In 1989, Japanese businessman Minoru Isutani purchased Pebble Beach’s famous golf course for $850 million, and Mitsubishi Estate Company paid $846 million for 51 percent of New York’s Rockefeller Center. The United States cowered from the kamikaze attack of Japanese capital on American business. American students swamped Japanese language programs, as the Land of the Rising Sun’s Potemkin economy bedazzled Wall Street.
But the financial tsunami eventually petered out. The moribund reality of Japan’s economy has now slogged through its third “lost decade.” The only lasting result of the crisis today is that 55-year-old MBAs can discuss the weather in Japanese with their sushi chefs.
Wall Street has shifted its gaze to China. Career-focused American students now burnish their college degrees with just enough Mandarin instruction to sound like preschoolers. Few care about Spanish or French, and even fewer about Portuguese, the most widely spoken language in South America; NYU does not have one Portuguese major among its 51,000 students. But the smart money is on learning Hindi. The next Jeff Bezos can thank me after India supplants China as the hottest business spot. Unlike Mandarin, students won’t be completely lost, since Hindi shares English’s Indo-European foundation.
But ignore Asia for a minute. Joseph Solodow’s Latin Alive (2001) will convince mercenary Mandarin...