One of the biggest challenges facing us as web designers is making our websites fully multilingual. Gone are the days when a localised version of a site would be enough. The web has become a global marketplace where people now hunt for products not available in their domestic market or are looking for cheaper vendors abroad.
As such we are now faced with the need to make our sites multilingual, giving the users the choice of which language to view our sites in. So how do we go about this task one might ask? The first decision we must make is how are we going to present our sites. For example, are we going to use subdomains based on languages on a WordPress network where each install has its own language, or are we going to create one site with all languages on it. Well there are a few options available to us, so let’s take a look at each of them and examine the pitfalls and benefits for developers.
This leads us to the question of how to approach a fully multilingual site. The question falls into two categories: fully multilingual and partial multilingual, i.e. either front and backend are translated or just the public front end.
Sites where the administration or dashboard area need to be multi lingual or the theme can easily be handled using the traditional method of language files (.mo, .po) and editing or translating them via a program such as poedit.
Content provides us with our biggest challenge. Nothing beats human translation but not many of us know a whole bunch of translators or, more importantly, people who know the language and are also experienced in presenting the content in their language in a SEO friendly manner. Fortunately, there are a few tools available to us such as WPML and QTranslate, two of the most popular plugins available to WordPress Developers. Both again have advantages and disadvantages.
The quickest method available to us it to use Automated Translation services such as Google’s AJAX translation, or to translate content using translate.google.com. This is great for fast translations, however the result is often wrong, which doesn’t create a professional impression on the reader since it may even be more difficult to read than a well written text in English.
The second shortcut is to do selective translations, i.e. only translate parts of the site (for example the “about us” page or certain articles on a site). Again, this is a fast way of doing things but it can give the impression that you were only part doing a job and the reader may have wanted to read more on your site.
Now let us take a look at some of the tools available to us as developers. These observations are based on my own personal use of them whilst creating multilingual sites.
Qtranslate is a free plugin which has a tab in its editor for each language, basically all translations are stored in the same post/page which has both benefits and drawbacks. The main benefit is that it is relatively easy to use but on the other hand can make individual posts and pages quite heavy if there is a large amount of content and also you still need to find translators via the Web Translation Services option in the plugin.
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By far the most complete solution available on the market today is WPML. You can arrange different language contents in the same domain (in language directories), in sub-domains or in completely different domains.
Each post page, custom post type etc can be translated into its own unique equivalent in the target language, it also automates making the backend translatable by downloading the WordPress translation for the dashboard based on the users language selection in their profile for example which saves us as developers a lot of time.
WPML comes with a fully-integrated translation management system. You can turn ordinary WordPress users in your team into Translators. Translators can access only specific translation jobs which Editors assign to them.
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Another key benefit is the ability to directly deal with a pool of experienced professional translators directly from your dashboard and when the translations are completed they reappear in your dashboard ready for publication. (The WPML plugin also offers you a rough guide as to how much you should pay for the translation).
However one of the other main benefits to us as developers is the ability to easily translate theme and plugins without the need for .mo or .po files. WPML has a very powerful string translation tool which allows us to provide translations for the texts via the dashboard.
So what’s the catch? Well it’s not free, but it’s not that expensive either, full details can be found at http://wpml.org/purchase/
There are other free solutions on the market such as:
But none really offer the ease of use in one centralised location in the same way that WPML works. Couple that with the fact that the WPML team works closely with theme and plugin developers and often have a special plugin available for third party products such as MarketPress.
However as always a comprehensive analysis of your needs and those of your customers should be undertaken before choosing any option.