Betty Lanteigne is an Associate Professor in Linguistics and has been a part of the LCC International University community for three years now. Dr. Lanteigne serves as Chair of the Institutional Review Board, teaches linguistics courses at LCC, and supervises undergraduate and Master students’ theses. Having an extensive background in teaching English in the Middle East, she shared her insights on the experience she has gained over the years and discussed her journey to publishing a book.
Can you briefly tell me about yourself?
I've been teaching at LCC International University for three years now. At first, I taught academic writing courses, later second language acquisition and language testing, research methods, and material development in the MA TESOL program, supervising undergraduate and Master’s thesis. I focus on language assessment literacy, sociolinguistics, in particular looking at socially appropriate language use in language assessment, basing language testing on what people actually do with language in real interaction.
What did your life look like before coming to Lithuania?
Prior to LCC, I was in the linguistics field too, teaching both undergraduate and master's level students and supervising theses. I also taught in the Middle East from 1998 through 2018. I first went to Palestine for a couple of years and taught at Hebron University. Later I had an opportunity to teach in Bethlehem. It was a great experience, there was so much biblical history. I was interested to get to know Middle Eastern culture and familiarize myself with the situation in Palestine, which is crucial to understanding the Middle East in general. I do acknowledge that there is not a country as internationally recognized as Palestine, but I am speaking in terms of a cultural, social region, where you have Palestinian Arabs - Muslim and Christian – living in this particular location.
After spending two years in Palestine, I accepted a position with the US State Department in Qatar, and that is when I decided to pursue my Ph.D. in linguistics at the Indiana University of Pennsylvania, doing my dissertation research in Qatar, which was truly a challenging and interesting experience.
You taught in the Middle East for 25 years. What attracted you to this location?
What made me interested in the Middle East in the first place was researching written language acquisition. I was fascinated by the challenge of learning a language when the writing system of the first language is different from the writing system of the second. Languages like Chinese, Russian, Arabic, Hebrew, or many other languages such as Greek, have writing systems very different from the English writing system. I decided if I focused on a language group, I wanted to go somewhere where the language was widely spoken (not an obscure language), and that is how I ended up in the Middle East. Arabic has a writing system very different from English, and it is widely spoken in many countries around the world.
How and why did you find yourself in linguistics?
When I was in high school, I had two major interests: music (I played viola) and language. In my family, we frequently had international exchange students staying with us, so awareness of language and culture was a very special part of my growing up. I was pursuing my Bachelor’s degree in Music, but my professional music career ended after I sustained a neck and back injury from a car accident. I decided that if I was going to get another degree, I wanted it to be in something that would take me overseas. I wanted to go to different countries and pray for those countries, in those countries. I also liked studying in general, the university context and interaction, and it made perfect sense to pursue a career in linguistics.
What is your main focus/key areas of expertise in the linguistics field?
I started off with a MA TESOL degree (Curriculum and Instruction) and was teaching the English language mostly to adult immigrants in the USA. Soon I realized, though, that I was drawn to academics and I enjoyed research, so I pursued sociolinguistics and language assessment literacy. I combined these two areas: language assessment literacy (training teachers in language testing) and sociolinguistics that looks at language use in social contexts. It is fascinating to me how languages are used, what language is used for what communicative purpose, which is very important in language testing. Language assessment is not only about measuring how good someone’s grammar is, but how effective they are at social communication in a specific context.
What is your story of becoming a part of LCC?
The first time I heard about LCC International University was back in 2017. I was in the United Arab Emirates at the time, and one of my colleagues has been teaching at LCC. I am a Christian, and my personal faith is very important to me, and knowing that LCC has high ethical standards and values drew me to come to LCC.
How long have you been here in Lithuania? What do you like most about your life here?
I have been in Lithuania since 2018. When I first arrived, one of the things that I enjoyed the most was the opportunity to enjoy classical music here. In the pre-covid world, I used to go quite often to many concerts in Klaipeda and enjoy the live performances of classical music here. I have enjoyed the different kinds of festivals, and the gorgeous Baltic Sea. I love the fact that you can simply walk around in the city or into the woods. Where I was before, it was too hot to be outside, and the infrastructure was not set up for pedestrians to just wander about.
What are your responsibilities and day-to-day tasks here at LCC?
Right now I am teaching a Linguistics course for English majors. The main focus of the course is about how vocabulary in English has developed from the mid-5th century to the present time. I am also supervising three Bachelor’s students in their senior theses, and three Master’s students. My responsibility at LCC also consists of teaching a research methods course in the MA TESOL program, and I serve as the Chair of the Institutional Review Board. In addition, I focus on research and publication about aspects of language use, language teaching, and language testing.
You are the lead editor of a recently published book Challenges in Language Testing Around the World: Insights for Language Test Users, along with two others - Christine Coombe and James Dean Brown. Can you tell me more about this experience? How did the idea of becoming a part of this occur?
I was teaching language testing to English teachers who were experienced teachers but did not have much expertise in language testing. In the course of class discussions, I was informed of many problems, mistakes, and even deliberate misuses of language tests that the teachers had observed. One such misuse was about the TOEFL scores of students in an Intensive English Program, who were primarily preparing for university studies and had to achieve the required score on the TOEFL test. These students were attempting the TOEFL very frequently, sometimes twice weekly, and as often as 22 times (which was in violation of TOEFL policy). But their scores were dropping drastically, sometimes by 80 points within a week. It is impossible for someone's language ability to decrease that much in a week, in a year maybe if they have no exposure to the language.
I started investigating the situations with these TOEFL scores, tracked the test results over a period of three years, and analyzed score change and time interval. With the help of Hana Sulieman, an applied statistician, I found that there were significant correlations between time interval and score decrease, and I decided to research this further. From this investigation into the TOEFL misuse and hearing about many problematic practices in language testing, I became interested in this idea of the challenges in language testing all over the world: mistakes, mishaps, misuses, problems, pitfalls, and opportunities. This research about TOEFL repetition turned into a chapter in Challenges in Language Testing Around the World.
How did you join forces together to publish this book?
In the Spring of 2018, I was talking to a representative from Springer, a highly reputable scientific publishing house, and they liked the idea. Later, I contacted Christine Coombe about collaboration on this publication. Christine is very active in language assessment literacy and works with teacher training and language testing all over the world. We also wanted to collaborate with someone who had a very strong background in language testing statistics, and we invited James Dean Brown to join the team, who is very well-known and respected in the language testing world. Combining all our areas of expertise, we complemented each other and worked very well together.
What is the focus of this book?
The book consists of five sections that have thirty-five chapters written by people from almost all continents in the world. The first section is about problems in test interpretation, negative effects, and test misuse. The book also includes sections about explorations of tests of languages that are not English, English language tests that are related to programs (like placement tests or summative tests for universities), tests of language skills (writing, reading, speaking listening), and lastly, there are chapters that deal with language assessment literacy.
We put together a proposal for the book, including the main focus of the book, and the issues we wanted to discuss and we sent it to language testing organizations all over the world. All three of us wanted worldwide input for this book. In the beginning, we made the decision that we did not want English language ability limitations to prevent the communication of good ideas, and so we decided to work with authors whose chapters contained valuable insights, despite challenges with English. We accepted such chapters and worked with the authors to get their English to the highest academic level.
What challenges did you face in the process of producing this book?
The biggest challenge was working with authors who needed help with their English. I needed to make sure I was helping them communicate their ideas, and not what I thought they were saying. Sometimes as a teacher, you tell your students to change their ideas to meet assignment requirements, and that was never my intention with this volume. I wanted to make sure that with the book chapters, we were enhancing the authors’ intended ideas, and not changing them. They had valuable insights to offer, and we wanted their voices to be heard.
What are your plans for the future?
I am planning on going back to the United States to be with my family. I have great-nieces and nephews that know me only as an exotic aunt that shows up every once in a while (laughs), and I would like for that to change. But as for my professional path, the current plan is to teach a Master's course online and supervise undergraduate and Master's thesis students for LCC.