Managing multilanguage WordPress sites

UPDATE 4 (oct 18): an interesting post-WCEU article from Caspar Hübinger (MarketPress).
UPDATE 3 (oct 7): a good article here. Added Stella and Multilingual Press. Babble went from alpha to beta and has now a website.
UPDATE 2: found an interesting overview of plugins here: http://comparewp.org/
UPDATE: notes from the March 27 2013 meetup have been gathered here (in French): http://wpgva.titanpad.com/2

This post gathers some links and working notes, in preparation for the WP Geneva Meetup next Wednesday, March 27th, where we will talk about multilanguage solutions for WordPress.

Handling multiple languages isn’t a feature that WordPress supports natively, unfortunately. There are a few plugins offering solutions, each with it’s own approach.

Two plugins are “popular” and widely used: qTranslate (free and GPL, 748’600 downloads on WP.org) and WPML (commercial).

There are several less used plugins, that also seem very interesting: xili-language (83’023 downloads), Polylang (74’594 downloads), Multisite Language Switcher (39’664 downloads), Multilingual Press (37’160 downloads), Bogo (5’671 downloads), Stella (5’606 downloads), Multi-Language Framework (4’095 downloads), and babble. All of those are free and GPL.

qTranslate has a particular approach of storing the different language versions in the same post. It has been criticized by many developers (core dev Andrew Nacin wrote that “qTranslate does some really weird things to achieve its goals, I wouldn’t recommend studying it for advice”). For sites with a limited number of pages and languages, it may still be a functional solution. Here is a nice example of a bilingual website that uses it: http://www.cameratalausanne.ch/ (built by Ergopix).

For the session next Wednesday, Loriskumo will give a quick report about a case where he attempted to use it (and ran into issues).

WPML is developed by OntheGoSystems, a company based in Las Vegas. In 2011, after 2 years and over 200,000 downloads, the company turned WPML into a commercial plugin. The price is currently for $29/$79 (blog version / CMS version). It also has a commercial “human translation service” built-in.

Being currently considered the most “complete” solution, it would be great to have a report about a WPML use case for next Wednesday.

There’s a whole history of abandoned multilanguage WordPress plugins: Polyglot, by Martin Chlupac, still considered in 2008 “the most popular” multilingual plugin; Language Switcher, by Jennifer Hodgdon; Gengo, by Jamie Talbot; xLanguage by Sam Wong; ZdMultiLang by zendreams…

As mentioned, a whole bunch of actively developed solutions exist, but none can be considered the “leading” multilanguage plugin.

One that looks very interesting is Babble. From what I read here, it was developed by Code for the People (a WordPress VIP Featured Partner), for a massively-multilingual (13-language) website, Free Speech Debate:

We have content in 13 languages, all delivered via the same WordPress theme, using a custom-built language framework. I don’t honestly think we knew how much we were taking on, but we’ve learned so much from doing it.

Later in 2012, after discussions on multilingual issues at the first WordPress Community Summit, Simon Wheatley open-sourced the plugin (github). Leo Germani, co-author of the Multi-Language Framework plugin, has begun to contribute to Babble:

So I’m really curious about the strategy of Babble. What will it become – an alternative to WPML, or the future de-facto solution for multilingual WordPress?

General notes

Tricky questions that a translation plugin needs to handle:

  • Menus
  • Widgets
  • Taxonomies (tags and categories, each having names, slugs, descriptions)
  • Media files (titles, captions, descriptions)
  • Custom fields content

Reading material

A discussion thread on WordPress.org (from 1-2 years ago): Multiple languages blogging. A core solution?

A collection of resources by Stephanie Booth: http://climbtothestars.org/focus/multilingual/, and also Requirements for a Multilingual WordPress Plugin, posted in 2006. Stephanie also created the Basic Bilingual plugin, back in 2005, and is still using it on her site.

At the first WordPress Community Summit (October 2012), there was a session on “i18n improvements”. This post quickly summarizes the following action items:

Theme updates destroy translation files. This must be fixed and a solution is currently under dev now. / Languages into core / Multibyte into core / Will be open sourcing Simon Wheatley’s multilingual WordPress code”. It would be great to know more detail on what was discussed during that session.

Simon Wheatley wrote Summary: Multi-language Plugin(s) after that session, where he briefly discusses the-open sourcing of the Babble plugin.

Regarding the “Theme updates / Languages into core” issue, probably it’s about language packs, and this is the related ticket: #18200: core support for language packs. Here is an informative short summary (situation as of January 2013), by Milan Dinić, who has worked on that ticket.

Comparison with other CMSes

To be continued…

This post is part 6/10 of the #back2blog series.