The Seven Best Multilingual / Translation Plugins for WordPress (2018)
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A lot of work goes into producing top-quality content, so doesn’t it make sense for that content to reach the widest possible audience?
While English is one of the world’s more widely spoken languages, the 2015 edition of Ethnologue revealed that only around a billion people speak it in some shape or form (on a planet of more than 7.4 billion), and only 400 million speak it as their native language.
The statistics relating to internet usage make for an even more interesting read. Web technology survey firm W3Techs has found that, despite only 25.9% of internet users speaking English, more than half of the content online is written in English — 53.6% to be exact. A language gap clearly exists — and this creates an opportunity for savvy, multilingual webmasters.
To tap into a truly international online audience, you need to publish multilingual content. If, for example, you translate your content into Spanish, you can expect to see a sudden spike in visits, conversions and engagement from Spanish speakers.
The best way to translate a WordPress-powered website into multiple languages is to install a multilingual plugin — and, fortunately, there are plenty of excellent options. Typically, multilingual plugins fall into two camps:
- Auto-translate — these plugins rely on online translation services to convert your content into a variety of languages, with translations provided at the click of a button. However, no automated language service has fully cracked the nuances of modern language, so the translations are not the most reliable.
- Self-translate — these plugins require you to translate the content yourself (or hire someone else to do the translations). You write your content in your preferred language, then rewrite it in additional languages, which visitors can flick between. It’s the more time-consuming of the two approaches, but it produces by far the highest quality translations.
Today, we’ll be covering both auto-translate and self-translate options, as we take a look at seven of the very best multilingual plugins for WordPress.
Let’s get started.
WPML (from $29)
Let’s start with by far the best-known plugin on today’s list, WordPress Multilingual Plugin — better known as WPML. It supports more than 40 languages out of the box, and you can even add your own language variants.
WPML gives you the option of placing translations on the same domain, a sub-domain, or an entirely different domain, making it a versatile solution for managing a multilingual site.
Licenses start from $29, but to access the full range of features you’ll need to upgrade to the $79 option — and, in my opinion, these extra features are invaluable. For a start, the upgrade offers multilingual eCommerce support and translation widgets, and can also be used to translate the back end of your website so non-native speakers can understand the configuration screens for themes and plugins.
However, the most important thing for any multilingual plugin is the translations, and WPML sits in both the auto-translate and self-translate categories.
If you want to auto-translate, WPML syncs with ICanLocalize and Cloudwords services. It simply sends your content to your preferred translation tool, and, when it returns, it’s good to go.
If you’d prefer to create translations manually, this can be done via the default WordPress text editor, allowing you to write the translation alongside the native language content.
You can even encourage your visitors to provide translations for you — you can assign them the user role of translator, with each person specifying the languages they speak during the signup process. The site owner — or anyone with an editor user role — can then assign translators specific content to work on.
Google Website Translator by Prisna.net (FREE)
When looking for a quick and easy translation, most of us will pull up the Google Translate tool. The translations are reasonably good for a free auto-translation service (though not top notch), it’s free to use, and there are more than 100 languages available.
With this handy tool so readily available, why not use Google Translate to translate the content on your WordPress-powered website? Enter Google Website Translator — a free plugin that automates this entire process.
It’s easy to use, too: All you need to do is install and activate the plugin, specify your website’s native language, then choose which languages you want to offer (there’s an option to select all Google Translate-supported languages). The intuitive admin panel makes the process a breeze.
You then place the dedicated widget, Prisna GWT, in your sidebar — you can embed it within posts using a shortcode, too. Visitors can choose their language from a drop-down list, or quick-launch a language by clicking on the relevant flag. There are four styling options for each widget.
In a split second, the plugin translates your entire website into the visitor’s preferred language — sidebar, menus, and all!
Polylang is the first self-translate only option on today’s list. This means you’ll need to possess strong enough language skills to translate the content yourself — or be willing to hire someone with those skills. However, the plugin is easy to use — making it a great option for anyone looking to create and manage a multilingual website.
From the settings screen, you need to specify which languages you want your site to support (the plugin offers just shy of 100 options). Each language is added individually, and you’ll need to select a unique two-letter language code for each. You can also choose how the language name appears on your website, and select an appropriate flag.
Now, you’ll be able to provide a translation for any post, page, custom post type, category, tag, or menu. It’s worth pointing out that you don’t have to provide a translation in every language for every post — so you could opt to translate only your top-performing content.
When published, each translation gets a unique URL, with the language indicated by the applicable two-letter code that was specified during configuration. Visitors can then switch between languages by interacting with a dedicated widget.
If you want to switch your multilingual plugin from WPML to Polylang, there’s also a dedicated plugin for the job.
Lingotek Translation (FREE)
If you like the functionality offered by Polylang, but lack the linguistic skills to make the translations yourself, Lingotek Translation is an excellent option. Lingotek is a free cloud-based translation management system, built on top of the Polylang plugin (see directly above for Polylang details).
Lingotek offers translations in three variants:
- Machine translation — courtesy of the Microsoft Translator tool, and free for the first 100,000 characters.
- Community translation — translations provided by you or your employees/users. Content is translated using a professional text editor built into the so-called Lingotek Workbench.
- Professional translation — if you have the budget for it, this option is the cream of the crop, letting you hire members of Lingotek’s 5,000-strong network of professional-grade translators. Each translator must create a profile for you to peruse, too, so you can select your favorite/s.
Now, there are several other plugins that provide strong machine or community translations, but none can rival Lingotek for its professional translation network (although you could potentially hire a professional translator externally, then set them to work using Lingotek’s professional text editor tool). The professional translator approach results in quick, reliable, high-quality translations that’ll guarantee a more engaged non-native audience.
The plugin automatically transfers your content via the cloud to Lingotek’s servers. During translation, you can track progress by following a live percentage bar, and, when it’s complete, the translated content is transferred straight back to your website. The entire translation process is fully automated, meaning you have one less thing to deal with.
Next, we have the Automattic-acquired Babble, one of the very best multilingual plugins available — and, like WordPress, it’s completely open source.
Babble has the distinction of being one of the fastest multilingual plugins — according to developers, it’s speed optimized, resulting in 20% faster load times with 40% fewer queries. To install it, simply download Babble from the GitHub repository, then follow the simple instructions.
Babble allows you to translate your website into an unlimited number of languages — just navigate to the translations section of the WordPress back end, then click on any existing post, page, or custom post type that you’d like to translate.
The Babble plugin will then display two versions of the WordPress visual editor, side by side — one featuring the original content, and the other offering a blank canvas on which you can write your translations. As such, Babble is a self-translate only platform.
With your translations complete, simply place the dedicated Babble Language Switcher widget in your sidebar, and, at the click of a button, visitors will be able to read your content in their preferred language.
For several years, qTranslate was one of the top multilingual plugins on the official WordPress repository. Over time, updates became more and more sporadic, before the plugin was finally abandoned for good and removed from the repository in 2015.
It seems qTranslate-X is the phoenix rising from the ashes of qTranslate — a fork of the original — and it’s already proving incredibly popular. In fact, so many new features and functionalities have been added, that the original qTranslate is barely recognizable.
The plugin works in a similar way to Polylang. After installation, select your default language and the other languages you want to offer on your website, and create a unique two-letter code for each language supported. To help you out, however, qTranslate-X comes preconfigured with flags and language codes for 25 of the most widely spoken languages.
The language code is added to the URL, and defines which language the content’s written in. This also has positive SEO implications — by keeping each translation on a unique URL, the search engines can index your content multiple times.
Upon arrival, visitors are automatically presented with their preferred language, as detected by their browser’s default settings. If visitors want to switch languages, though, they can do so using the plugin’s dedicated language chooser widget.
You can also switch the language of the WordPress dashboard by selecting your preferred language from the toolbar at the top. This is easy to find and navigate, which means you won’t accidentally get stuck in a language you can’t speak!
This is a self-translate only plugin. When you access the WordPress visual editor, you’ll see the flags of all your active languages, and you can click on them to switch between text editors for each language without having to reload the screen. This means you can write content in multiple languages simultaneously.
You can also make any text fields multilingual using qTranslate-X. A good example is if you want to display all of your content in English, except important elements such as buy now buttons, which you wish to localize. In this scenario, you can provide the translation in a variety of languages, and the plugin will serve the desired translation to your visitors — it’s a nice feature that can improve navigation, conversions, and engagement.
There are also a number of third-party plugins providing integration between qTranslate-X and some of the WordPress world’s most popular plugins. These include:
- WooCommerce and qTranslate-X
- Yoast SEO and qTranslate-X
- All in One SEO and qTranslate-X
- Gravity Forms and qTranslate-X
- WPBakery Visual Composer and qTranslate-X
All integrations — even those for premium plugins — are available for free from the official repository.
MultilingualPress is different from the other plugins featured on today’s list. It uses WordPress Multisite, so you can connect standalone versions of your website that have been built in different languages — for example, yourdomain.co.uk, yourdomain.de, and yourdomain.es.
You can connect an unlimited number of websites — all you need to do is specify the default language for each. Visitors can then navigate to their preferred language using a dedicated widget, or by links added to each post.
Despite each website in the ‘family’ being completely separate, MultilingualPress lets you edit all versions of a post from one screen. By not having to switch between sites — and being able to pull up any already translated work — this speeds up and simplifies the translation process.
The other major advantage of using MultilingualPress is that there’s no lock-in effect. The plugin simply links to the separate, translated versions of your websites, making them interconnected in this way. When the plugin’s disabled, those separate versions will still exist, as they did before the plugin was installed.
There’s also a free plugin available for those looking to migrate from WPML to MultilingualPress.
That completes our rundown of seven of the best multilingual plugins WordPress has to offer. If you want to widen your website’s reach, check Google Analytics to see where your website’s popular, and then consider translating it into that location’s native language.
If you hadn’t noticed, the majority of the plugins featured in this list are free to download, install, and use. This will keep risk to a minimum, and so will hopefully encourage more WordPress users to flex their linguistic muscles and experiment with translated content.
But which plugin should you choose? Well, as always, that depends on how you intend to use it.
Perhaps more than any other category of plugin, multilingual plugins are very different in how they work. Some require you to provide the translations, while others use automated services. Some host translations on localized URL variations, while others use WordPress Multisite. No two plugins are completely alike.
As such, consider how you plan to translate your content, then narrow down your choice accordingly. All plugins featured today are highly regarded, so you’re in safe hands whichever one you pick!
Using any of the above multilingual plugins? Thoughts?