How to Build a Multilingual WordPress Site

How to Build a Multilingual WordPress Website: Step 1

Category: Technology, Website Translation

Multilingual websites are imperative for businesses expanding into new, global markets. But how do you create one that is set up for professional translation and is easy to maintain?

To help WordPress developers who are new to building and maintaining a multilingual site, we recently launched an educational “How to build a multilingual WordPress website” video series that provides step-by-step instructions. In support of the video series, we’ve broken down each video into informational tips in this new blog series.

Let’s start with the two most important, “behind the scenes” concepts for a multilingual website to exist. Consider these the proper building blocks, or foundations, that allow your website to run properly even before translation is considered.

Warning: If you’re not a developer, some of this content could be overwhelming. However, though it may not fall under your jurisdiction or technical oversight, it is important that your outside developers or internal team of coders understand and are familiar with these terms for successful deployment.

Internationalization (I18n)

Internationalization is the process of using code, (PHP in the case of WordPress), that allows your site (or theme or plugin) to be translated.

Internationalization is often abbreviated I18n because there are 18 letters between the I and the N. Is this trivial? Perhaps, as this information is purely for website developers, but it’s a very common abbreviation and you’ll probably run across it. (This is a tutorial after all.)

Be aware that internationalization is not actual translation. It is simply part of the foundation of your multilingual website that will allow for translation in the future.

For more information on internationalization—call this homework if you must—watch our video series and visit WordPress.org, where you can explore their theme handbook that has a very helpful section on internationalization, as well as internationalization for plugins.

Localization (L10n)

Just like internationalization, localization has a fancy abbreviation: L10n. And just like internationalization, the 10 represents the number of letters between the L and the N.

Localization is the process of using a translation tool to translate text into other languages. Unlike internationalization, localization is not is created by developers. If a website or theme or plugin is built properly, which yours will be after reading this website-building series, localization is done by someone who is skilled in that specific area. WordPress.org also has excellent documentation for localization, both for themes and plugins.

Later in this blog series, we will discuss WPML (WordPress Multilingual Plugin), one one of the most widely used translation plugins available for WordPress. But until then, know that internationalization and localization are two vital concepts you need to understand for a successful multilingual WordPress website.

Now that you’ve learned the basics behind a multilingual WordPress site, let’s continue this series and start picking a translation-ready WordPress theme that’s perfect for your brand.