Identifying Young Dual Language Learners

Identifying Young Dual Language Learners

Pre-Kindergarten Guidance for Public Schools

Many of Ohio's young children are dual language learners, children who have a home language other than English and are learning two or more languages at the same time or learning a second language while continuing to develop their first language during this critical period of development. Children who are dual language learners have differences in their exposure to English and individual children have different levels of mastery of their first language.

Language supports in preschool and early care programs have the potential to substantially increase dual language learners’ achievement scores in both reading and math. It is essential that Ohio school educators understand and address the language strengths and needs of dual language learners and English learners as soon as a child enters an early care and education program.

This page outlines recommendations for local practices around identifying and supporting preschool students who are dual language and English learners in Ohio.

Dual language learners (DLLs)
In the early care and education system, dual language learners acquire two or more languages simultaneously from birth or are learning a second language after their first language has been established during early childhood. These emerging bilingual students may or may not be attending an early care and education program but have not yet enrolled in kindergarten. They are acquiring basic language skills in their first language along with English as a second or new language.
English learners (ELs) 
The federal definition of ‘‘English learner’’ is an individual, means an individual who is aged 3 through 21. This includes children who are enrolled in a child care or preschool program. Click here to read the full definition of English learner.

Identification of Infants, Toddlers and Preschool Students Who are Dual Language Learners or English Learners 
To promote a common definition of English learner, the Every Student Succeeds Act (ESSA) requires states to develop standardized identification and classification procedures. The Ohio identification of English learners (EL) has two steps: (1) identify students and families whose home or native language is other than, or in addition to, English, and (2) determine whether the student may benefit from language supports to equitably access the curriculum and participate in school activities. This second step includes an assessment of the child's English language proficiency to assist in the decision to classify a child as an English learner.

Step 1: Identify Young Children with Home Languages Other than English
Early care and education programs should identify students who are potential dual language or English learners. This is especially critical in the early years since infants and toddlers are at the beginning stages of language development. Understanding a young child’s linguistic background and tailoring high-quality instruction can serve as a foundation for future success in school (Migration Policy Institute, 2021).

A home language survey or language usage survey is a questionnaire given to parents or guardians during school enrollment or registration to help educators identify potential dual language learners and English learners. These surveys ask questions about the child’s language use and language(s) used in the child’s home. The surveys also request the communication preference of families and may request additional information about the child’s educational background. Home language usage survey examples that may be used in preschool settings include:

  • Ohio’s Language Usage Survey
    • The Department provides more than a dozen translations of the Language Usage Survey to assist schools in communicating with families of dual language and English learners.
  • Head Start Dual Language Learner Guidance
    • This is a guidance document with recommended considerations and questions to ask families to gather background information about dual language learners.

Early care and education programs are encouraged to use Ohio’s Language Usage Survey or a similar tool to identify the communication preferences of parents and guardians and students’ language experiences and educational backgrounds.

Step 2: Assess English Language Proficiency For Children Ages 3 – 5
Young children ages 3-5 are identified as English learners based upon completion of the home language survey and the child’s results on an English language proficiency assessment that has been normed on this age group of multilingual learners.

To properly identify English learners in preschool, ages three to five, early care and education programs select and use a valid and reliable screening tool to assess the child's English language proficiency. A list of commercial language proficiency screeners that are appropriate for use with young dual language children is provided below.

Educators may provide needed language supports and instructional resources for young dual language learners and students identified as English learners through language experiences that build upon home languages and cultures. Programs are not required to assess English language proficiency for infants or toddlers.
List of Commercial Language Proficiency Screeners
The following is a list of several commercially available language proficiency screeners, which are examples of assessments that schools may find helpful for the purposes of identifying English learners in preschool. The Ohio Department of Education does not control or guarantee the accuracy, relevance, timeliness or completeness of this information. Further, the inclusion of links to items does not reflect their importance nor an intention to endorse or approve these products; the Department does not approve the use of commercial language proficiency screeners in preschool. District and school personnel should review the validity, reliability and appropriateness of any test instruments they are considering using to determine English learner identification and placement in a language instruction educational program.
Preschool Oral Tests
Grade levels: PreK-12
Language domains: Listening, Speaking, Reading and Writing
Language: English, Spanish
Contact: Ballard & Tighe Publishers; 800.321.4332
LAS Links
Grade levels: PreK-12
Language domains: Listening, Speaking, Reading and Writing
Languages: English, Spanish
Contact: Data Recognition Corporation (DRC); 800.538.9547
Woodcock-Muñoz Language Survey – Third Edition (WMLS III)
Grade levels: Ages 3:0 -22:11
Language domains: Listening, Speaking, Reading, Writing
Language: English, Spanish
Contact: Riverside Insights; 800-323-9540

For more information about supporting English learners, visit these pages:


Last Modified: 12/14/2023 8:48:48 PM