WordPress is a global platform. With over 29 percent of the Internet, a lot of those users aren’t in English speaking countries. In fact, since 2014, there are more downloads not in English than in English. While WordPress defaults to English, it supports many languages and there are many great ways to translate WordPress post content.
WordPress’ translation-friendliness is not just necessary for global growth, but it fits with our community’s values of inclusivity and accessibility. One of the many prospective changes in accessibility I’ve had as a result of being involved in this community was that I need to conceptualize translation as an accessibility issue.
Making your site available in the languages of the customers you serve is essential if your audience is multi-lingual or if your site is in a country that mandates sites or types of site be available in more than one language.
To learn more about how to plan translations, implement them on your WordPress site, and keep them up to date, I spoke with two experts in the field — Lauren Jeffcoat, a customer support representative at WPML, the WordPress Multilingual Plugin created by OnTheGoSystems and Jean-Francois Arseneault, a Managing Partner at S2B Solution, a Montreal-based web development agency who also offers SatelliteWP, a WordPress site maintenance service aimed at small businesses and web agencies.
What Common Mistakes Do You See WordPress Site Builders Make That Complicates The Translation Process?
Lauren: The most common mistakes I see are with language/plugin configuration, compatibility, and translation quality.
When configuring the site, there are some things to keep in mind when beginning translation. URL structure, permalinks, custom post type slug translation, etc. These types of issues can cause problems if you decide to change these settings after your translations have been created. It helps to plan ahead, especially when translating a complex site to many different languages.
Another common problem that I see is plugins or themes that are not compatible with WPML. This can be something as minor as a translated string not showing up or can be as complex as causing a Fatal Error on the site when the conflicting plugins are activated. We try hard to work directly with as many authors as we can and offer the Go-Global program to help make it easy to create Multilingual-ready themes and plugins.
Lastly, I see a number of issues when website builders opt to use machine translation over human translation. Machine translation often results in incorrect, poorly translated content and can come across as spammy. This can hurt your SEO and also your online reputation. It’s important to take the time and money to invest in excellent, quality translations from a native speaker in the target language.
Jean-Francois: The most common issues we’ve seen over the years are two-fold.
The first issue would be plugins or themes that do not follow localization recommendations as outlined in the WordPress Plugin Developer Handbook. When that’s happened, at times, we’ve had to fork the plugin and adjust the offending PHP functions so it would follow i10n standards, while we would wait for the developer to amend their code and provide an updated version.
The second is not a mistake per se, but the fact that WPML has a rather imposing presence in the multilingual plugins dept., and as such, many developers feel it’s important and useful to make their plugin WPML-compatible. The issue arises when working on an existing site, perhaps a complex e-commere install, and that *one* plugin you’d need isn’t WPML-compatible, therefore cannot be used.
How Can People Identify The Languages Their Customers Or Likely Site Visitors Need?
Lauren: One thing to consider is how many languages your budget can afford to be translated to and your team can support. If it doesn’t make sense to translate to 10 different languages, or that is not within your budget, start small with the language(s) of your main target audience.
If you are selling online, it’s important to sell to your clients in their native language, because many buyers will only want to purchase products in their native language. You can determine where your customers are coming from by reviewing site analytics, but also keep in mind that a lack of traffic from different language speaking countries could in fact be due to a lack of translated content in those languages.
If you are just looking to expand to other languages and don’t have a target demographic, you can research to see which countries are using the internet the most here.
Jean-Francois: Of course, the region in which you offer your services will often dictate which languages you might be expected to support. In our home province, it will be French and English, whereas a business located in southwestern US will most likely consider English and Spanish.
If a client has been using a comprehensive analytics solution (Google Analytics, Piwik, etc), these will typically gather browser-based information, as well as clickstream data.
Armed with this information, and assuming that a significant portion of visitors will use a browser in their native tongue, we can have a good idea of which languages our visitors speak. The clickstream can help us see if visitors switch language (and therefore URL), as they access the homepage (or any page from search engine results).
How Can I Keep My Content Translations Up To Date Most Efficiently?
Lauren: When any content is updated on the website, the translated content should be updated also. WPML offers an easy interface to show translators which content has been changed and needs updating. Aside from updated content, you can make sure that the WordPress .po files are current by keeping up to date with updates.
Jean-Francois: There are various types of translations for a multilingual site, and they will live in different areas in a WordPress install.
While WordPress itself provides translations files (PO/MO) for most languages, some plugins may not bundle the language one needs. In that case, using tools such as POEdit or Loco Translate will provide means to generate the missing translation files, which will be stored in wp-content/languages/plugins/. Following each new major version of a plugin, one would then have to review the existing translations and add, adjust or delete translations as needed.
As for the content itself, that will always be stored in the database, regardless of the approach used to translate, whether that be a plugin like WPML / Polylang, or using the Multisite approach. Reviewing translations should only be required when new content is added, or when making changes in a language which should be duplicated to the other languages.
Where Can I Find Good Translations Services For WordPress?
Lauren: I recommend using professional translation services whenever possible. WPML has partnered with over 40 professional translation companies. This means that no matter what your budget or expertise, we are able to match you with an excellent translation service that provides high quality translations that are quick and affordable. We can also match a service based on area of expertise or language.
If opting not to use professional translation services, then be sure that local translators are proofreading the translated content and I always recommend a second translator review the content as well.
When using .po/.mo files for translation, be sure they are downloaded from a good source.
Jean-Francois: Up to now, we’ve always worked with local translators, whether it be for French, English, or Spanish, and the reason is simple : we understand the importance of context and culture. Of course, those translations were meant for Canada-based visitors.
Had it been for use in another country, I would have favored working with translators familiar with the culture of the targeted country… the simplest details can make a difference when trying to connect with a reader : using the right expression, when to use word contractions, familiar vs formal writing style… all these make a difference.
I’m finishing up this article on my way to WordCamp US 2017, where over a thousand WordPress professionals will gather from all over the world. And yes, our major event of the year is in English, like our software defaults to.
But, this group and the tens of thousands of people like us throughout the world will be making sites for people who speak a wide variety of language. So don’t forget to make sure all of your code is translation-ready and our sites are available in the necessary languages.