How to Create a Multi-Lingual Website with WordPress

I wrote about how to create a dual language static HTML website earlier.

This time I’ll go through the process if you’re building your site on WordPress.

Multi-Lingual Websites on WordPress

With WordPress you have 3 options for creating a dual- or multi-language website:

1. First option – two languages on the same page

The first and simplest option is to have both languages on the same page, with your client or a colleague producing the second language version of the content for you to insert.

Even if your second language doesn’t use the Roman alphabet (Chinese, for example), you can still paste the translations into all the key places you would need to: your page content, page title, navigation/menu bar tabs and text widgets

This can look a bit messy, especially in the menu tabs, and it does not work well on long pages. But if you’re living in a country where dual language publications are common (as they are here in Hong Kong) readers are quite used to seeing two languages on the same page.

It works better if your pages are short, but even on a long page you can place anchor links to the second language section.

The only thing you need to do within WordPress to ensure this works properly is to use UTF-8 encoding.

UTF-8 is the WordPress default so you have nothing to worry about unless you’ve changed it or if you installed WordPress with one of the 1-click installation scripts – some of these assign a different encoding standard.

If you’re concerned, you can check it on the Settings > Reading screen (the last field before the ‘Save Changes’ button).

The advantages of this option are that you’re not using a plugin and the quality of the translation will be good, because it’s written by a human.

2. Second Option – use an auto-translation plugin

There are several plugins that use the various automated translation services and enable you to add a language switcher to your site, which gives visitors the option to view the site entirely in the language of their choice.

This is an easy option, and simple to implement. The chief downside, though, is that the translations are generally poor. At the very least the wording and grammar are error-ridden and, at worst, they can alter the meaning of key sentences or phrases.

However, if you’re updating your site regularly and don’t have the option of a human to do your translations, the auto translate plugins are a useful way of providing language options for your visitors.

Here are some auto-translation plugins:

  1. GTranslate.
  2. WP-Translate.
  3. ConveyThis Translate.

3. Third option: Translations by humans

The third option is to use the WPML plugin, which is a premium (paid) plugin.

This is the best option if high quality translations are important, and here’s why: while this plugin does offer machine translations, it also enables you to manage a pool of professional human translators. As a result, the quality of the translations is excellent.

For example, if a visitor leaves a blog comment in their language, WPML will create a machine translation to enable you to understand the comment. You can then reply (in your own language) and assign your reply to a human translator so it can be properly translated back before it’s published.

Once your translated page is published WPML will present whichever version your site visitors want to see through the language switcher options.

If you are the sole author on your site then using WPML is straightforward: you add translations through the Translation Manager.

If you have a large site, though, with a number of authors, the translation manager enables you to assign and manage translation projects to different people. This is a major bonus for larger, more complex sites.

WPML also has a pool of translators and you can use the WPML API to route your translation projects to the pool where it will be assigned to one of the translators and routed back to your admin screen when the translation is complete so you can publish it.

Where you are building sites for customers who want a second language you can ask them to provide the translations they want. This results in the best possible translation because the customer is providing it and able to add in local nuances – e.g. local customs, local landmarks, etc.

This plugin offers the best of both worlds: high quality translations along with language switcher options to allow site visitors to choose their preferred language, and the ability for you to converse with your foreign language visitors in their language.

I use WPML by default simply because the quality of the translations is the best you can get. I wrote a detailed review of WPML here.


Creating multiple-language websites with WordPress is straightforward, using one of the methods I’ve set out above.

The best quality translations are always going to be those done by qualified humans but, as the auto-translation services improve, even the quality of translations done with those plugins will become progressively better.


Martin Malden

Martin Malden
Owner – WealthyDragon

Website owner: Martin has been working online since 2006 and focuses on two areas: 1) affiliate marketing and 2) designing and building websites based on WordPress. He has his own WordPress agency, and serves clients in Hong Kong, Australia and the UK.

What do you think?

Comments on this entry are closed.

  • Agnes Nov 14, 2012 @ 13:09

    I am thinking of the translation issue and am actually considering 2 options: WPML or WPMU – multisite. I see the second option as a little more heavy to maintain (esspecially regarding image management that has to be done twice) but regard it (without certainty) as probably safer and lighter than WPML – as i fear this could be complicate to integrate in a site with a large number of plugins and features, and wonder it it causes issues in a low bandwidth environment / low CPU shared hosting. Any thoughts?

    • Martin Malden Nov 15, 2012 @ 7:49

      Hi Agnes,

      I don’t have any direct experience of comparing those two options, however, WPML is a premium (paid) plugin and these are almost always well coded and well maintained, along with good after sale service. (And, therefore, they work efficiently and well).

      My instinct, therefore, would be to go with the plugin rather than the multi-site approach.

      However, you mentioned that you’re running a large number of plugins – it would definitely be worth reviewing those critically to see if you can reduce the number.

      Not only would this reduce the risk of any clashes with WPML, it would also speed up your page-load times – especially as you also mention you’re in a low-bandwidth environment.

      Sorry I couldn’t be more specific 🙂



  • Philip Jan 22, 2013 @ 2:18

    Hi Martin

    Thanks for your reply on the comment on the other posts, great posts by the way!!

    Is there any option where I can create an English-Chinese website in wordpress where the viewer can view the site entirely in their langauge of choice and where I do not have to rely on plug-ins for translation? I will have all the Chinese translation done by myself so I do not want auto-translation, 2nd option or professional, 3rd option, doing the translation for me but I also do not want the 1st option where you see both English and Chinese on the same site.

    Thanks a lot for your help!!


    • Martin Malden Jan 22, 2013 @ 7:30

      Using the WPML plugin is the best way to achieve high quality translations – i.e. manual translations that you’ve made yourself. Although WPML will offer an auto translation to help with replying to comments you can edit the auto translations prior to publishing your reply.

      All pages and posts are translated manually. It would probably require you to set up a second user (yourself) as the translator to whom you would route translation requests.



  • monica Feb 11, 2013 @ 6:33

    Hello Martin,

    I have really enjoyed your post. Is it possible to email me as I have a few questions I would like to ask you.

    Many thanks,Monica

    • Martin Malden Feb 11, 2013 @ 8:35

      Hi Monica,

      Sure – I got your email re guest blogging and I’ll get back to you,