2 Options to Make a Multilingual WordPress Site
There are many reasons you may wish to learn how to set up a multilingual WordPress site. Unless your site is for a local business where everyone speaks the same language, chances are that you could benefit from doing this. Perhaps the best use case would be an international business. Potential customers in non-English speaking countries may not even bother with your website if there isn’t a version available in their native language.
There isn’t a single correct answer on how to set up a multilingual WordPress site (or sites), so we will review each option a webmaster has.
Options for Making Multilingual WordPress Site
Depending on just how multilingual you want your site to be, you have a few options. We’ll go through the three main choices you have, in order from easiest to most difficult to achieve.
1. The “Split Page” Method (WordPress Multi-Language Without Plugin)
By far the easiest method, this is perfect for those with blogs where certain Posts are written in two or more languages. Rather than make it complicated, the premise is very simple. First, write the post in your primary language. After that, include a version of the same text and content in another language. Continue doing this until you have written it out in all the languages you’d like it to be in.
In this version of how to set up a multilingual WordPress site, we really just need three items for each Page and Post that you wish to be multilingual: page jumps, some type of break-line to show that this version of the post is over, and the actual content of the page.
As a multilingual blog example, let’s say that I’m making a practice Blog Post. I’m just going to make it say “I am here” in English and also include a German version. First, you’ll need to log onto your WordPress Dashboard. Then, click “Posts” on the left-hand column, as shown below:
Then, click on “Add New” as shown:
You can give the post any title you’d like. Let’s make the first Content Block a Header with an anchor. We can do this by clicking the “+” button, typing in “Heading”, and choose a size from the list of options. Select the “Deutsch” Heading and give it a hyperlink name of “#deutsch-anchor”:
Continuing our trek on learning how to set up a multilingual WordPress site, let’s make a regular content block that is just a Paragraph saying “I am here.” Then, add a Heading that says “Auf Deutsch” Content Block. Finally, add a second content block that says “Ich bin hier.” after the “Auf Deutsch” Heading. In each content block, copy and paste its respective sentences so your screen looks something like this:
Last, select the Heading called “Auf Deutsch”. In the right-hand column, you should see some accordions, one of which says “Advanced”. Open that up, and then in the “HTML Anchor” field, type in “deutsch-anchor”. Note that this one does not use the “#” sign:
You will not be able to see this in action in the Preview. You will need to “Publish” the Page first. Go ahead and click that blue “Publish” button. Now, view the Post. At the top of your browser, you should see something along the lines of this on our first WordPress language change example:
Click on that “Deutsch” relative hyperlink we have boxed in red. You should then see it suddenly perform a “page jump” to the content in German. If you’re still logged in as admin, the toolbar may obscure some of the text initially; your visitors will not have this issue.
And now, to finish up our first example of how to set up a multilingual WordPress site, let’s see the result:
Of course, we could always do the same thing at the bottom of this page and make it jump back up to the English version, but this is the most simplistic version. Armed with this knowledge, you do technically know how to set up a multilingual WordPress site.
2. The Single Site Method (Requires Plugin)
Technically, there are actually two other options that utilize a WordPress language plugin. One of them, that we will not be going over in detail in this post, is called the “multisite method”. This means that you actually have a separate WordPress site for each language, and often even a separate domain for each language. Proponents of this method like to claim that it makes database management easier when learning how to set up a multilingual WordPress site.
However, we are also balancing cost and sitewide efficiency. There are plenty of plugins that are capable of producing an identical experience to the user while still technically using only one multilingual WordPress site! Especially if you’re using a host that charges you per site and does your backups in that manner, this is a much safer route to go. On the other hand, if money is no object, then I am jealous of you (also, you can check out the official documentation on utilizing multiple sites).
Regardless of whether you continue on with the Single Site method we’re about to jump into or you decide to investigate how to network multiple WordPress sites and spring for the Multi Site method, I strongly recommend that you back up your database! Either one is going to fundamentally change your database’s structure to accommodate multiple languages. Chances are that your host provides this functionality through its cPanel or equivalent.
First, we are going to need to go back to our Dashboard. From there, on the left-hand column, click the “Plugins” menu item. We will be searching for “Polylang” to assist us in learning how to set up a multilingual WordPress site. From the “Plugins” page, click on the “Add New” button to access the main list. Search for “Polylang” in the keyword search box, and it will likely be the first result. It’ll look like this:
As we indicated, click on the “Install Now” button. Once that installs and the button’s text changes to “Activate”, click on that. Then, you’ll be redirected to the page that lists all the plugins you’ve installed. Find this one, then click on the “Settings” hyperlink associated with it. This portion is critical, as we need to “add languages” to Polylang in order for our multi-language switcher to work. Let’s add English and Spanish. Each field on the form should be self-explanatory, but I’ve inserted a screenshot of a completed one for English below, just so there’s no confusion as we figure out how to set up a multilingual WordPress site.
As you can see, the fields will automatically populate. Click that blue “Add new language” button, then proceed to do the same with Spanish.
Need to Auto Translate?
Shortly after installing Polylang, you should get a notification when you’re on the Polylang “Settings” page that looks like this:
If you do not speak the other language(s) you’re adding, feel free to try this one out! Note that there are a few signup hoops for this service, and it’s unclear what the limitations of the “free version” are, so tread carefully!
Getting Back to Learning How to Setup a Multilingual WordPress Site
So, again, you should have added both English and Spanish for demo purposes. You should now see that they both appear in your “list of languages”. The next step in this process is to provide “String Translations” for each language.
Unfortunately, there are too many steps to Polylang for us to cover in this individual article. However, they have very good documentation on exactly how to get started. You can just skip the “Activate License Key” step on their site. You do not need to pay money to use this plugin.
Use WordPress to Add Language Switcher to Menu
Once you’ve configured Polylang to your satisfaction, you can easily add it as a menu item to an existing menu, or make a new menu. Check out our tutorials on making dropdown menus in WordPress if you need assistance!
As the last step of learning how to set up a multilingual WordPress site, let’s go back to the main dashboard. On the left-hand column, click “Appearance”. On the page that pops up, we’re looking for “Menus”, like what I have below:
There are a few items you may want to tinker around within the “Menu Settings” section here, as well, but this is the main one. Let’s click “Add to Menu”. Since I only have posts in English at the moment, it will show only English on my dropdown. However, if I added Spanish posts, that would be another item!
Here are the steps on how to make a multilingual WordPress site:
- Utilize a single site multilingual plugin called “Polylang”.
- Add multiple languages to Polylang.
- Configured our site to allow you to post in both English and Spanish.
- Showed how to implement it in a menu.
As a WordPress administrator, one of your main goals is likely to drive as much traffic as possible to your own website. One way to