There are several ways to translate your site from one language to another, when you want to run a multilingual site. You can shell out the big bucks for a professional translator, to make sure you have a high quality localization for every blog post you write. This can, of course, get extremely expensive, particularly when you have a huge log of blog posts and pages you want translated.
If that option doesn’t work, you can try to hire a writer who is bilingual. They can probably create translated versions of their own content, for a lower fee than what a third party translator might charge. This is in many ways ideal, because it’s the right mixture of expense and quality in translation. This, of course, assumes that the bilingual writer is fluent in their second language. This also has the added benefit of ensuring that the translation carries through the author’s intent.
If you’re looking for a free method, you can go the absolute bottom of the barrel method and run everything through Google Translate. This has a number of issues, though. Despite the quality of Google’s, well, everything, their translation is necessarily sub-par. No translation software has been invented that has perfect translation, particularly when using obscure industry terms or complex phrases.
Of course, if you’re on WordPress, you can do it one better and use one of the many translation plugins available for the platform.
There are a bunch of different translation plugins. Some of them are free, some of them cost money for a premium version. If you have a large site and you want quality support, don’t skimp on the fee just because there are free options. Here are six options you can use.
WPML is a premium plugin that has a wide range of costs depending on what you want it to do. The cheapest version is $29 and includes post translations, tag translations, menu translations and browser language detection. The mid-range plan is $79 and offers all of that, but additional custom fields, e-commerce, widget, themes and other translation options. Both options are one-year subscriptions. The final option, for $195, includes all of the features of the mid-range plan, but is a one-time lifetime fee.
WPML is a multilingual plugin and is one of the most popular, long-lived plugins available, and with good reason. It automatically uses over 40 languages, and tailors the translation to the language and content. By all reports, it’s really quite good. It also has a lot of active support, it’s constantly updated for new WordPress installations and it’s well supported by the translation community.
qTranslate is a similarly high quality option, but it has somewhat less support than the premium WPML. The reason for this, primarily, is that it’s free. It has quick and easy installation, but it’s not a constant automatic on-the-fly translation like WPML. Instead, it allows you to publish translated versions of your content form your dashboard. You can automate this, so you don’t need to go through the process with every post.
qTranslate only supports around 17 languages at the moment, with an additional option to hire a human translator to go over your particularly important or sensitive content.
Transposh is another free option, if you want something that isn’t created and maintained by one single person. If qTranslate doesn’t support the language you want to use, Transposh almost certainly does. It supports over 70 languages. Other than that, there’s not much to separate the plugin from others of its kind.
For the coming year 2015, Transposh is set to get more useful and interesting. They plan to release additional features over the next ten months, including widget support for custom widget writers, support for numeral systems beyond European numerals, and some other features. You can see what’s going on in their news posts.
Multilingual Press is yet another free option, with a twist. Rather than posting tagged translations on your main blog, MP is designed to support multiple sites, each with a different language focus. It does mean that you need to have a multisite setup to run, with different sites and different URLs for each individual language. However, once you have it all set up, it will automatically create translated versions of all of your content, and continue to create translations when you post new content.
Any time you run a multilingual site, you should make sure that more than just your content is translated. Ideally, you will have a multisite setup that allows you to have translated versions of your themes and widgets, in addition to your content. After all, your content does no one any good if they can’t navigate enough to find it.
This means you may have to pay for a separate translation of your theme and your static pages, as well as finding multilingual versions of your widgets or manually translating them as well.
Don’t rely on automatic language detection to serve all of your customers and readers. A lot of people browsing primarily in a different language will still use an English browser, either due to their location or due to the availability of other language browsers in their area. You have two solutions to this problem. You can either do no detection, and rely on the user finding the right content, or you can use user selection.
User selection is available on many of the plugins above, as well as many other plugins, if none of these work for you. If you have a significant number of users coming from languages other than English, and they aren’t predominantly all one second language, you’ll do well to use a user-selection plugin.
Finally, of course, make sure to keep your translation plugin up to date. There are a few reasons for this. For one thing, when WordPress or a plugin makes an update, chances are it’s to fix security holes, even if other features are added. Always update everything, whenever possible. Second, it’s possible with automatic translation plugins that the update improves the quality of the translations you receive. This can help improve the quality of your site overall, as well as the quality of individual pieces of content.
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Which of these plugins work the best in your opinion?
Your mileage may vary with each. I believe WPML is the most popular. Hope this helps!
Hi Kenny. First, I want to thank you for writing up this informative guide. Second, my question to you is: what is the difference between hiring a translator and simply using one of these free plugins? Will there be a significant difference in quality, or will a WordPress plugin be sufficient? Thank in advance!
Hi Lorena, thanks for your comment! You’re welcome. Hiring a translator will yield significantly better results as they will be more accurate than a plugin. Google translate is too rough of a translation and could harm you more than hurt you.