By Kristin Carlson

Newly designed English as a second language classes at Colorado Mountain College will help students develop the specific communications skills needed to pursue five different career pathways.

Early in 2020, CMC reached out to local employers to determine the kinds of skills they sought in prospective employees. The college selected five fields of focus based on input from these employers as well as on the survey responses of recent ESL and HSE (high school equivalency) students at the college, who were asked to identify the kinds of jobs they wanted to pursue.

ESL students can now complete supplemental online modules to learn the vocabulary needed to work in the fields of construction, restaurant service, hospitality, health care and education.

ESL job skills class

CMC has expanded its ESL classes to focus on vocabulary in specific careers. Unlike this face-to-face class from 2019, courses are currently offered virtually. At right, ESL instructor Virginia Nicolai with students. Photo Ed Kosmicki

Taught over Zoom, the online classes introduce and reinforce the basic language skills necessary for successful work interactions with employers, fellow employees and the public. A pilot program began this fall, serving 36 enrolled students. Evan Schulte, ESL faculty at CMC Aspen, noted that classes are also being offered at both the Edwards and Rifle campuses, and he expects further expansions in the coming year.

Schulte said the majority of ESL students are Spanish-speaking, but his current classes also include students who speak Italian, German, Russian and Portuguese. By helping all ESL students develop the communication skills they need to contribute as employees, he believes the new CMC teaching model will also serve local businesses and organizations. “We’re helping the community at large by acting as a bridge to our resort towns,” said Schulte.

Virginia Nicolai, an ESL faculty member at CMC Vail Valley in Edwards, noted that because the program is virtual, students are able to attend from anywhere and to fit their studies around their work and family lives.

“They’re doing really well studying, learning the vocabulary and completing quizzes independently,” said Nicolai. She noted that many stay-at-home moms are choosing to learn the vocabulary of the education unit, so they can help their kids achieve in school.

“It’s also been great to see students excited about mastering pronunciation,” she said. Because they can replay each module as many times as they want, students can repeat lessons to reinforce any content that’s challenging. Students can also retake entire modules as needed and move forward at their own pace.

Currently, the career pathways modules are incorporated into beginning-level courses (ESL 909 and 910). Starting in January 2021, a choice of modules will be added to every intermediate-level course, ESL 913 and 914. The cost for each ESL course, including the supplementary career-focused online vocabulary modules, is $50 per six-week session. To learn more, please visit