school.

This is opposed to, for example,

I'm an American teacher.

There generally isn't a class called American or American class. So American teacher does not suggest "a teacher who teaches American".

To convey "I'm a teacher coming from England", you could say that. Or you could say, for example,

I am a teacher from England.

  • 13
    Another point worth mentioning is that in countries where English is the primary language, "English Teacher" may specifically mean "English Literature Teacher" as beyond junior school you're expected the know the language. – MrLore Aug 29 '16 at 19:07
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    Don't forget this handy adjective: British. As in: I'm a British teacher. – G. Ann - SonarSource Team Aug 29 '16 at 19:46
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    @G.Ann-SonarSourceTeam Possibly a Welsh teacher, then.... – mattdm Aug 29 '16 at 20:02
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    Ah but if you said, 'I'm an American history teacher' it would not be clear if you were an American who taught history, or a teacher of American history who may or may not be American :P Not that it matters, of course, your example is perfectly clear, just an (I hope) interesting observation – Au101 Aug 29 '16 at 21:30
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    @Au101 As a native speaker, if someone said "I am an American History teacher" I would always assume they teach the subject called "American History" and I would never assume they are trying to say they are from the USA. A native speaker trying to convey the latter would likely say "I'm an American and I teach history" or "I teach history and I'm from the US" or something like that. – Todd Wilcox Aug 30 '16 at 0:32
1

In a normal context, if you said simply that you were a teacher, the usual response would be, "What do you teach?", not "Where are you from?". So it seems to me that unless the conversation is truly about what you do AND where you're from, no one would infer upon hearing you say "I'm an English teacher" that you were a physics teacher, or music teacher, from England. If you really mean to say that you're a teacher from this or that country, you'd probably be misunderstood as a teacher of that country's language wherever the name of the language is the same as the term for a native: "I'm a Russian/Spanish/German/Chinese/French/Norwegian teacher". On the other hand, you'd be ok if you said "I'm an Austrian/Bolivian/Ethiopian/Australian teacher".

  • A teacher from England would have a British accent, so the students would immediately know where they were from, and a meaning of country of origin would provide no supplemental information. – fixer1234 Mar 18 '17 at 19:42
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I can't actually think of any situation, outside of a joke, in which the phrase "English teacher" would mean anything other than "teacher of English." Unless you were making a witty play on words (e.g., you're in Scotland and you say, "Mr Smith is the English teacher but he teaches French!"), it will always mean "teacher of English". If you wanted to say the other thing, you'd say "teacher from England" or "British teacher" if it wasn't so important that they were from specifically England (e.g., if you're in an American school, you might just say "There's only one British teacher").

  • At the phonetics course that I was teaching on at UCL this summer we had one Polish, one American, one French, one Canadian and seven or eight English teachers. They were teaching phonetics, not English. – Araucaria Aug 31 '16 at 21:15
  • Oops and two Japanese teachers too. They weren't teaching Japanese, btw :-) – Araucaria Aug 31 '16 at 21:16

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