To include everyone, an org has to be multilingual, and while learning a language can take a long time, it can be easier to enlist bilingual people within the organization to translate web content. Translating digital content is seen as an easy, quick way to make the content more accessible. While this is a great goal, and should be a focus for tech teams, I’ve found it’s not easy. This post chronicles the jounrey I had to take (and am still on!) to figure out how to make a WordPress site multilingual.
WordPress is not multilingual by default, and neither is its main competitor, Ghost. One of the best, easiest to use treanslations products on the market for WordPress and Ghost is WeGlot, which costs an eye-popping amount of money, especially if you write a lot (and let’s be honest, socialists are wordy, so you’re probably gonna write a lot.) There are alternatives to Weglot that are cheaper, but all of those products are targeted at business who can stomach the higher costs. If you have under 2,000 words for a project that’s limited in scope and you need it fast the free plan will work.
With the professional options out, WordPress translation plugins are the best option for the budget-minded polyglot. WordPress has a few options, and in my research WPML came up as the most mature and full-featured for the cost ($79a year, and $69 a year after that, you simply stop getting updates if you forget to pay). Polylang also looked good, but a bit less mature. WPML also grants you 2,000 credits for machine translations per month, which is a nice bonus as the machine translations seem pretty good for common language pairs (like English to Spanish – I wouldn’t try it for something like English to Chinese or other languages with less of a common root).
Installation of WPML is straightforward, but this is where the ease of use of WPML comes to a screeching halt. You’re paying budget prices for premium functionality, but it comes at the cost of ease of use. I’ve spent a few weeks trying to wrap my head around all the functionality of WPML and I’m still not there yet (which is why this is a blog post and not a tutorial). I still don’t know what the best way to translate articles is. Clicking the plus button next to a post to add a translation prompts you to re-create the entire post, including stuff like images, where string translation seems to work similarly but I still haven’t figured out how to get that to work consistently yet. On another, larger, site there’s thousands of strings and no obvious way to filter to the ones I need, and even then, they’re one large post in a Classic Block, and the interface to translate is small. Not really ideal either way.
I wrote this up just becuase I’ve been working on this months, and this is all I have to show for it. If you know of a better way, please let me know – otherwise, I hope to make a much more streamlined and comprehensive introduction to WPML soon.