dropdown language menuWebsites based on WordPress have become extremely popular and for good reasons. The software is free and relatively easy to install. Also, there are a wide variety of free and cheap plug-ins, themes, and theme builders, which can simplify design and add a multitude of features that could only be combined in the past with a lot of sophisticated coding. At least one-half of the websites that MTM LinguaSoft has translated recently have been based on WordPress.

If you want your WordPress site to support multiple languages, the first choice to be made is how you are going to set up your site. There are basically three choices: separate installations; a multisite installation; or a multilingual website plug-in. The advisability of each varies according to the circumstances of the individual client.

1. Perform separate WordPress installations

This may be the easiest solution, especially for those without extensive development experience. The original site can simply be copied into subfolders on the same server (or to other servers, if you want them hosted separately, for example on in-country hosts). Each language site can then be localized individually, eliminating and changing material that is not necessary or appropriate for that particular audience, swapping out graphics, and inputting the translation.

Of course, this path has its drawbacks. For one thing, administrators and users have to log in separately for each site. Changes that you want to apply to all sites, like the addition of a particular plug-in, have to be replicated on each site individually.

The sites are not linked to each other in any way. You have to create a language menu (usually in the header) on each site. If you want to link parallel pages together, as opposed to simply linking the home pages, you will also have to set up those links separately.

Finally, this set-up does nothing to facilitate the translation process. As we discussed in an earlier post, the translation workflow becomes more complex with sites built on content management systems than it is for sites created with static pages. You will still have to work out a process with your translation agency for extracting all the translatable text and reimporting it into the foreign-language site(s).

2. Install WordPress Multisite

Since WordPress 3.0 came along you have had the option to install WordPress Multisite, a version that allows you to run separate websites off the same dashboard. In fact, Multisite is included in all WordPress installations; you just have to turn it on by the addition of some lines of code to the wp-config file.

A Multisite installation has various advantages. Administrators and other users log in to one dashboard where they can switch between sites easily. Since WordPress assets are shared among the sites, changes to themes and installation of new plug-ins don’t have to be replicated for each site. Upgrades to WordPress and plug-ins can all be accomplished at once.

However, the Multisite installation doesn’t automatically create your parallel sites or create any links between the content of the different sites. Just as with separate installations, copies of the original site will have to be created and linked separately. You would probably still want to use a plug-in like Multisite Language Switcher, which allows you to easily create connections between the sites and add language switchers to pages.

There are other considerations involved as well. Space can become a problem for large sites, especially if on shared servers. Administrators and other users will have access to all sites, which could raise privacy issues. If at some time, you want to separate the sites for some reason, it will be a complicated process. There are also other issues with Multisite that we won’t go into detail about here. It’s enough to say that setting up a site this way is best carried out by an experienced developer who understands the issues involved.

3. Use a multilingual plug-in

There are plug-ins that will automatically translate your website. That is not what we refer to here. We strongly advise against machine translation, which can make a joke of your website. We’re talking about plug-ins that:

  • make it easy to create parallel sites from an existing site;
  • take care of the language coding on each site;
  • facilitate the linking of parallel content and the installation of language switchers on the pages; and
  • support professional translation workflow by largely automating the downloading of existing content and the uploading of translated content.

The most widely used and probably the best of these plug-ins is WPML. This plug-in is no longer free, but the price is very reasonable. It is relatively easy to install and set up. The content of individual pages can be easily downloaded as XLIFF files, a tagged file that translators can work with directly. Content in other areas, such as menus, widgets, headers, and footers, is also located and gathered for translation.

You do not have to duplicate every page on every language site. In other words, the foreign languages sites can still be microsites of the original with some content deleted. The sites can be kept private until they are completed and ready for publishing. This means that you don’t need to use a test site, the foreign-language sites can be developed from the main site even while it is running.

It includes an interface that allows an administrator to oversee the whole translation project. Using the tool takes some training, but you don’t have to train an inside person for this. You can simply give your translation agency access and they can make use of the tool.

The plug-in isn’t right for all sites. For example, it may not work with other important plug-ins you have installed. But, when it works well, it gives you the advantages of a Multisite installation along with easier set-up of the parallel sites and a translation interface.

MTM LinguaSoft has experience with translating multilingual websites using all these types of set-ups and can help you choose the one that’s right for your particular situation.

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