As a person that’s not a native English speaker, I’ve been presented with the challenge to create a multi-lingual site under WordPress. This can be a daunting task, but if you have the right tools, it will be much easier.
To Multisite or not to Multisite?
First thing’s first – and when you’re considering doing a multi-lingual site, you should start with your site structure. Since WordPress 3.0 you have the option to create a Multisite installation – this basically means you’ll have a collection of sites that share the same WordPress installation, they can also share themes and plugins, but they can work on separate domains and with their own visitor metrics. Although this option wasn’t developed especially for multi-lingual sites, it can be used for that purpose, as well. However, it requires a lot more advanced management and keeping track of your content. This is why I’d recommend going with the easier option and just adding a plugin to a single WordPress site – there are plugins advanced enough to manage everything for you and save you time.
Using translation plugins
So, we’re settling on a WordPress site with translation management with a dedicated plugin. What are the best options out there?
WPML – the premium solution
Hands down, the best plugin out there. It comes only as a paid solution, starting at $29 fee with an annual renewal of $15, but it’s very well worth every dime. With WPML you create separate posts for each translation and then link the articles together. You can choose one of +50 languages and you can also easily add different versions, like Brazilian Portuguese or anything else. You are also able to translate theme texts, menus and plugins.
WPML was developed having a larger site owner’s needs in mind, so you can easily manage translations, assign users to translate specific parts of the site, keep track of translated pages and much more.
The plugin is developed by a large team, so you can rely on proper support and constant updates and feature additions.
Polylang – the free WPML contender
Polylang deserves a mention, as it is highly regarded among users. It offers most of the functionality of WPML for free and has a clean and easy to use admin panel. It comes with a ready language switcher, can be used to translate theme and plugin strings and provides an option to flag certain content for translation – a more basic version of WPML’s translation management system.
The plugin is developed by a small team, but there’s a lot of information for any tweak or customization you might want in the support forums.
qTranslate and qTranslate Plus – the historical free option
For a long, long time qTranslate was the best free translation option out there. The interface is easy to use and since you’re creating language alternatives of the same post, you have all the information in one place.
qTranslate was developed by a single person and at one point the plugin stopped updating. Then came qTranslate Plus, a modified version compatible with WordPress 3.9 and higher. It builds on top of the original functionality and is updated regularly to ensure compatibility with new WordPress versions.
The plugin does a great job at translating posts and pages, but when you need to translate anything else (like widgets, theme texts, etc.), you’ll have to resort to manually inserting language tags. The other setback you need to keep in mind is that if you uninstall the plugin, you’ll most likely end up with having the translated text appear in the original post – that can create a LOT of work.
Multilingual Press – when you want to use multisites
With Multilingual Press you can translate everything, starting with posts and pages, going all the way to categories, tags, menus and so on. The plugin supports som 174 languages and all of those are fully editable.
If you’re settled on using multisites, I’d recommend you go with Multilingual Press Pro. However, this is a laborious task and you should really think what you’re getting into, as working with multisites requires a more complex network structure and you’ll have to also keep tabs on what content is featured where.
Stella – the free alternative
I found Stella when I started doing research for this post and found quite a few positive reviews. I gave it a shot and the interface is really easy and straightforward. Out of the box you get all your important options, together with a ready language switcher widget. You can also translate custom post types, which can be really handy and is a feature some free plugins lack. However, translations of the same article are organized in different tabs, which doesn’t do the trick for me – you constantly need to switch between tabs if you want to compare translations.
Stella also has a paid version with additional functionality – if you enjoy the free plugin you might eventually want to upgrade.
If you’re serious about your site, I’d just recommend going with WPML and not bother. The plugin is really great and will save you a lot of time compared to any of the free solutions. However, if you want to start small and test things, go with Polylang or qTranslate Plus.