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Updated
September 19, 2023

WPML allows you to change the default language of your WordPress website. However, changing the default language of your site can affect how custom archive pages display post types or taxonomies set to fallback to the default language.

From WPML → Languages, you can change the default language of your site. This allows you to:

  • Create content in one language and translate it into a secondary language
  • Set the secondary language as the new default language of your site
Changing the default language of your site

On This Page:

What Happens When You Change Your Site’s Default Language

Before changing the default language, you should create a backup of your site.

When you change your site’s default language, the new default language becomes your site’s main language. It’s the first language users see when they visit your website. 

After you change your site’s default language, WPML automatically adjusts your content and links to point to the corresponding language. It does not change the language assigned to existing posts. The language of each post is determined when you create it and you can only change this manually in the WordPress editor.

However, if any of your post types or taxonomies are set to Translatable – use translation if available or fallback to default language, changing the site’s default language may affect how your custom archive pages display them.

Post types set to Translatable – use translation if available or fallback to default language

With this setting:

  •  If you haven’t translated content into secondary languages, WPML will show the content in your default language. 
  • When you change the default language, content that wasn’t translated into this language will not show up in your site’s archives. This is not because the content is missing, but because it doesn’t exist in this new default language.

To illustrate this, let’s say you have a WooCommerce site:

  • You set English as your default language and Spanish as your secondary language. 
  • You set the Products post type to Translatable – use translation if available or fallback to default language
  • You translate only one product into Spanish. The remaining products only exist in English, your site’s default language.

In this case: 

  • When your site’s default language is set to English, your Spanish shop page displays one product in Spanish. The rest display in English.
Translated shop page with products set to display translations and default language products
  • If you change your site’s default language to Spanish, your Spanish shop page will only display the one product you previously translated. Your English shop page remains unaffected, as all products were originally added in English, and no fallback is required.

Spanish shop page after changing the site’s default language

English shop page after changing the site’s default language

How to Prepare Content for a Default Language Change

Before you change your website’s default language, you should prepare your site’s content to correctly display in archive listings. This is because once you change the default language:

  • You cannot go to WPML → Translation Management and use the automatic translation in bulk feature to translate existing content from the source language (the previous default language) to other languages, including your new default language.
  • If you enable the Translate Everything Automatically mode after changing your site’s default language, content from the source language (the previous default language) won’t be picked up for automatic translation.

Before changing the default language, you can do the following to ensure your archive listings display posts correctly:  

  • Option 1: Translate all your content to the new default language. Ensure all your posts are translated into the language you intend to make your new default language. If you have a lot of content and need to speed up the translation process, you can use automatic translation.
  • Option 2: Duplicate Existing Posts: Duplicate your existing post types, including pages, products, and other custom posts, to the new default language. 

Known Issues After Changing the Default Language

If you changed the default language without following the steps above, you may see content missing from the archive listings. In this case, you can use the Advanced Translation Editor to translate content from the source language (the previous default language) into your new default language.

If you have a lot of items in your archive listings that you did not translate, such as Portfolios or other custom post types that don’t have translatable content, please contact WPML Support. Our team can help you change the language of all these posts in bulk.