At some point you may find that you want to offer more than one language on your WordPress site.
Perhaps you want to appeal to a more international audience, or maybe you’re building an e-commerce site that will serve a diverse community that speaks multiple languages.
Luckily for you, the WordPress community has already thought of this.
Issues to Consider
First things first, let’s clear up a long standing myth regarding adding multilingual functionality to your WordPress site: you do not need to use multisite.
Multisite does not offer any features that will help you with multiple languages. Multisite is intended for creating a network of sites and blogs with multiple users who have a variety of roles on the site.
Therefore, what you want instead is a multi-language plugin.
A multi-language plugin will provide you with a means to reproduce your content in another language or languages. This could be done post by post – meaning you would manage it manually – or you could go so far as to reproduce your entire site in the target language. Some plugins even offer automatic translation, although the quality of the translation is questionable at this point in time.
Here are four ways you can make your WordPress site multilingual.
WPML (Premium Plugin)
Packaged with 40 languages pre-installed and with the option to upload more, it is easy to understand why WPML is one of the most popular multi-language plugins.
The plugin provides a language switcher widget with some basic styling options. The widget can be placed in any widget area or in any menu area without any hard coding of the theme. The switcher can display language options as flags or as text.
Once you’ve got the plugin set up you can move onto translating your site’s content. Essentially, what WPML will do is generate a new URL for each page or post that will lead the user to the desired language.
Once the URL is generated you have two options:
- Allow WPML to automatically translate the content.
- Direct WPML to notify a designated editor that content is ready to be translated.
If you don’t have anyone available to translate for you, don’t worry – WPML provides a directory of affordable translators inside the plugin’s admin panel.
Personally, I would recommend a combination of the two options. Allow WPML to automatically translate and then have an editor correct and revise. This method will save you time and will allow editors to focus on the text and not worry about how and where to post.
However, all of this does come with a few downsides.
Firstly, the admin panel can be slightly confusing to get set up, especially for users new to WordPress and plugins. Save yourself a few hours of headaches and walk through the tutorials and support that WPML offers.
Secondly, there is a price tag. To take full advantage of the plugin you’ll need to pay $79 up front, and $39 each additional year. For basic functionality you can spend as little as $29 up front and $15 each year additional year.
You can find a full comparison of features here.
Polylang (Free Plugin)
Polylang is a free alternative to WPML that is highly rated among users.
The appeal of this plugin (beyond the lack of a price tag) is that has much more straightforward approach and cleaner admin panel than other translation plugins.
After activating the plugin, users can choose languages which content will be translated into. It is important to note that Polylang does not automatically translate content; you will be required to manually translate it in some manner.
Like WPML, Polylang provides a customizable language switcher. If the built in customization options don’t fit with your theme, there is a wealth of code available in the support forums to help you get the look you want. In fact, you will find the support community for this plugin to be very helpful.
Once the plugin is set up, the workflow for translating is quite straightforward. Content can be flagged for translation. For some users this may be a desirable option, particularly if you do not want everything and anything translated on your site. This can also be a great option if you have staff available to translate or if you’re outsourcing translation.
Xili-Language (Free Plugin)
Yet another free WordPress plugin, Xili has had over 100,000 downloads since it was released in 2009.
It offers features similar to the other plugins reviewed in this post, in addition to the option to translate from within the Post and Page screens in WordPress.
A quick scan of the Xili site reveals that the plugin developers are clearly not fluent English speakers. Instructions provided by the developers can be tricky to understand.
Installation is not easy and requires some preparation of the site’s theme and framework. Furthermore, set up is much more hands-on than other plugins we’ve reviewed here.
However, it is a very popular plugin and is highly rated. This is perhaps a good choice if you are comfortable with the more technical aspects of plugins and themes.
Using WordPress Multisite
An alternative option is to use Multisite to build another site in your target language that is networked with your original site. For example, you could have one site in English and another in Spanish. The original site essentially acts as the parent and the second as the child, similar to – but not the same as – parent and child themes.
This is a complex and time consuming option.
Firstly, you will have twice the work, from setting up the theme to creating each page and all content. The end result is two sites in two different languages, the second sitting in a subdomain of the first. This results in having to publish content twice, once to each site.
Also, you will have to make any and all changes or updates on each site. Site admins will need to learn how manage a network of sites rather than single a standalone site.
However, despite the disadvantages of multisite, there are some advantages.
If you have members of staff that are multilingual, it may make sense for them to build out two sites at the same time within a multisite network. Also, if each site will not contain all the exact same content then this option would also make sense.
If you can find an efficient workflow, multisite can be a good choice, but it can be difficult and time consuming to manage.
Making a Choice
How you choose to add multi-language functionality to your site is a big decision that you should consider carefully. You will want a solution that is user friendly for you in order to allow you stay focused on your content.
No matter which method you choose, one thing is certain: manual translation, whether from the onset or after automatic translation, is still a necessity. Doing this will help you gain and maintain credibility with visitors and also help you avoid penalties from Google for having duplicate content.
When you do decide to add multi-language to your site, it is recommended that you create a non-live test site first. This will allow you to work out any problems that arise. Finally, always be sure to back up your original site, as adding a translation feature will make changes to your database and directory.
Crear Página Web | WebArt.es
I am a staunch defender of WordPress almost since its inception and I think WPML was wonderful when it was a free plugin ;))
Over time, it seems that wordpress has put aside the option of creating web pages with different languages with no additional cost (free)
Do you know if someday it will be implemented in the source code of WordPress the ‘translation process’ to various languages as already makes in others CMS?
Thanks in advance.
Greetings from Barcelona!!
Buy A Place In The Sun
Are there any free automatic translators plugins that work for wordpress.com? Any help and guidance would be greatly appreciated.
is there any other plugins that you recommend
thanks for this nice sum up!
for my project I’m using Phraseapp right now and I’m more than happy about it!
Hi, creating multilingual website manually is a time consuming task.. these plugins are big time savers for developing multilingual website.
Thanks for sharing these useful ideas to turn a WordPress into a multilingual website for an easier way to reach customers. I wanted to share also a good online resource for those interested in reading fresh and interesting news about localization.
I am not an expert in web design, I am a translator. I am doing my Master and I am charged to make a website for an official organisation and of course to translate it (french-greek). I tried to make a site in wordpress.com (a free edition as there is no budget, I am doing it voluntarily). I really have a problem how to make a site in 2 different languages in french and in greek in the free edition of wordpress.com as there are not plug ins. The website I ve created so far is available at http://www.test1france.wordpress.com (it s an experiment so please do not copy or use the content). I really need someone to help me but as there is no budget and as I am a student nobody with knowledge in this field is willing to help me so far. Have you any idea how can I put the second language in my site (I will do the translation of the texts so I do not need something like a google translation machine or sth like that). Thanks in advance!!!!!
Sorry but I do not understand some points in this article. first of all I want to run a blog where I will post contents in multiple languages. And I want to give visitors an option to choose their preferred language. I’ve seen few sites doing this. The URL becomes thatsite,com/en/ or ?lang=en . But the plugins you have listed doesn’t seems to do that. Waiting for your reply 🙁
Hi Tom – wonder if you could manage the time to answer this question. I currently have a site with MUSE but want to switch to a WordPress site with English and Chinese. So my question is ” If I want the site to be multilingual (English and Chinese) why don’t I just build 2 pages for each content, one in English and one in Chinese and then on my home page which would be in English have the option to click a link (ie Chinese flag) to send the visitor to a ‘copy home page’ which would be in Chinese and have only Chinese menus on it….. In other words for every page I have in English just have a ‘duplicate’ page in Chinese and all Chinese pages have Chinese menus whilst the English pages have English menus ..? Why would I need a plugin in the first place ? Does it have something to do with the database not being able to recognise Chinese characters or similar … ? Would really appreciate any feedback on this before I embark on changing my site over. Many thanks – Richard
I think create a website with WordPress. This site will be english and spanish too. Today I read articles of Multisites (WordPress MU) vrs plugins as “qTranslate” . But I’m confused ha ha because some colleagues recommend me choose MU and others to use a plugins,
The best way, especially with Mulisite is to use MultilingualPress https://wordpress.org/plugins/multilingual-press/, you can also use their WPML to MultilingualPress Importer: https://wordpress.org/support/plugin/wpml-to-multilingualpress
Xili is a good alternative to WPML, i try now! Thanks for suggestion!
What about QTranslate ?
It doesn’t work with the last version (4.0.1) of WordPress. “qTraslation” is compatible up to: 3.8.3
Just a note about multisite: The process is much, much simpler than you describe it. Site do not act in a parent-child relation, they are all equal. One site is just the provider for the network id, which doesn’t matter in the daily routine.
You don’t have twice the work. Set up one site, then clone it when you create new sites. There are plugins for that. You can make content changes for the original text and its translations on the same site. Again, there are plugins for that.
Managing a network is not much more difficult than a single site.
One pro is the performance: single site plugins must use custom post types, they have to filter almost any database query to get the correct languages. This is slow, much slower than a simple switch_to_blog() behind the scenes.
And you can really localize the sites, far beyond translations: different colors, plugins, settings (number formats, currencies).
Full disclosure: I am the lead developer of a plugin that does that (click the link on my name). I have seen both solutions, single- and multisite, many times, and I think no one should ever use a single site installation for serious localization.
Thanks for offering your comprehensive point of view. I’d love to talk to you more about this – check your email!
Very helpful comment. May I ask further questions? About multisite, if I have many authors, about 70+, can I have them log in from one location to translate their posts to different languages? or do they need to log in to each target site to translate their posts? What would be your suggestion for site with multiple authors?
thanks a lot for the roundup and you are correct, you don’t need a multisite to have a mulitlingual setup but why not using a core feature of WordPress to make this possible?
With the free plugin Multlingual Press https://wordpress.org/plugins/multilingual-press/ you can take advantage of the core features of WordPress Multisite and have great usability to easily manage your different languages. It supports and enhances the possibility of using Mutlisite for multilanguage.
A huge advantage is a much better performance of your website. While multisite and Multilingual Press don’t cause any performance issue since this combination is just using the functionality of WordPress Core, Plugins like WPML are adding 20 new tables to your database and so many request, so your website will slow down big times.
Apart from the performance issue, your website will always depent on the Plugin. If you deactivate it, your translation would be gone to. With a multisite solution you won’t have this problem at all.
With Multlingual Press it is not a complex and time consuming option at all. 🙂
Thanks for these Comment these help me very well! I I take 2-3 Multisites with WPML, and i found they are very slow!
I think is better to Switch to MultilingualPress, i have see that gives a Plugin to Switch, i will give a try!
This is something that needs to get built into core. Without it, we can spend years building reams of content on a plugin with horrendous optimization that gets sold off or abandoned. Can happen to anything, but with the amount of complexity and manual work put into “doing” multilingual on a site, I’m scared of it all going down the drain.
I can understand what you’re saying but WordPress core additions these days to tend to be just that: “core.” Many would argue that support for multilingual sites is not a core feature.
Having said that, I *do* believe that multilingual plugins should utilize WordPress in such a way that their removal does not compromise the content you create.
Hi tom I want a plugin for drop down menu please suggest me the plugin
thanks for a wonderful post..!
Not sure what you’re asking for I’m afraid Haq…
Hi, I think that what you are asking for is something like uberMenu, it’s awesome!(PAID)
Thanks Tom for this post, I was looking for free plugins to translate a site but I always end up finding WPML, I think I am going to give it a try to the free plugins.