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



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

  1. "I teach English", or
  2. "I'm a teacher coming from England"?

German Martinez

Posted 2016-08-29T16:10:33.273

Reputation: 479

13If you are from England, and a teacher, it is very unlikely that you would use that formulation to say that. – njzk2 – 2016-08-29T19:49:36.503

5Note 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 – 2016-08-30T00:29:45.817

1As 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 – 2016-08-30T17:57:42.530



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!

Araucaria - Not here any more.

Posted 2016-08-29T16:10:33.273

Reputation: 25 536

13glad you clarified you're a Scot ... with all that Green, I wondered if you were Irish. LOL – Howard Pautz – 2016-08-29T20:55:58.520

I love this answer – KPM – 2016-08-29T23:45:59.047

12You teach Scottish English? Or you're an English teacher from Scotland? :-) – Dawood ibn Kareem – 2016-08-30T00:30:44.597

@DavidWallace Both! (No, not really, only the latter!) – Araucaria - Not here any more. – 2016-08-30T00:32:22.753

2Just as well. It would be a shame to have to say that you're a Scottish Scottish English teacher. – Dawood ibn Kareem – 2016-08-30T00:34:37.350

@DavidWallace He could say that he's a Scottish Scots teacher. Or even a Scot Scots teacher. – StoneyB on hiatus – 2016-08-30T12:40:54.983

Or cheesehead... – AbraCadaver – 2016-08-30T18:56:26.590

3"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 – 2016-08-31T08:58:44.987


Speaking of Scottish English teachers: https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=YHAJ4VFStUE

– David K – 2016-08-31T14:40:23.863

1What if you were a teacher of green houses? – KSFT – 2016-08-31T18:16:21.140

@DavidK That's the best laugh I've had in weeks Thank you :) (That's definitely going to do the rounds at my language school!) – Araucaria - Not here any more. – 2016-08-31T21:17:46.090


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.


  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.


Posted 2016-08-29T16:10:33.273

Reputation: 44 188

13Another 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 – 2016-08-29T19:07:53.520

8Don't forget this handy adjective: British. As in: I'm a British teacher. – G. Ann - SonarSource Team – 2016-08-29T19:46:35.420

3@G.Ann-SonarSourceTeam Possibly a Welsh teacher, then.... – mattdm – 2016-08-29T20:02:50.910

2And etcetera, etcetera, etcetera... ;-) – G. Ann - SonarSource Team – 2016-08-29T20:11:32.843

3Ah 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 – 2016-08-29T21:30:41.243

4@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 – 2016-08-30T00:32:15.433

@ToddWilcox Yes exactly :) So it's kind of an interesting parallel with 'I'm an English teacher'. Where it almost always means 'I teach the subject of English' and, out of context, that would be the assumed meaning. However, there is technically some ambiguity and certainly room for a joke. Also, with American history teacher especially, the difference in sentence stress between 'I'm an American [history teacher]' and 'I'm an [American history teacher]' would, in speech, clear things up quite easily. – Au101 – 2016-08-30T02:11:32.997

1However, it's not too hard to contrive a very natural sentence. Person A: 'American history teachers are rubbish, they only know about the USA and probably wouldn't even know who William the Conqueror was'. Person B: 'Well, actually, I'm an American history teacher and I wrote a book about the Normans'. Anyone for a Christmas cracker joke? Oh those ancient history teachers, they can't even use a computer, let alone an iPad!! – Au101 – 2016-08-30T02:16:01.573

@MrLore, in the UK English language is a compulsory school subject for pupils up to 16 years old. English literature is optional. – Peter Taylor – 2016-08-30T12:01:26.647

But if you say you're an American English history teacher, does this mean you're an American who teaches English history, or does it mean that you teach the history of American English? – Dawood ibn Kareem – 2016-08-30T13:08:49.557


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".


Posted 2016-08-29T16:10:33.273

Reputation: 11

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 – 2017-03-18T19:42:24.233


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").

David Richerby

Posted 2016-08-29T16:10:33.273

Reputation: 7 931

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 - Not here any more. – 2016-08-31T21:15:19.743

Oops and two Japanese teachers too. They weren't teaching Japanese, btw :-) – Araucaria - Not here any more. – 2016-08-31T21:16:06.933