How to Create a Multilingual Website With WordPress

Most of us are used to having our websites in English. It is the lingua franca after all. Even with the most optimistic numbers, no more than 25% of the world’s population has any understanding of the English language.

This leaves out three-quarters of the population – a large number of them being Internet users who won’t find your website or content very useful if it’s only available in one language. Fortunately, it’s not difficult to set your WordPress website to display your published content in multiple languages.

In this post, we’ll cover a few methods that will allow you to offer multilingual content to your audiences and recommend some useful tools and plugins along the way. But before we begin, let’s cover some preliminary steps you’ll need to take to prepare your site.

Prepping Your Site

There are three key factors you’ll have to take into account before starting your translation project – the size of your website, the amount of content you have on it, and your budget.

A larger website will cost more to translate. Ensuring the quality and adequacy of the translations is vital, and for that reason, you might want to spring for human translators such as freelancers or agencies. However, if you are on a tight budget you can always opt for machine translations instead. At best, machine translations are passable. That said, machine translation is still better than no translation at all.

A whole ‘nother can of worms that you’ll need to factor in is multilingual SEO. Long story short:  ensure that your site’s performance doesn’t drop if you decide to add a few more languages. WPML and Search Engine Land both have excellent resources if you want to delve deeper into the topic.

Once all this is taken care of, you can move on to picking a solution to publish your translated content on your WordPress website.

Option 1: Use a WordPress Plugin

One of the simplest ways to manage translated content is by using a WordPress plugin. It’ll take all the heavy lifting out of structuring the translated content under the hood.

Polylang

Polylang is free WordPress plugin that allows you to translate the content of your choice on your website. You can translate your website’s menus, pages, posts, tags, and even widgets. It also supports translations of custom post types and RSS feeds.

The plugin uses WordPress language packs which are automatically updated. You do, however, have the option of using a professional translation service if you decide to opt for it. Right-to-left language scripts are supported and you can add as many languages as you want.

WPML

A premium plugin that lets you translate everything, from menus to theme text, WPML is the most widely used multilingual solution across the WordPress horizon. We've used it ourselves for multi-language sites and found it to do an excellent job. The feature-rich plugin comes with a wide range of add-ons to choose from if you’d like to integrate advanced functionality into your translation-ready WordPress site.

The WPML plugin is designed to run a fully-functional multilingual site from a single WordPress installation. The standout feature on offer here is that it allows you to choose from over 40 languages or add your own language variant.

Google Language Translator

Google Language Translator is another free WordPress plugin that automatically connects to Google Translate to generate machine translations of your published content. If you want to simply test out the waters then the Google Language Translator plugin is enough to get you started.

It allows website owners to select which languages they’d like to enable translations for on the front-end. One of the best things about this plugin is that it has loads of settings and configuration options that you can mess around with.

Weglot Translate

Weglot Translate is a really nice hybrid option that sits right in the middle between the complexity (and comprehensiveness) of something like WPML and the simplicity of a machine translation option like Google Language Translator. The thing I really like about Weglot is that you can use Google Translate to machine translate your content as a first cut and then do a human edit to tidy it up and make sure it reads well. Weglot would like you to use their translation services which it integrates with (and which I'm sure are very good), but you don't have to. It is really well thought out and simple to implement and use.

The only problem with Weglot is that the free version is very limited, only allowing for a single language translation and a max of 2000 words. If you want multiple translations for a decent sized site you'll need the Business plan which starts at 199 Euros per year, plus additional fees if you decide to use the Weglot human translation services. I can't help but think they would get more users if the free version was more liberal.

Option 2: Use WordPress Multisite Plugins

If you’re familiar with WordPress multisite then you can also have each language on its own WordPress install. With this in mind, we’ve identified two solutions to help you get started. But if you’d rather implement it manually then the WordPress Multilingual Codex covers the basics of the process in-depth.

Multisite Language Switcher

Multisite Language Switcher is a free solution that allows you to manage multilingual content in a WordPress multisite installation. The plugin supports the translation of posts, pages, categories, tags, custom taxonomies, and custom post types.

The plugin works with the WordPress MU Domain Mapping plugin allowing you to configure multiple sites (each with its own domain) on the same server. From a front-end perspective, your site’s visitors will see a switcher displayed on the webpage if a translation is available. By clicking on the switcher they can redirect to a sub-domain of their choosing.

Multilingual Press

The Multilingual Press plugin is an ideal alternative for website owners who want to create a fast translation network on a WordPress multisite installation. The plugin makes it easy for users to run each language in a separate sub-domain and use a customizable widget to link to each site.

Multilingual Press’ Language Manager supports translations for 174 editable languages. And the best part is that you don’t actually have to visit each sub-domain to edit translations – it lets you edit them from the original post’s editor. This lightweight translation solution also features SEO friendly URLs and ensures that your sites will work even if you deactivate the plugin.

Option 3: Use a Translation-Ready WordPress Themes and Translation Proxy

If you want to go all-out with translating your WordPress site then your best course of action is to go for a translation-ready WordPress theme.

Avada

Avada is a premium, multilingual and RTL ready WordPress theme that comes with the .po and .mo files right out of the box. In addition to this, it supports the WPML and Polylang plugins making it even easier to translate your site’s published content.

In addition to all of this, each language you choose to use with WPML allows you to configure its settings individually. Avada features over 30 languages that are partially or fully translated from the get-go including German, Español, Italian, Dutch, French, and more.

Pinnacle

If you’re on a tight budget then you might want to go for a free WordPress theme. Pinnacle is one such solution that boasts versatile options and multiple styles. Best of all, it supports multilingual plugins such as WPML and is translation ready off the shelf.

Conclusion

In this article we covered three techniques to translate your WordPress site into any language. We also discussed things you need to do before you translate your site and looked at some of the best practices to consider when switching to a multilingual site.

Let’s quickly recap the main options available:

  1. If you’re looking for a quick solution then a WordPress plugin like Polylang or WPML will do the trick.
  2. And if you have a WordPress Multisite installation then you can opt for Multisite Language Switcher or Multilingual Press.
  3. Having a translation-ready WordPress theme (such as Avada or Pinnacle) or translation proxy on board is an excellent way to get the most out of translations.

Which plugins do you use to translate your site? Let us know in the comments section below!

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