Developing a Language Profile
of the ELL Student:
An interview format designed for
school staff to use with culturally and
linguistically diverse families to
obtain information about the student’s
use of his/her first language
Interview Outcomes:
School staff will obtain detailed information about the
student’s use of the first language from the family
members’ perspectives
Families will become involved in the school system
and understand that the school will learn how to best
teach that student, based on their skills in the L1
Types of Interviews
Conversational style interview in which the
interviewer can be highly responsive to the
needs of the interviewee
Uses an interview guide that provides topics or
subject areas to explore
The same questions are asked of each
informant, more objective because
there is decreased flexibility in the
order and type of questions
Interview Format Decision
School staff (e.g., ESL instructor, speech-language
pathologist, classroom teacher),interpreter,
multicultural liaison meet to discuss appropriate type
of interview format for family
Cultural and linguistic issues will be considered (e.g.,
a culture that does not like direct questions may
prefer an informal, conversational format)
Prior staff relationships with family should be
considered (e.g., it may be beneficial for the ESL
instructor to be present if he or she has developed a
positive relationship with the family)
Interviews need to be performed with the family
members held in authority for that cultural group
(e.g., elders in some African cultures; men in
Vietnamese culture) or others as appropriate
Schedule the interview at a time convenient for the
family member(s) that will be interviewed
Preconference with the school staff and
interpreter/liaisons to discuss the format of the
interview and question types
Cultural Issues
Providing private v. public information to
school staff (establishing a relationship before
interview may be necessary)
Styles of communication (e.g., direct v.
indirect questioning)
Views of education and teacher authority
Gender of interviewer
Linguistic Issues
Interpreters, liaisons, and school staff need to have a
common understanding of first and second language
Interviewers need to establish typical development
and atypical development of native language (key
characteristics of language) for language probes if
performing a standardized or guided interview
Language probes should contain items within each
communicative domain of language (reading, writing,
listening, speaking) as well as form, content and use
of the language
Sample Questions for the 3 Formats:
Informal (Lead-ins
provided are culturally
dependent and the
liaisons should be
Discuss following directions at
home if parents discuss chores or
other behaviors at home (possible
lead-in: “Nguyen is such a hardworking boy at school, he is always
asking for more to do. Does he like
to help out at home?”)
Following directions at home
What directions is the student
asked to follow at home in the L1?
Have there been times when s/he
does not understand what you are
asking him/her to do?
Discuss greetings of others at
home in L1 (possible lead-in:
discussing the differences in
greetings between American and
native culture)
Greets others appropriately
Discuss observations of student’s
wellbeing (possible lead-in:
observing the child at home, asking
how the child indicates he/she is
hungry, tired, sick, so school staff
can understand)
Requesting or commenting on state
of being (e.g., hunger, thirst, pain)
Experiences of not following
Prompts necessary for student to
use appropriate greetings
How does the student greet others
when they come to the home? Do
you have to prompt him/her to
greet others?
How does the student request his
or her wants or needs in the native
language? Does s/he need you to
tell her how to say things like “I’m
hungry, thirsty, tired, sleepy?”
Sample questions, continued:
Discuss acclimation to the region
(possible lead-in: “How does
Nguyen tell you about the people
and places he sees at school?
Names objects, people, and places
in the home and community
Does the student mention places,
people, and objects you see in the
community? What is h/she able to
label in the home or community?
Does s/he need you to model new
words for him/her?
Discuss opportunities to sing songs
in L1 and tell stories of the native
culture (possible lead-in: “The Sara
Holbrook Center is holding a
community dinner next Friday. I
hope there will be a chance to sing
some of our songs.”)
Sings songs and tells stories of the
native culture
What songs can the student sing in
the native culture? What stories is
s/he able to tell you?
Discuss conversations the student
has with parent/elders at home
about various topics (possible leadin: “How does he tell you about
things that happened at home while
you are at work?”)
Asks and answers questions
Do you think the student is able to
answer the following question types
(use question forms for L1)?
Does the student ask questions
using those question types?
Discuss favorite stories in the
native culture, as applicable.
Reads and writes in native
What kinds of books does the
student read at home? What kind
of writing does s/he do in the L1
(e.g., notes, letters)?
Prompts necessary to teach new
Sample questions, continued:
Discuss events that happened in the
past (possible lead-in: “Does Nguyen
talk about things that happened
yesterday or things that will
Participates in conversations about
topics not related to the “here and
Does the student discuss topics that
are about events that happened in the
past (e.g., family events) or in the
Discussion about how parents/elders
feel student is clearly communicating
(possible lead-in: “Does Nguyen
sound like his older brother did at this
Speech production sounds like other
children his/her age
Does student sound like other
children in the family? Is s/he able to
say all the sounds of the language
Discussion about the length and
complexity of the child’s language
(possible lead-in: “How does Nguyen
sound compared to your other
Uses appropriate word order
Does student construct sentences
with the words in the right order?
How do they communicate multiple
Interviews with family members should
be accompanied by interviews with
School staff and liaisons discuss
interviews and decide if further
discussions with family members are
necessary to obtain more information
about native language proficiency

Developing a Language Profile of the ELL Student: