WordPress by default is not multilingual. This means that you need to add multilingual functionality through a translation plugin, creating a WordPress Multisite installation or using a translation proxy. In this post I show the best options to create a WordPress website in two or more languages, using automatic machine translations or human translations.
(Originally written on June 21, 2014. Updated on December 12, 2014 after adding option 3)
There may be different reasons why you need to translate your WordPress website into other languages:
- You are designing a website in a country that uses multiple languages (in Canada, English and French; in Switzerland, French, German and Italian; etc.)
- You want to make a Spanish version to sell your products or services in other parts of the world or a Russian version for russian customers.
- Or just want to have your web page in several languages to reach a wider audience.
Choosing the most suitable translation plugin for your needs will take some time. If you have a look at the WordPress Plugin Directory for a list of multilingual Plugins you’ll find many options.
WordPress does not offer a simple solution for building multilingual websites. There are several ways to make a multilingual site. They can be divided into 4 groups:
- Option 1: Using a translation plugin in a single WordPress environment (the most common way)
- Option 2: Using WordPress Multisite environment and a multilingual network plugin
- Option 3: Using a WordPress theme with integrated multilingual system
- Option 4: WordPress localization with translation proxy
In this article, I’d like to guide you through the different options available to have a multilanguage WordPress site. Which is the best option? It depends on many factors:
- Translation – Do you want to use machine translation or human translation?
- Cost – What’s your budget for the multilingual project?
- Support – Do you want to have technical support?
- Speed – How can you provide a good user experience without decreasing the speed of the application?
- Size – How large is your website?
- Linking – Does each post or page always have a translation and do they need to be linked to each other?
- User profile – Are you a website owner, a freelance translator or a language service provider?
- You can choose different URL formats when building a multilingual website. More info in this article: Domain, Subdomain, Subdirectory, Languages and WordPress
- Also you should implement a multilingual SEO strategy for search engines (Google, Bing, Yandex –Russia- or Baidu –China-). More info in this post: Multilingual SEO for WordPress Sites
OPTION 1. Installing a WordPress plugin in a standalone WordPress environment
First of all, I recommend you install WordPress in your native language, for a step-by-step guide read: How to Set up WordPress in My Language (and How to Change it).
Once you have installed WordPress in your language, you can install a WordPress translation plugin for automatic or human translations. Let’s review the most popular plugins.
1.1. AUTOMATIC Machine Translations: Google Language Translator
Google Language Translator is a plugin that can be used only for automatic machine translations. This free plugin allows you to insert the Google Language Translator tool onto your website using shortcode.
- It’s the cheapest option. You don’t need to perform the costly task of translating your website or hire a translator.
- Translations often don’t make sense. Search engines could consider them as spam. What to do in these cases is prevent these translations from being indexed using the robots.txt file and allowing users to request the translation via a widget.
Conclusion: the best option to use automatic machine translations.
1.2. SEMI-AUTOMATIC Machine Translations
Transposh is a free plugin that allows automatic translations, but with the advantage that it allows you to combine automatic translation with human translation. 82 languages are automatically translated and can be corrected with ease.
- It’s free and allows you to combine machine translation with manual translations.
- Automatic machine translations performed are not very accurate so it’s recommended to make manual corrections.
Conclusion: a great option that it allows you to combine machine translation with manual translation.
GTranslate is a plugin that uses Google Translate machine translation service. Free version only allows you automatic machine translation (81 languages). With premium version you will be able to edit the translations manually and order professional translations.
- Your site will be translated instantly upon installation (free version)
- You will have a different URL for each language. For example Spanish version of your site will have http://domain.com/es/ (Pro version) or http://es.domain.com (Enterprise version)
- You will be able to edit the translations manually and order professional translations directly from your blog or website (Pro and Enterprise version)
- Automatic translations are not very accurate so it’s recommended to make manual corrections with Pro ($105) or Enterprise version ($19,5/month)
Conclusion: the best option that it allows you to combine machine translation with manual translation.
1.3. HUMAN Translations
With nearly 1,2 million downloads, qTranslate is by far the most popular free plugin for multilingual WordPress sites. This plugin store all languages alternatives for each post in the same post.
- It’s free. You can switch from one language to another by simple tabs on the edit panel in WordPress.
- Does not create additional tables in the database.
- Limited support (qTranslate has been developed and is maintained by only one developer). When a new version of WordPress appears, qTranslate may take time to get a compatible update.
For websites without much content and few languages, it can be a good solution, but you should be aware of its disadvantages before choosing this option. I have to admit that I have not had very good experiences with this plugin. Its users give it a score of 3.7 out of 5, a low score.
Conclusion: the most popular free multilingual plugin, but not the best (in my opinion, of course).
(Note: recently has appeared mqTranslate, based on qTranslate, extending the original software with collaborative and team-oriented features)
Polylang is a free plugin that is easy to use with great support. The users give to this plugin a high score (4,8 out of 5), which gives an idea of the quality of this plugin. I think it’s the best free option.
- It’s free, easy to use, and very light-weight.
- It offers great support.
- You can translate posts, pages, widgets, categories, tags, media, menus, custom post types, custom taxonomies, sticky posts and all default WordPress widgets are supported.
- The plugin has been developed by one person. If the developer doesn’t find the time to keep the plugin up-to-date, you could find your multilingual web site incompatible with WordPress.
- Documentation can be improved.
- Some templates don’t work properly with this plugin.
Conclusion: the best free multilingual plugin in a standalone WordPress environment
1.3.3. WPML (premium plugin)
Sometimes free WordPress plugins just don’t offer what you are looking: frequent updates, technical support, the functionality or the look.
WPML is a premium plugin but not very expensive (between $29 and $79 ). In my opinion it is the best option to translate a web page in WordPress. You won’t have to worry anymore about support and updates.
WPML has the support of a company and a team of professional developers, which overcomes the disadvantages of previous free plugins (qTranslate and Polylang). So far it’s the most serious option to work with multilingual WordPress websites. It’s the plugin I use on my projects.
- No need to worry more about technical support or updates. The documentation for the proper use of this plugin is very complete: WPML manual – A guide for site owners and translators (PDF 13 Mb).
- It’s very easy to use. With WPML you can translate every element of your website and easily configure domains, subdomains and subdirectories into multiple languages.
- You can use it with to translate all SEO options. WPML lets you do SEO for each language separately with WordPress SEO by Yoast plugin or other SEO plugins (Article: Using WordPress SEO by Yoast with WPML).
- It supports main WordPress themes: StudioPress (Genesis Framework), Elegant Themes, many Themeforest themes, etc. The plugin lets you build and run multilingual e-commerce sites with WooCommerce (LIST of Multilingual Ready Themes).
- Includes a translation management plugin that allows XLIFF interface. You can turn ordinary WordPress users into Translators. Also you can hire world-class translators from within the WordPress admin dashboard, get affordable rates (about $0,09 / word) and enjoy a simple translation workflow.
- The license is offered for unlimited sites.
- You can request refunds until 30 days of your purchase date. They will refund 100% of your payment – no questions asked (Refunds Policy). However, you will no longer have access to updates or technical support.
- It is a commercial plugin that costs $29 on the Multilingual Blog version (annual renewal costs $15) and $79 on Multilingual CMS version (annual renewal costs $39). If you want to purchase a perpetual license must pay $195, but I can assure you it’s worth
- Create additional tables in the database can sometimes slow the admin panel but not your website.
Conclusion: the best plugin to build a multilingual site in a standalone WordPress environment.
OPTION 2. WordPress Multisite: One website per language
2.1. WordPress Multisite (no need to use network plugins)
Since WordPress 3.0 it is possible to build a WordPress Multisite installation. It is a collection of sites that share the same WordPress installation. They can share themes and plugins. The individual sites are virtual sites in the sense that they do not have their own directories on your server, although they do have separate directories for media uploads, and they do have separate tables in the database.
This will allow you to create one website per language. The main advantage is that it’s native, using WordPress core functionality, so it’s safe and free to use. This way you can create each website in a different language within your network.
WordPress Multisite Advantages
- The main advantage over the WPML plugin is that WordPress will be native in every language. This means you can have a primary address (mydomain.com), a subdomain or subdirectory for the Spanish version (es.mydomain.com or mydomain.com/es), one for the French version (fr.mydomain.com or mydomain.com/fr), etc.
- If you need to set up multiple sites across multiple domains (mydomain.com, mydomain.es, mydomain.fr, etc), you can use the WordPress MU Domain Mapping plugin as well – as long as the domains are all hosted on the same server.
- It’s an excellent option for large and complex sites, offering minor compatibility issues without additional costs.
WordPress Multisite Disadvantages
- It is more difficult to configure and manage:
- First, you have to create a network of sites by using the multisite feature.
- Once installed, every time you make an adjustment (themes, plugins, menus, widgets, etc) you must port it to all the websites. If there are just two languages that’s not a big deal, but with three or more it can be a big problem.
- Also, keep in mind that some plugins an themes do not work properly on Multisite installations.
- WordPress Multisite was not originally intended for creating multilingual website.
- Managing translation of content is more laborious because it’s easy to lose track of the contents which have been translated or no.
In this option, you only need to insert a language switcher into the header to being redirected to the homepage when switching from one language to another. Many multilingual websites are very different in each language so it’s not always necessary link contents (posts, pages, categories, tags, etc.).
Conclusion: The best option when each post or page don’t need to be linked to each other
Another option if you don’t need link contents and you don’t want to use WordPress Multisite: two different separate WordPress installations (English an Russian, for example), with two different domains (.COM and .RU, for example) and two different hostings and IP addresses. This is a good option for local SEO but you’ll have to manage two or more separate WordPress sites. In this case you can use services like InfiniteWP or ManageWP to manage multiple different sites.
2.2. WordPress Multisite + Multilingual Network Plugin
New plugins have been developed to avoid disadvantages of option 2.1.: Multisite Language Switcher, Zanto and Multilingual Press. These plugins allows you to synchronize files in each language. For example, you may want to link the translated content in different languages, to avoid being redirected to the homepage when switching from one language to another. Let’s review these plugins.
2.2.1. Multisite Language Switcher
Multisite Language Switcher is a free an easy to use plugin (http://msls.co) that will help you to manage multilingual content in a multisite installation. This plugin enables you to manage translations of posts, pages, custom post types, categories, tags and custom taxonomies. You can use a widget to link to all sites.
With 82.000 downloads, the users give to this plugin a high score (4,8 out of 5). It’s an excellent free option for WordPress Multisite.
- It’s free and very easy to set up. There are no “pro” features which you have to pay for.
- It offers great support: 16 of 17 support threads in the last two months have been resolved (June 2014)
- You can translate and link posts, pages, custom post types, categories, tags and custom taxonomies.
- If you disable the plugin, all sites will still work as separate sites.
- Extensions: Multisite Language Switcher Comments (All comments posted on translation-joined pages are showed on all translation-joined posts)
- I have not found any disadvantage.
Conclusion: a great free multilingual plugin for WordPress Multisite
Zanto allows you to convert webpages in a multisite into translations of each other. It provides a language switcher to switch between the translations of pages, posts, custom types, categories and taxonomies. Also keeps track of what has been translated and provides an easy interface.
It’s a recent plugin (1.626 downloads). After testing I think it’s the best free option for WordPress Multisite.
- It’s free and very easy to set up.
- You can translate everything: posts, pages, custom post types, categories, tags, taxonomies, etc.
- You have a customizable language switcher.
- Different languages for both: front and backend. Over 60 languages and flags.
- Integrated support for domain mapping plugin.
- Each user will have his admin language preferences stored.
- If you disable the plugin, all sites will still work as separate sites.
- Plugin documentation and tutorials here: http://zanto.org.
- I have not found any disadvantage.
Conclusion: the best free plugin for WordPress Multisite (even better than Multilingual Press free version)
2.2.3. Multilingual Press
Multilingual Press allows you connect multiple sites as language alternatives in a multisite and use a customizable widget to link to all sites.
You can set a main language for each site, create relationships, and start translating. You get a new field to create a linked post on all the connected sites automatically. They are accessible via the post/page editor – you can switch back and forth to translate them.
With 63.000 downloads (june 2014), the users give to this plugin a high score (4,6 out of 5)
- It’s a free version and very easy to use
- It offers great support: 6 of 6 support threads in the last two months have been resolved (june 2014).
- Plugin has been developed by a small team that is part of Marketpress.
- You can set up unlimited site relationships in the site manager.
- If you disable the plugin, all sites will still work as separate sites.
- Language Manager with 174 editable languages.
- It will allow you to view the translations for each post (or page) underneath the post editor.
- Free version doesn’t support custom post types and many other great features
Conclusion: an excellent free multilingual plugin for WordPress Multisite, but you’ll have to go for the Pro version if you want all features.
2.2.4. Multilingual Press Pro
Pro-version offers many features to save your time and to improve your work flow and user experience. This plugin has the support of a German company (Inpsyde GmbH) and a team of professional developers.
- You can edit all translations for a post from the original post editor without the need to switch sites.
- You can duplicate sites. This is a great option because you can use one site as template for new sites. You can copy everything: Posts, pages, settings for plugins, themes, navigation menus, categories, tags, custom taxonomies and attachments.
- Synchronized trash: move all connected posts or pages to trash with one click.
- Change relationships between translations or connect existing posts.
- Support for custom post types.
- Automatically redirect to the user’s preferred language version of a post.
- Every user can choose a preferred language for the user interface without affecting the output of the front-end.
- It is a commercial plugin that costs $75 (1 domain), $95 (5 domains) and $190 (10 domains). Annual renewal costs $45, $55 and $110, respectively. I think it’s a bit expensive. However, functionality is without time limit. Renewal is only needed if you want an update or support.
Conclusion: the best multilingual plugin for WordPress Multisite.
OPTION 3. Using a WordPress theme with integrated multilingual system
The most common way to make a multilingual website is installing a translation plugin in your WordPress theme. However, recently have appeared WordPress themes that come with an integrated multilingual system.
The best option I’ve found is AitThemes Club, first multilingual themes on the market (according to them).
All AitThemes are multilingual right out of the box. Themes come with built-in multilingual support, no third party plugin is required. You can simply select your language and start building your WordPress website.
- You can translate everything: pages, posts, custom post types, widgets, categories, etc.
- You can use the themes in your own native language or create a WordPress website in several languages
- No WPML or third party plugin is required. Themes come with AIT Languages plugin to create easily a multilingual website
- All parts of the theme, back-end and front-end are already translated to over 18 languages. You will never handle .po files or do the theme translation on your own
- Updates, technical support and comprehensive documentation:
- You only have 14 multilingual themes to choose from (list of themes). However if you use WPML you have hundreds of compatible WordPress themes to choose from (StudioPress, ElegantThemes, many ThemeForest themes, etc)
- Price. You can purchase single WordPress theme ($ 55) or access to all WordPress AitThemes ($ 165), but you don’t need to spend money with a thrid party translation plugin.
Conclusion: an excellent option to create a multilanguage WordPress site without using third party plugins.
OPTION 4. WordPress Localization with translation Proxy: Easyling
A translation proxy works as a layer on top of your site allowing you to manage translated content in the cloud. No additional translated website version is created because the translation proxy works as a layer: it removes the original text from the site and inserts the translated text on the fly.
Easyling is the most popular proxy-based website translation solution. It crawls your web and finds all the pages, posts and texts. Then you can do the translation yourself using live editing or export as an XLIFF file and use your favourite CAT tool.
Once the translation of your WordPress is done, Easyling for WordPress plugin automatically downloads your translations from Easyling, and presents it to your visitors using domains, subdomains or subdirectories.
- Word count and content extraction to XLIFF
- Translation preview. Works as a layer on top of existing site and translators can view their translation on site in real time and adapt text if needed.
- Machine translation support
- Automatic change detection and collaboration workflow.
- Price. You pay for word count ($1,2 per thousand pages) and for the translation tool ($2,4 per thousand unique source words and $12 per thousand translated unique source words).
- Users can’t edit pages and posts from the WordPress dashboard.
- Although it is an intuitive tool, learning takes time
Conclusion: Translation proxy is a great tool and I think is a good option for language service providers
As you can see, there is no a better or worse solution to have your blog or WordPress site in two or more languages. It depends on many factors: functionality, price, machine or human translations, ease to manage, technical support, SEO, etc.
- If you don’t want to spend your money with plugins, I recommend you to use Polylang or Zanto / Multisite Language Switcher (WordPress Multisite). If you want support and updates and money it’s not a problem, use WPML (single WordPress), Multilingual Press Pro (WordPress Multisite) or a WordPress premium theme with integrated multilingual system such as AitThemes.Club.
- If you’re a WordPress beginner user you can use option 1: WPML or Polylang.
- If you have a small or medium site, use WPML. If you have a large site, use Multisite (Multilingual Press Pro, Zanto or Multisite Language Switcher).
- If you don’t need to link posts and pages, then go Multisite (no need to use plugins). Otherwise you can use WPML or Multisite + Network plugin.
- If Search Engine Optimization (SEO) is important for you, don’t use automated translation. However if you want to use automatic translations, gTranslate is a good choice.
- If you’re a language service provider you might want to use Easyling.
In summary, if you want to create a professional, easy to manage, multilingual WordPress website, I recommend you use a professional payment solution with good support such as WPML (single WordPress), Multilingual Press Pro (WordPress Multisite) or AitThemes (multilingual WordPress themes right out of the box). In other cases it may be enough to use a free plugin such as Polylang (single WordPress), Zanto (WP Multisite) or Multisite Language Switcher (WP Multisite).
I hope this article will help you to choose the best option for you.
Which is the best option for you? Why? Thanks for sharing!