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In this guide, we’ll walk you through the process of turning your WordPress sites multilingual. You’ll see which plugins to install, how to configure them, and how to translate your site’s content.

Before we get started, let’s clear some doubts:

  • Yes, you can have multiple languages in one WordPress site.
  • Yes, you can translate everything yourself and use automatic translation.
  • No, you don’t need to build separate websites for each language.

1. Install Plugins to Make Your WordPress Site Multilingual

To translate every part of your site, you need to install WPML. WPML is a modular plugin, which allows you to install the exact components that you need for different websites.

To use all the features WPML has to offer, you will need the Multilingual CMS version. Start by installing the core WPML plugin. For most websites, you should also install WPML String Translation. Then, depending on what theme and plugins you use, you may need to install other WPML components like WooCommerce Multilingual.

WPML includes an automatic installation and update mechanism. All you need to do is install the core plugin and register it. Then, navigate (in the WordPress admin) to PluginsAdd new and click the Commercial tab. There, you will see the entire list of WPML components and you can choose the ones that your site requires.

List of WPML components

2. Add Languages to WordPress

Without any “multilingual” plugin, WordPress allows you to choose the language of the site, but only one language.

With WPML, you can add as many languages as you need to the same site. In the first step of the setup wizard, you choose your site’s default language and select the languages you want to translate your site into.

Choosing your site’s languages

You can also add, remove, or edit languages anytime by going to the WPMLLanguages menu.

Adding or removing languages

WPML comes pre-configured with 65 languages to choose from, but you can even add your own custom languages. This is especially useful for adding country-specific languages such as Canadian French or Swiss German.

Setting the custom language options

3. Choose How Languages Appear in the URLs

WPML adds language information to all the URLs on your site. This allows translations to appear in unique URLs.

Setting the URL format

For friendly URLs and good SEO, we recommend that you use Languages in directories or A different language per domain. You can learn the full details in our guide on language URL options.

4. Add Language Switchers to Your Site

Language switchers allow visitors to choose in which language they want to read your site. WPML lets you add different kinds of language switchers, which fit into the design of any WordPress site.

Adding a language switcher to your site

You can add language switchers to menus, as widgets, to pages and posts, and to the site’s footer. You can also create your own custom language switchers and add them to any PHP template.

5. Translate the Site’s Content

Now that your site has several languages and a nice language switcher, it’s time to decide how to translate your site.

You can choose who will translate your site:

You can also choose how to translate your site:

WPML’s variety of options makes sure your site’s translations match the quality you need and the budget you have available.

WPML’s Advanced Translation Editor includes everything that you need to translate quickly and accurately. You will see the source and the translation side-by-side. When you translate a sentence, you’ll see just the texts without HTML code. To apply HTML styling, you will use safe markers. This way, your translation can never break the site’s markup.

Translation services offer superior quality with human translation and review. When you’re running business sites and you want to project the most professional image, you should definitely consider paying for high-quality professional translation.

In recent years, automatic translation has made huge progress. Today, automatic translation produces good results between many language pairs. Please keep in mind that it’s still automatic and it still requires supervision. We recommend that you manually review everything that comes back from automatic translation. When needed, you can always edit and improve the translation.

6. Translate Taxonomy

WordPress uses taxonomy to organize content. WPML makes it easy to translate taxonomy.

When translating posts, pages, and custom post types, you don’t need to worry about translating taxonomy. WPML will include the taxonomy terms with the content that you’re translating.

If you want, you can translate taxonomy separately using WPML’s Taxonomy Translation. This screen shows you a global picture of your site’s taxonomy and terms. You will be able to translate any term to any language from one place. This is convenient to make sure that different terms are always translated in a consistent way.

Translating taxonomy

7. Translate Menus

WPML has a dedicated tool that allows you to translate your site’s menus.

You will be able to translate menus manually and to sync menus automatically. This means that whenever you edit the menu in the site’s default language, WPML can immediately update the menus in all other languages.

8. Translate Strings

Your WordPress site also has texts that are not part of any post, field, or taxonomy. These texts can come from plugins, themes, and even WordPress itself (like the site’s tagline). WPML’s String Translation allows you to find and translate all these texts.

Translating strings

When translating strings, WPML has some handy tools to help you:

  • You can see where strings are coming from, so you’ll understand what they mean
  • WPML can automatically register strings for translation
  • You can export and import string translations as PO files
  • You can even translate strings that are stored inside the wp_options table

Even though WPML’s String Translation is a powerful plugin, it doesn’t add any load to your site. WPML stores all its translations in MO files and does not access the database to load them.

9. SEO for Your Multilingual Content

Having a multilingual site is great, but having that site deliver traffic is even better. Fortunately, WPML takes care of all the technicalities so that your SEO work can focus mainly on strategy and content creation.

Read our full guide on multilingual SEO to learn how it works and what you need to do.

Appendix – What’s new in 2021

In 2021, Gutenberg is a mature and rich editor for WordPress content. It proudly competes with popular page builders and is now the norm for new sites. Translating WordPress sites means being fully compatible with Gutenberg and with its many extensions.

Also, Google’s focus is evolving. In 2021, Google will place a lot of emphasis on page speed, with what’s called Core Web Vitals. Multilingual sites, like any other sites, will have to load fast and render quickly. WPML plays nice with Google by minimizing both server load and browser resources.

In 2021, automatic translation keeps getting better and WPML makes it easy to use correctly. WPML offers integration with Azure, Google, and DeepL’s automatic translation. And as of 2021, WPML now allows you to translate entire sites using automatic translation with human review. This makes translating your site and keeping your translations up to date easy, convenient, and affordable.