Mickey Mouse teaching English to Chinese children

Companies looking for money in our arid economy might look to the world's growing need for multilingualism. According to the Wall Street Journal, both Rosetta Stone (RST), the language training company, and Walt Disney Co. (DIS) are showing that people are still willing to fork over their dinero to hablan Inglés.

Rosetta Stone opened the eyes of Wall Street with the success of its IPO, which debuted last Thursday. The stock quickly climbed to 42 percent above its initial price, from $18 to a high of $29.39. Analysts point to the company's lack of competition, relative immunity from the recession blues and absence of debt as reasons for its success. Aggressive marketing has helped it carve out a dominant place in teaching people to sprechen Englisch.

Walt Disney Co. may seem an unlikely company to be teaching English to Chinese children, but don't underestimate the power of the Mouse. Foreign language training is an estimated $2.1 billion business in China, and Disney has found it possible to make money in this field at the same time it is brainwashing familiarizing students with the Disney brand so they too will sognano di Disneyland.

In its Shanghai school, lesson plans make liberal use of popular Disney characters and scenarios from films such as Toy Story. The company is currently angling for permission to build Shanghai Disneyland, and the school could serve to cultivate some love with the Chinese bureaucracy.

Disney is not alone in trying to capitalize on the desire of what the Premier has estimated are 300 million Chinese eager to learn English. Education and media giant Pearson PLC is spending $145 million to buy 39 schools under the Wall Street Institute banner from the Carlyle Group.

As the Chinese economy emerges from the recession and grows ever more robust, I have to wonder how much longer it will be before we see companies vying for the opportunity to teach Chinese to U.S. citizens.

Note: If the translations are wrong, blame Babel Fish.


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