Multiple Languages: How to Make WordPress Multilingual by Using the WPML Plugin

Torben Simon Meier Last updated 10.11.2020
9 Min.
wpml plugin make wordpress mulltilingual
Last updated 10.11.2020

Setting upWordPress in multiple languages is indispensable for your WordPress business in times of globalization and international customers. To support you with the implementation of a multilingual WordPress website, I will describe our own experiences with the WPML WordPress Plugin for the multilingualism of our website raidboxes.com/io/it/etc.

Update: In the meantime we have finished the complete RAIDBOXES-websites from WPML to Weglot . This WPML guide is still the ideal way tor, if youf you want to build your website using WPML to make your website multilingual. Good luck!

1. Why do you need the WordPress -Plugin WPML?

WPML makes it easy for you to set up a multilingual website with just one WordPress installation. You can choose which languages you want to use for your sites and start translating your content right away. The WPML WordPress -Plugin now has over 40 languages(!) to choose from by default. But with the so-called WPML language editor you can also add your own language variants. On the WPML website the example "Canadian French" or "Mexican Spanish" are mentioned. To fill WordPress with multilingual content, the WPML-Plugin offers you three options:

  1. on a separate domain per language
  2. on multiple sub-domains per language
  3. on different domains per language

2. Functionalities of the WPML plugin

The WPML plugin creates different language versions of your posts in your WordPress and treats them as completely separate versions. This has the great advantage that not only the WPML plugin could be deactivated more easily or a language removed, but also that a clear structure is created.

If your WordPress is multilingual, a so-called "hreflang" is used in each header of your website. "hreflang" in every header of your website. This tells the search engines explicitly which language the respective WordPress site .

link rel alternate hreflang
On raidboxes.* the "hreflang" for Germany (de-de), Austria (de-at), Switzerland (de-ch) and the USA (en-us).

For a multilingual WordPress with WPML, you have to invest quite some time and effort into writing multilingual articles. Also, you need to create SEO metadata for each language – with plugins like Yoast SEO – to get the best results for the website.

But I can reassure you that the WPML plugin for WordPress multilingualism now has special features to copy and paste posts and pages and then translate them directly into the chosen language.

On the RAIDBOXES website we use separate language versions for the following countries Germany, Austria and Switzerland. Although German is spoken in all three countries, there are still some national differences that we would like to take into account, such as certain terms, addresses and telephone numbers.

In order to use WPML properly with your WordPress , you should check the minimum requirements for using WPML before installing Plugin on your site . minimum requirements for using the Plugins check.

As mentioned before, you can either put your multilingual content on your own domain (exampledomain.com), in a subdirectory (exampledomain.com/en/) or with a language parameter (beispieldomain.com/?lang=en). Here at the example of an English-language WordPress -Website.

A useful tool for creating "hreflang"endings can be found here.

3. Set a default language and add further languages

Now it's time to get down to business! Before you get involved with WPML WordPress -Plugin , I highly recommend that you create a manual backup of your current website. That way you can always go back if something doesn't work the way you want it to. If you don't have a WordPress backup yet, please use an appropriate backup-Plugin or else a WordPress Hosting with integrated backups.

Install and start wpml plugin

Have you downloaded the WPML-Plugin downloadedinstalled and activated, you can start to define the languages in the settings of the WPML-Plugins .

Step one:

After the installation you choose the default language of your WordPress website.

wpml setup select language of content
WPML Screen 1: Select default language.

Step two:

You can add over 40 additional languages to your website. Follow the step by step setup process of the WPML-Plugins.

wpml setup select translation languages
WPML Screen 2: Add more languages.

Step Three:

Now you can set up the language switcher options. The default setting is the so-called dropdown variant as a menu on your website.

wpml set up compatibility reports send
WPML Screen 3: Language switcher options.

You can also decide whether you want to use the language switcher in the widgets of your WordPress -Themes (widget language switcher) or at the end of your website (footer language switcher).

For blogs and magazines, there is also the option of having a language picker on all blog posts. This button is then automatically made visible above and below all your posts and pages.  

In my opinion, this function is often associated with problems, because it automatically interferes with your Theme . So please test it extensively before the final release.

Perfect for such small function tests or also Plugin-/Theme-installations and updates is by the way a so-called WordPress Stagingwith which you can run through such interventions in a test environment without any risk.

If you prefer to implement the language switcher yourself in your WordPress -Theme , you can use the following PHP code to do so:

It is also possible to use your own CSS styles. In the documentation of the WordPress WPML-Plugins you will find the procedure is described (but unfortunately only in English).

Step four:

So that support can help you as quickly as possible in the event of a problem, you can post compatibility reports. For this, the WPML-Plugin sends a list of your actively used Plugins and Themes to wpml.org.

wpml set up compatibility reports send
WPML Screen 4: Set compatibility reports.

Step Five:

Finally, you will be asked to register WPML for a fee. You can also use it for free, but then Plugin updates and support would not be possible.

set up wpml register wpml plugin
WPML Screen 5: Register paid license.

If you order the WPML-Plugin for regular security and feature updates on WPML for a fee, you will get a valid key for your Plugin and you can activate it again during registration or later in the Plugin overview.

4. Multilingual websites, posts, categories and keywords

Once you have set up multilingualism using WPML, you can translate all your posts, pages, categories and keywords into the languages you have added.

Unlike e.g. qTranslate, you create a separate WordPress site for the new language. The WPML-plugin makes sure to automatically linke the sites to each other. The posts and sites of your default language will be listed first. In your WordPress admin panel, you can now either:

  1. all sites of a Show language
  2. all sites all Show languages
wpml sites  languages
In the image I have set up a new WordPress installation and installed WPML. Then added ENG but not yet translated any of the existing sites .

Tip: If you want to test the WPML-Plugin with a new WordPress website and not your existing site , I can recommend our WordPress Hosting with free trial period recommended. In less than 10 seconds you can set up a new WordPress installation with just one click and try WPML there without any risk. After the free demo period, your newly created test site will be automatically deleted if you don't want to use the paid offer.

wpml site  translate
With the help of the plus sign in the overview you can create a post or page in one of your new languages.

To add one of your sites or posts in a new language, you can either use the plus sign in the respective dashboard overview or in the respective site or post in the field "Language" to add a new version in the desired language or edit the version(s) in an existing language.

wpml sites  translate
posts and pages can be managed in the Classic Editor (WP 4.9) but also in the Gutenberg editor (WP 5.0) via the control panel "Language of this page".
wpml language duplicate this site

If you now want to create a direct copy of an existing German site , for example to translate it into English, all you need to do is to tick the corresponding language in the "Duplicate checkbox" and click on the button "Duplicate" button.

wpml language this site  duplicate media attachments

Before you create the duplicate of the site , you can still select whether the so-called media attachments" (images, graphics etc.) should also be duplicated. Here you can even further differentiate between uploaded media and the post image.

wpml taxonomy translations categories
You can also create your WordPress blog categories and/or blog keywords in multiple languages or translate them into multiple languages using WPML-Plugin .

It only needs a little training if you have just started with WordPress multilingual. For translating taxonomy labels and slugs, it's best to use the in-house WPML String Translation Plugin. Please note that to use this Plugins you need to register your WPML-Plugin for a fee.

5. Translate WordPress using WPML

Very handy with WPML is that the Plugin already supports the new WordPress features (e.g. menus or custom post types) very well. We have tested it ourselves so far only with the individual menus. These can be created at least very well multilingual. 

wpml wp menus synchronize
You can also translate and synchronize your WordPress menus into the respective languages. The WPML-Plugin uses a specially developed tool for this.

6. Our experience with WPML

Basically, with the WPML-Plugin your WordPress project can be equipped with multilingualism quite quickly and easily. The onboarding and initial setup is also successfully completed within minutes.

Personally, I am also willing to pay money for a WordPress -Plugin in order to get the important security and feature updates as well as to support the developers in the further development of Plugins .

Before using WPMLPlugins and implementing the multilingual website structure, you should definitely allow enough time for planning. After all, you must first define which functions you really need and where you want your WordPress website to go in the future.

In my eyes it makes no sense to build up WordPress multilingual, if the biggest part of your traffic comes only from Germany and you generate the biggest part of your turnover with it.

Keep in mind that it takes quite a bit of time to make your sites and posts available in another language and maintain them accordingly. From experience I can say that when we publish a new article in our WordPress magazine we spend between 30-45 minutes to create the language duplicates. And this despite the fact that the duplicates in our case are currently created in the same language.

The implementation of multilingualism does not only include the creation of texts in different languages, but also, if necessary, link changes, redirects, SEO optimizations, different media, different publication times and and and.

7. Advantages and disadvantages of the WPML plugin

Pros:

  1. In my opinion, one advantage of the WPML WordPress Plugins is the individual areas of application and the quick setup due to the user-friendly onboarding.
  2. Another advantage is certainly the ensured service and support by the developers themselves. New features and improvements are regularly made available to the buyers of Plugins . I am willing to pay for that.
  3. Also the direct editing of taxonomy and strings within WordPress are very easy with the help of the WPML-Plugins to use WordPress multilingual with the help of WPML.

Disadvantages:

  1. A personal disadvantage for me is that the performance of your website can suffer with the WPML-Plugin . For this reason you should in any case choose a performant WordPress Hosting-specialist as your partner.
  2. The user interface is somewhat out of fashion due to years of further development. However, once you have come to terms with the fact that not everything is displayed optimally or always works the way you would have liked, this can be tolerated quite well. Besides, it seems that with WordPress 5.0 a (Gutenberg-) revision is imminent.
  3. Last but not least, it is unfortunately the case that compatibility with a large number of WordPress -Plugins and WordPress -Themes is simply not given or leads to complications. A ray of hope is that many well-known Plugin-developers and large Theme-developers are working with WPML to provide the best compatibility.

8. Further (chargeable) WordPress Multilingual plugins

  1. The probably best known multilingual Plugin for WordPress - apart from WPML - is the so called "Polylang Plugin”. It has in the meantime a large fan community of over 400.000 paid pro-versions. By the way, there is also a "WPML to Polylang Plugin" to make the switch as easy as possible.
  2. Another widely used paid Multilingual Plugin comes from Germany called "MultilingualPress”. This Plugin also has a Pro-Version and has already been released in version 3. However, the basic requirement for MultilingualPress is a WordPress multisite installation.
  3. With the "Weglot Translate Plugin" I also had no experience so far. The special thing about the paid version is the direct API connection, with the help of which texts can be given into translation. So if you don't have the time, but the financial means, you should check out the the offer definitely take a closer look.
  4. The Multilingual Plugin "TranslatePress" is available in a free and a paid version and scores with the custom editor integration to edit your texts directly on the website. You can find the Pro version here.

Final thoughts

Those were my personal tips for WordPress multilingualism with the help of WPML and Co. Finally, I would like to say that I also find the other Plugins very exciting and I am determined to try them out thoroughly.

What is your opinion about WPML WordPress Plugin ? Have you already had experience with the multilingualism of WordPress ? And if so, what were your personal hurdles and pitfalls?

I look forward to your comments, tips and feedback!

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