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International News | February 16, 2020

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New ESL Academy

New ESL Academy

CU Denver brings international students downtown to learn English

by Amy Vaerewyck

(Above: Layla Almitib)

Layla Almitib has a baby on the way and plans for a PhD. Thanks to the new University of Colorado Denver ESL Academy, language won’t be a barrier to her future.

A native of Saudi Arabia, Almitib moved to Denver two months ago in order to take advantage of the biochemistry PhD program offered by the University of Colorado School of Medicine. In preparation for her graduate coursework, she’s studying ESL (English as a Second Language) at the academy, which opened downtown in Independence Plaza at 16th and Curtis Streets on Jan. 25.

Innovative ESL Instructors

Successful completion of the ESL Academy fulfills the university’s English language proficiency requirement. Almitib and her classmates engage in five 8-week terms, studying listening, speaking, reading, writing and grammar. Helping them through their ESL experience are competent language instructors—like Jason Weiss.

“Mr. Weiss is funny, and he shares with us what he’s passionate about,” Almitib said. “He’ll do anything to help students understand.”

With 17 years of ESL instructing experience, Weiss says he feels empowered by the fresh attitudes and creative culture of CU Denver’s brand-new academy.

“How good you are sometimes depends on where you are,” Weiss said. “It’s nice to have a little bit of latitude and freedom to explore.”


A Warm Learning Environment

Inside the academy, just steps away from the 16th Street Mall, the freshness and creativity comes alive.

There are murals of whimsical nature scenes: tree trunks painted in stylish pastel shades, the faint line of the mountain horizon, cartoonish birds sharing Colorado trivia in conversation bubbles. The reception area has a welcoming bowl of mini candy bars. Informal language practice takes place on the “writeable” hallway walls.

All of these features contribute to the academy’s goal of creating a “home away from home” for students, many of whom are oceans away from their native homes.

“We are committed to building an academic culture at the academy that helps students not only to write and speak in English with precision but to successfully integrate into CU Denver classes, social activities and research opportunities,” said ESL Academy Director Rebecca Fisher. “We want them to feel at home here—academically challenged, but at home.”



  • Higher education institutions with 10 percent international student enrollment significantly enhance the global learning experience of every student.
  • Last year, international student applications at CU Denver increased by 56 percent.
  • International student enrollments in Colorado contribute more than $300 million to the state economy annually.


Intense Language Study

It’s a good thing the 60 currently-enrolled students feel at home in the academy, because they spend an average of five hours a day there—and then there’s the homework. Almitib said she spends about six additional hours studying English at home every day.

But all the hard work is worth it, because when she’s done, she’ll be eligible for full admission to CU Denver without having to take the Test of English as a Foreign Language (TOEFL)—in other words, all of the learning and none of the pressure of a standardized test. If all goes well, by fall, Almitib will be a full-time doctoral student and a new mother.

It’s this smooth immigration experience and seamless university transition that the new ESL Academy is designed to give every student.


Published: March 26, 2012