The aim of this study was to assess the criterion validity of a new screening instrument, the Early Language Scale (ELS), for the identification of young children at risk for developmental language disorder (DLD), and to determine optimal age-adjusted cut-off scores. We recruited a community-based sample of 265 children aged 1 to 6 years of age. Parents of these children responded on the ELS, a 26-item "yes-no" questionnaire. The children were assessed with extended language tests (language comprehension, word production, sentence production, communication). A composite score out of these tests (two tests below - 1 SD or one below - 1.5 SD) was used as reference standard. We assessed the validity of the ELS, measured by sensitivity, specificity, predictive values, and AUC. The optimal sensitivity/specificity age-dependent cut-off ELS score was at 15th percentile. Sensitivity and specificity were 0.62 and 0.93, respectively. Positive predictive value was moderate (0.53), negative predictive value was high (0.95), the positive likelihood ratio was 9.16, and negative likelihood ratio was 0.41. The area under the ROC curve was 0.88. The items covered the increasing language development for the ages from 1 to 6.Conclusion: The ELS is a valid instrument to identify children with DLD covering an age range of 1 to 6 years in community-based settings.What is Known:• Early identification and treatment of developmental language disorders can reduce negative effects on children's emotional functioning, academic success, and social relationships.• Short, validated language screening instruments that cover the full age range of early childhood language development lack.What is New:• The 26-item Early Language Scale (ELS) is a valid instrument to identify children at risk for developmental language disorder in well-child care and early educational settings among Dutch children aged 1-6 years.