Offering websites in multiple languages is much more than just translating your content

First, you might be asking yourself, why should I offer my site in multiple languages? I only speak English. The question isn’t about what language YOU speak, but about what languages your customers speak. Do you live in an area that has a high population of speakers of another language? Do you want to be able to sell your services or products to them? If so, then you might want to think about if offering your site in another language will be a worthwhile investment. Not only is the US a very diverse place, but plenty of website in other countries could benefit from having an English version as well.

We’ve done a number of sites in multiple languages, and I really enjoy doing them. However, there are some things I’ve learned along the way and the first is, it’s not as easy as it looks.

You might think, hey, I want to offer my site in English and Spanish so I’ll just drop  my content in Google Translate boom, done!

Not. So. Fast.

There’s a lot more to think about when it comes to offering multi-lingual websites. Here are some lessons I’ve learned along the way.

Don’t use Google Translate

Yes, you can type in a word and it will give you the translated word in the language you need to know. And if you’re trying to figure out what a sign says when on vacation in Greece, Google Translate is a fantastic tool. I’m not here to tell you not to use Google Translate ever, because when you need to figure out what someone is saying, read a menu, understand a sign, then it’s a really great tool.

However, it’s not 100%. It doesn’t take into account context, jargon, slang, or idiomatic phrases. It also doesn’t usually take into account various dialects. Did you know that Spanish isn’t just Spanish? It has a ton of variations depending on the country you’re in, or sometimes within the country! Is your target audience in Mexico? Or Chile?

Use a Professional Translator

I know it’s easy to ask your uncle or cousin or brother or friend or random person at the store who speaks the language you need to translate for money, but it’s not the same as using a professional translator. A professional is not just someone who speaks the language, they are someone who speaks, reads and writes fluently and also has a solid base in not just grammar in that language, but in dialect and cultural correctness.

Will a professional translator cost more than using your buddy? Probably. But the quality of a professional translator is going to be worth it if you expect your translated site to have a return on investment.

Consider this: If you went to a website and the English was broken, misspelled or incorrect, would you then continue on to hire that person or buy their product? I know I wouldn’t.

What’s it cost? It will vary from company to company, but expect at least $0.13 – $0.21 per word for translations. Turnaround time varies again by company and especially by the amount of words needed for translation.

Understand that you will have to get translations for more than just the body of your site

This is a very frequent misconception. It’s not just the body of your website. There is text all over your website and if you are offering a mutli-lingual experience, you’ll need to translate it all. That includes, but is not limited to:

  • navigation menusTranslating WordPress Sites
  • logos
  • footers
  • text in images
  • alt text for images
  • screenreader text
  • buttons
  • page headings
  • sub-headings
  • breadcrumbs
  • forms

Oh, and did you do SEO? Then you need to translate all your meta data too!

I’m tired just thinking about it! You thought it would be easy, right? You have to translate everything in the site, from the top to the bottom, and that makes it a lot more complex of a project than just translating the paragraphs in the middle.

Ok, so you’ve your translations and you’re ready to go, what next?

How do you actually make your website it multi-lingual?

There are a number of options for this. Two plugins I’m familiar with are Polylang and WPML. I haven’t used Polylang, but I’ve used WPML many times on sites and it works well. I’ve heard very good things about Polylang as well. Polylang is a free plugin in the WordPress repository and WPML is a premium plugin with an annual fee of $79 a year.

Another option is to set up a WordPress Multisite and create separate sites for each language. This works and is free if you  know how to set it up, but what I don’t like about this option is that it’s just a longer process each time you have an update. You login, open one site, make a change then you also have to go to the same page in the other site and make the same change.

If you don’t plan to have many updates and have small sites though, this might be a solid option.

This is a lot of work, Amy. Can you do it for me? 

Yes. Yes we can. It is a lot of work, and there’s a lot to think about it. Luckily, we’re happy to take care of all the hard work for you. We can even contract out your translations for you. Unfortunately, we are not fluent in any other languages except English (and sometimes even that’s questionable) so we do have to hire professional translators. We know just where to go to get it done right, though.

Leave a Reply

Posted in

Amy Masson

Amy is co-owner of Sumy Designs, LLC. When not creating websites, she can be found writing restaurant reviews at Lafayette Eats, tweeting at @amymasson, and geeking out about all things WordPress.