By default, WordPress – both the .com and .org versions – don’t support bilingual or multilingual versions of a blog. If you want to cater to more than one language, such as a Canadian site using French or a dual Spanish-English site, you’re going to need to use some form of plugin.
You have two basic options to create a WordPress site with two or more languages. One option is to use WordPress Multisite. WP Multisite is a built-in function as part of the core WP installation. It allows you to create a network of related websites, all running on the same installation. This is only mentioned here for one reason; to advise you against it.
Why shouldn’t you use WP Multisite for multilingual versions of the same blog? The answer is that it simply isn’t designed to handle different languages or the plugins that support them. Translation and Multilanguage management plugins for WordPress are designed to work with the core WP installation, and they might not work as well with Multisite.
The real way to make a multilingual WP site is to use one of the many translation plugins available. These plugins make translating your content a little easier, but more importantly, they translate the core functionality of WordPress so that users in other languages can navigate easily.
There are several good options to pick from when you’re looking for a WordPress translation plugin. They help you translate your content, your site and your metadata into other languages. Here are your best options.
• WPML – This is the most robust and valuable of the translation plugin options, and it’s constantly kept up to date. It supports over 40 languages. It has a wizard to help you configure your site. It has a surprisingly good translation engine. So what’s the downside? Why isn’t this the only plugin on the list? The answer is it’s not free. The cheapest option is $29 and doesn’t give you ecommerce support, widget translation, multiuser interface translation or CMS navigation, among other things. For access to just about everything else, you need the $80 version of the plugin. If you’re serious about a Multilanguage WordPress site, you can’t get by with the cheap version. On the plus side, renewing every year is cheaper; the $80 version only costs $40 annually after the first year. You can also go for the $195 option that has no annual renewals. After four years of the middle-range version, the lifetime version pays for itself.
• Polylang – This plugin is mostly designed for navigation, metadata and interface translation. It doesn’t integrate an automatic translator or a human translation service at all. What it does translate, however, it supports in 34 languages.
• Multilingual Press – A plugin that works in a way similar to Multisite, with support for over 170 languages. It works with an automated translator, but the quality of the content can be hit or miss. It has a paid version that adds more features, including complete site duplication, syncing between multiple sites and user settings.
How do you want to present your translated content? You have three main options.
Option 1: One post on one blog. Picture a normal blog. Each post will have content, first in one language, followed by a translation in a second language. This can be effective for some sites, but as your content expands or as you want to add support for a third language, it becomes unbearably cluttered.
Option 2: Two posts on a single blog. This is how most multilingual plugins will operate. You set up one blog, and for each post you write, you publish a second post with the same content translated into a different language. You can link from one post to its alternate language versions, and you can put a navigation link that filters all languages except one from the display.
Option 3: Multiple posts on multiple sites. This is the multisite equivalent option, where you create sites for each language you want to use, publishing translated content to each when you write it, keeping it all in sync. Typically these sites will have navigation links for each language, taking you to the other site version on a subdomain or subdirectory.
• Metadata translation. Don’t forget when you’re translating content that you need your title and description to be translated as well. SEO isn’t an English-exclusive phenomenon. You’re going to face competition in both languages, and you’re going to want to implement techniques to optimize both languages as a result. Some plugins will help you translate metadata; others will just five you fields to fill in with your own manual translations.
• File translation. Remember that if you’re uploading images to go along with your posts, you need translated versions of those images as well. This is especially important with any image that includes text. Textless images just need to have their alt text optimized for the new language for each post.
• Widget translation. If you’re using additional plugins or widgets, you may need to translate their displayed content for users. There’s no easy way to do this outside of plugins like Widget Logic, which allows you to manually edit plugins to specify the language. Note that if you’re manually editing widgets, you need to make sure you aren’t breaking them.
• Theme translation. Theme options and navigation needs to be translated. Occasionally you will find a theme that doesn’t work with your translation plugins. WPML is the best option, if you can afford it, because it allows you to translate and sync navigation across several sites. Otherwise, you may have to work manually to translate a theme.
• Language detection. Ideally, when a user visits your site, your site will detect their language and automatically set the closest available option. From there, you need to offer a visible language switcher to allow users to pick their language of choice.
There are four ways you can translate content for your blogs. Make sure you pick the right option for the amount of time spent and content quality you want for your site.
First, and worst, is the Google Translate option. Using a tool like Google Translate will go word by word to translate the exact wording of the content, but it doesn’t typically convey meaning as well as you may want. It will fail particularly hard when using colloquialisms or slang.
Second is the plugin automatic option. This isn’t much better, and is occasionally worse, than the Google option. WPML has a high quality system, but most other translation plugins don’t.
Third is the cheap human translation. Go to Fiverr or eLance and hire a cheap translator. The content you get back will be serviceable, but it may not be that great.
Fourth is the high quality human translation. You get what you pay for, and a high quality translator can demand a price for their services. It’s worth it, though, if you plan serious growth in your alternate languages.