The nitty-gritty of how buxibans work

A bunch of questions here about things I’m not as well-versed on as I would like to be. I’ve done a lot of work in High Schools and adult buxibans, but know very little about the sort of places that most foreign teachers work in - the ones with young kids. I’m intrigued to know more about the logistics and finances of the most common types of buxiban as they seem to be a completely different kind of animal to what I’m familiar with.

For instance, if someone says “I have 100 students,” does that mean 100 students in one room 25 hours a week? Or 20 classes of 5 students each coming in once a week for an hour? (OK, stupid extremes, but I don’t know what the normal deal is.)

First, I only have vague ideas about what is actually taught in these classes and when. What time of day do the kids attend these places, for how long, how many times a week? Are the kids of any particular age-group likely to be at a particular level, or do they come into these schools at any age?

And how does Anqinban work?

Do students typically go into more than one program?

How does the enrolment work? Monthly? By semester? Annually? By the number of hours of classes they will take in a given time period? What happens with regard to typhoons, unexpected government decisions about holidays and make-up days, etc.?

How much is the tuition? And what do they get for that? Does it vary a great deal by location? How many hours in class, what other goodies? What other expectations do the customers have?

How many admin staff (per X students) are required for an operation that is ticking over smoothly?

How frequently do students change schools? Conversely, how hard is it to lure students away from another school?

FWIW, adults can be a nightmare.

The worst are what I call ‘buffet English’ schools, which operate much like California Fitness. The students pay a fee for a period of months, up to a couple of years, and can go to an agreed number of classes per week (up to unlimited). The students may be signed up at any time and are free to change classes so they wander in and out, making it impossible to teach any kind of structured course. The period, number of classes, and the fee are down to the skill of the sales person, who account for a big %age of the schools’ costs. Basically these places are sales/marketing organisations and English is just a product. The sales staff may outnumber the teachers and promote the teacher, rather than the syllabus. (Any bog-standard text book which the teacher may not even use)

Students often have a very passive attitude to learning. As the fees may work out at less than NT$100/hr, invariably paid by the parents, and the students are generally taking the classes because they didn’t do well at English in high school, commitment levels are often low and teachers have to work hard to motivate them. Drop-out rates are high, which is fortunate as there wouldn’t be room for all the students in the classes if everyone was to turn up and the schools would go bankrupt.

Then there are ‘focused’ classes, usually pitched at improving a specific skill or preparing for a test, which run for a fixed period and students should start at the beginning. General classes cost in the NT$2-250/hr range the last time I checked, while more specialised stuff (IELTS/TOEFL) is often charged at NT$3-350/hr or more. These numbers are for smallish classes, 10-15 students, but some schools offer much larger lecture-style products which are often taught at least partly in Chinese. I don’t know how much students pay for these, but the teachers are often given the ‘star’ treatment and teach from their own books which the students have to buy. I know people who lecture to groups of up to 100 students at a time, and have heard stories of ‘famous’ teachers holding weekend seminars with many times that number of students and a host of assistant teachers.

Approximately 30,000 Taiwanese go to study overseas annually, mostly at post-grad level. (1/3 UK, 1/3 USA, 1/3 others) Typically they need to pass IELTS or TOEFL first. The ‘season’ for these classes largely corresponds to the university application cycle although there’s a surge during the summer. Interestingly, a lot of students (especially on Nan Yang Jie) seem to believe that repeatedly taking mock tests, and ‘learning the answers’ is the best way to proceed and some schools do very well by catering to this. Others try to actually teach useful skills and improve their students’ English, which often means telling students things they don’t want to hear. (eg Your English isn’t good enough yet. Try our basic course, which we have renamed “advanced vocabulary refresher for really smart students who have almost mastered the past simple tense after only ten years of study!”) Schools can make additional money by assisting students with university applications.

Some schools offer combination deals, such as enrolment in a specific test-prep class for X hrs/wk plus access to other more general classes over the same time period. (If someone is doing twelve hours a week of IELTS prep and working full-time at a job you can give them unlimited access to conversation classes secure in the knowledge that they won’t be showing up very often.)

Adult ed takes place mostly in the evenings and schools typically schedule classes to start at 6:30 or 7pm and finish at 9:30 or 10pm. Daytime classes are possible, but rare, so three hours a day is all the use you can expect to get out of your classrooms. Saturday classes might run from 10am (students are unlikely to get up earlier) until as late as 6, and some students do literally spend 6-8 hrs in classes in the belief that it does some good, especially for exam prep. Sundays are sparsely attended, and the majority of students will be there for exam prep. Some schools keep Sunday as their mock-testing day, partly to minimise the need for teachers!

May-June and the period before CNY are the quietest times, and it picks up again after CNY and in the summer. These schools run a lot of extra daytime classes for university students during the summer and winter breaks. Some students do go to classes all day every day during the summer and it’s an important time for the schools, especially as they hope to sell students longer-time packages.

And finally, I have asked this before but nobody ever answered:

When confronted with a Taiwanese person who knows what he/she wants, how do you reason with him/her to sell them the course that will actually help them? (Please bear in mind that they apparently know much more about how English should be taught, and are far better qualified to judge what their level is and what they should be aiming for, than any mere teacher with years of experience.)

My guess is that you don’t sell them anything. You pitch your marketing to attract the people who are already predisposed to buy something from you instead, but I’d love to hear differently. :slight_smile:

If a buxiban has 100 students it could mean that there are 8 to 10 classes of 10 to 15 students each. They probably come in twice a week for a 2hr session.

“When confronted with a Taiwanese person who knows what he/she wants, how do you reason with him/her to sell them the course that will actually help them?”

My only marketing strategy is to only promise what I can deliver, and say “no” to everything else.

I run a kid’s school, and I enjoy dealing with difficult parents. When I interview a new student, I assess what skills he can demonstrate to have, and place him in a class accordingly. I don’t give a hoot as to how much he has already learned, or what the parent says he can do.

We have a fairly strict “No BS” policy, and will explain to parents what their child’s strengths and weaknesses appear to be and what class options we can offer. If the parents can accept it, great! If they start to argue, we simply tell them they are under no obligation to have their child study at our school, and they are welcome to check other schools out.

It usually freaks them out, as they are definitely not used to a buxiban telling them to take it or leave it. We almost always get the student, too.

We use the “take it or leave it” strategy with our existing parents too…the ones who need to come in every couple of months with a new list of complaints. Once they realize that we aren’t going to budge they usually settle down. Every once in a while we can win them over and make them trust us, too.

I actually appreciate the loudmouth parents who get offended by our policies and pull their kid out. They will complain loudly to their friends and colleagues about how we said their kid was having problems. The only thing those friends and colleagues will remember is that we had the courage to stand up and speak the truth. The end result is that we almost always sign up new students!

Hey, thanks for that!

It’s a pity adults don’t see it that way when you talk to them about their own needs.

[quote=“Loretta”]When confronted with a Taiwanese person who knows what he/she wants, how do you reason with him/her to sell them the course that will actually help them? (Please bear in mind that they apparently know much more about how English should be taught, and are far better qualified to judge what their level is and what they should be aiming for, than any mere teacher with years of experience.)

My guess is that you don’t sell them anything. You pitch your marketing to attract the people who are already predisposed to buy something from you instead, but I’d love to hear differently. :slight_smile:[/quote]
I try to get Junior’s parents in the room with them when I do the level assessment. Then I don’t have to put up with any crap like “But he’s been in an American anqinban for 5 years!” And, like Dangerous Apple said, we say no quite often. Parents want Junior to go into X Class, because of scheduling concerns, when Junior’s not ready for anything past Y Class. We just say “no” and express dismay that the scheduling didn’t work out. We’re willing to be a little flexible, but not if it’s going to affect the student’s ability to do well in class, as that affects our reputation. If a parent is really giving us a hard time, my wife uses me as the reason. “I’d love to put your kid in the advanced class, but I’m afraid my husband is adamant that he’s not ready. If you like you can talk to him about it.” Parents rarely want to get into a conversation with a foreigner, even if it’s in Chinese. That works to my advantage, sometimes. :sunglasses:

Can I reply this quesiton in a customer’s viewpoints?

Er,Is it the differece between city and little county?
The county where I live there are no many foreign teachers.
Or there is one and he/she teaches all classes in turn.
The buxibans accept students but dont do the level assessment much.
Parents dont really have arguement about this .
Only they can do is follow the buxiban’s policy.
Thats the situation we are in.

I would imagine there is a huge difference between buxibans in the big cities and those in the small towns.

Successful sales requires you to understand the customer, so yes please. That’s the basic problem. I don’t understand how people can be so pg-headed stubbornly stupid.

I just lost my temper via PM with the OP of [url= thread[/url]. She staretd out with a very reasonable complaint about her teacher and asked for advice in dealing with it. Opinons varied, but the result was that she was looking for another teacher on taiwanted.

Good for her.

Except that she’s not just ‘studying English’, she has specific needs relating to the IELTS test.

She has decided, apparently without consulting any qualified person, what she needs to do. In this case it’s to write a bunch of compositions and have some guy correct her spelling of ‘use’. :unamused:

At this level she needs to learn how to plan an essay and make better use of her time so that she can proofread for herself under exam conditions. She needs skilled guidance and controlled practise at skills other than the ones she is focusing on. And she needs to pay attention to the basics for herself instead of relying on a teacher to tell her what’s right. But she doesn’t want to listen and isn’t prepared to pay for quality.

This is typical of this type of student. How do you, for their own good, make them reason about the important things?

I would like to reply this question from a customer’s viewpoints.
I attended various buxibans and had a tutor for learning English in the past few years; I think my past experiences could represent some Taiwanese students here in Taipei.

  1. My Buxiban Era: Much Ado about Brand Name

I decided to improve my English ability when I was about 24, kind of late. At that time I didn’t have clear ideas about what I really needed or wanted when I looked for suitable buxibans. The first information I counted on was the available brand names that came into my mind directly.

Because of bombarded advertisements, I had some candidates in my mind. I asked some friends’ suggestions to build up comparison basis, and then I started a tour to check every candidate.
When visiting buxibans for course details, I never had discussion with foreign teachers. The front line of those buxibans that dealt with customers was sweet ladies.

I had some criteria in my mind when I was enthralled with those beauties’ customer persuasion.
The first few things I am concerned with is ‘tuition fee’, ‘class hours’ and 'student number in a class.’
Before I start checking buxibans I already have some ideas about tuition fee. If the tuition fee and class hours are way too unreasonable I won’t register in its courses. If tuition fee is higher but acceptable, then I will try to get more information, taking other factors into account.

The second thing I wanted to know was teaching material that I would use. I wanted to make sure if the material matched my level.
The third question I asked was English teachers’ teaching style and strategies. When we came to this question, those beauties would give me a tour to show how their classes. Those poor teachers and students liked monkeys in zoo for observation.
The last question I asked was student number. I personally don’t like big-scale classes, if the student number in a class is more than 15, I won’t consider it.

I attended one course of a buxiban and I found out that I didn’t like it even though I had done the abovementioned works. I dropped out. I went to another buxiban. It turned out to be another mistake. I didn’t like it so I dropped out again. It was a process of try and error. I realized I didn’t have many choices because, basically, how different buxibans work are the same.

The most important thing here is about how customer doesn’t like it. There were few reasons why I didn’t like those courses.
Most adults here who want to learn English work during daytime so they want to learn English in a leisure way. They like to sit there and listen to teachers’ blah blah blah and don’t prepare in advance. So buxibans offer some ‘fun-games’ courses to their customers for practicing English instead of giving students’ pressure. That drives me nuts.

I wanted to practice my English speaking ability so I wanted my teacher shut up unless I needed correction. I was willing to learn from my peer but most English courses I attended were dead-silence. In classrooms, only those poor English teachers tried hard to entertain students. In a nutshell, I couldn’t tolerate the old-school Taiwanese English teaching style. I quitted few English courses, kind of a waste of money but I saved my time. I didn’t give up learning English so here came the Begin of My English Tutor Era.

(To be continued)