How to Build a Multilingual WordPress Site

How to Build a Multilingual WordPress Website – Step 2: Choosing a Translation Ready Theme

Category: Technology, Website Translation

Continuing our series on how to build a multilingual WordPress website—this blog post focuses on choosing a translation ready theme that’s right for your business. If you missed our kick-off blog on the two most important, “behind the scenes” foundations for building a multilingual WordPress site, you can find it here. And if you’re a developer, we’ve created a step-by-step training video series that you can access here.

Choosing a translation ready theme takes a little bit of digging, as there are literally thousands of options. Even if you’re not a developer, it may help to get your hands dirty—just a bit—to make sure that the theme you choose is ideal for your needs.

But don’t worry! We’ll walk you through the exact steps needed to find the multilingual theme for your brand. Yes, there is a bit of “coding talk” ahead, but we’ll guide you through it.

Not All Themes are the Same (Even Ones that Say They’re “Translation Ready”)

Option 1: Free Themes

Everyone loves “free.” When it comes to free WordPress themes, you can actually get more than what you pay for. In fact, we’ve found many free WordPress themes that work quite beautifully for multilingual sites. You just need to know what to look for, so let’s get started.  

The first step is to filter out the themes we don’t want. To do so, go to WordPress.org and click on the THEMES button in the top navigation.

Choosing a Translation Ready WordPress Theme

Searching through commercial themes is not as consistent as WordPress.org’s free themes. After all, these are all different companies creating their themes. However, there are commonalities.

Now click on the Feature Filter navigation, which will give you many boxes to choose from. The most important box for our endeavor is at the very bottom: Translation Ready. Click on that box and then click Apply Filters. (Feel free to click on any other boxes that make sense for your brand and website needs, but the most important feature is “Translation Ready.”)

Choosing a Translation Ready WordPress Theme

Oh boy. We’re narrowed down the thousands and thousands of WordPress themes to, well, 2,500+. (The good news is that it’s less than 3,000.) Warning: Scroll down at your own risk. The themes just keep appearing.

This isn’t a branding 101 blog, so we give you the full power to pick the best theme for your brand, depending on navigation, design, look and other needs. But beware: not all themes that say they’re translation ready are actually ready.

So how do you know if the theme you’ve chosen is actually Translation Ready? Easy. (Even if you don’t know coding at all.)

Click on the theme you want and scroll down to the bottom to see the Subversion Repository link. Click on that.  

Choosing a Translation Ready WordPress Theme

Now find the latest version (the last link at the bottom), click on that and then click on “style.css.” Welcome to the code behind the theme. What we’re now looking for is “text domain.” It’s usually at the top, but if you can’t find it, just search for “text domain.”

Found it? Good. Your theme has a text domain! If you can’t find the text domain, move along to your next-favorite theme.

Option 2: Commercial Themes

Searching through commercial themes is not as consistent as WordPress.org’s free themes. After all, these are all different companies creating their themes. However, there are commonalities.

Choosing a Translation Ready WordPress Theme

First, find a theme that catches your eye. One of the commonalities that tells you if a commercial theme is translation ready is, obviously, communication on the theme page that says “Ready for Translation.” In this example, we’ve scrolled all the way to the bottom.

Choosing a Translation Ready WordPress Theme

Choosing a Translation Ready WordPress Theme

Now, we’re not ones to blindly believe anything said on the internet, so just saying “Ready for Translation” is step one. Good, not great. However, this theme discusses .pot language files, which means that they truly are translation ready.

The lesson? Search for both “Ready for Translation” communication and keywords such as “.pot” and “.pot language files.” Not all commercial themes that say they are ready for translation are truly ready.

Trial-Runs & Testing

The great thing about free themes is that you can download them and try them for yourself. If it doesn’t work, you get rid of it. No harm done.

However, for commercial themes, you’ll want to first check their terms and refund policy. Some companies ask that you join their “club,” and then they’ll take care of any needs you have—just in case their theme doesn’t translate as promised.

If you’re buying a single commercial theme, ask if the provider will offer a refund should the theme go awry. Get it in writing (or email). If there’s a good refund policy, then download your theme and see if it works as advertised.

If you follow these steps—search for your theme properly, check for translation-ready capabilities and test your theme—then you will find a translation-ready WordPress theme that works for your brand, whether your theme is free or commercial.

In our next blog in this series, we’ll take a look at how to make sure a plugin has been properly internationalized.