Issue No. 3 of the new magazine, Taiwanese, I was pleased to see an article about the “hardcore” buxibans I’ve written so much about. Considering that these schools provide far better than average results for their students, pay far better than average salaries to their teachers, and are exploding at a time when the rest of the market is not, it’s about time we see something in the print media about them.

The article is definitely worth a read, but there were a few factual errors in it. While reading it, I had the distinct impression that the author of it had read the piece on HFRBs in my blog and made a few false assumptions, due to the imprecision of my writing. Briefly, the errors are as following:

Where did the phenomenon start? And with whom? Accounts differ, and any factual errors here are my own, but here goes. Many sources point to an American by the name of Michael Roberts, who in the early 80’s started a school called Koubei (Word of Mouth) in Taipei’s trendy Dinghao district. The school was popular and sold to another American David McCall, who renamed the school after his Chinese name- Modawei…

All of my old co-workers at Modawei said that the original David, AKA “Modawei” is Australian. I haven’t met him first-hand, but I would be surprised if the people working at his school were mistaken about his nationality.

Students are drilled intensively on sentence patterns, and expected to memorize large amounts of vocabulary. Quizzes and spelling tests are a regular feature of these classes, and pronunciation is emphasized to a degree not usually found in other language schools.

Students are drilled intensively on sentence patterns, however they aren’t expected to memorize as much vocabulary, especially at the lower levels, as students at “big chains“. Spelling tests are also extremely infrequent at most HFRBs. Some don’t have any. Joy, Sesame Street, and Hess, on the other hand, have spelling tests every unit, administered by the “Chinese teacher”.

I wonder if the writer here was mislead by what I’ve written about the oral spelling drills, at First Step. As far as I know, First Step is the only school to use them and they aren’t what most people would think of as “spelling tests”. The spelling drills at First Step focus on phonics patterns instead of memorized vocabulary items; the words in them are words the students haven’t studied.

As a business model, the HFRB is an undisputed success. Tuition at most HFRBs is over NT$50,000 a year for two-hour classes held twice a week and classes can accommodate as many as 30 students and still remain effective within the system.

As I understand it, Modawei, Cortland, Tomcat, Easy, and First Step each charge the same rate- $20,000 NT per semester, which is $40,000 NT per year. Most schools also have discounts for families with more than one child in a school.

I wrote these corrections because I may, through my vaguely written posts about HFRBs, be partially responsible for them. Besides, who else has worked at four different hardcore buxibans and has good friends who have worked at two others? If I didn’t point out these things, odds are that nobody else would, either. Minor issues aside, the article in Taiwanease magazine was a good one and I hope to see more like it.