How to chose a theme for a multi language website
One of our recent projects is in Polish. We're lucky that more than 60% of our staff speaks Polish ( I count for the 50% and Katie .... well... she tries :). Since most of our work is for english-speaking markets we don't encounter other languages very often. But when we do, we need to make sure that the solution we propose is the right one. Over the last few weeks we we're working on a website for a hotel in Poland. With scenic beauty and luxury amenities, the front end was quite a pleasure. The core of the website is in Polish, but the requirement was to build something that can be translated to other languages. The hotel is near Ukraine and Russia so the long term goal is to support those languages as well as English.
As with many of our projects, we decided to use a Wordpress CMS. There is a great article written by Marcus Taylor and shared on Smashing Magazine that explains all the steps to choose a great template for your CMS. We had to go one step further. On top of all of that, we had to be sure not only that the content of our website will be translated correctly but also that the website itself will be multilingual-ready.
First of all, not many Wordpress themes are enabled to be translated to other languages. If you're buying a premium theme, make sure that the developer specified that the theme is ready to be localized. You don't want to end up with a situation where the content will be in the language of your choice, but all user facing controls like buttons, switches, calendars or menus will remain untranslated.
Here is an example of a hardcoded line of HTML that developers use for headlines.
>Welcome to my website.</
This <h1> element will look the same for people from Austria, England, Spain and all other countries. If you're looking for a theme that is translation ready, the above line will look more like this:
_e('Welcome to my website', 'myWebsite'); ?></
If we want to get more technical, the text above is translated thanks to a _e($text, $key) function where the first argument is the text and the second is the key used to recognize and to swap the text.
Finding a theme in which user-facing elements are translation ready was step two. Step three, which is equally important is translating the content itself. As we quickly learned, translating a website might be a tedious task. You want to be sure that all your subpages are designed before you start copying them and translating to other languages. There is a great Wordpress plugin we recommend called WPML. It will make copies of your subpages, translate and recreate all the menus and.. of course display menu to switch between languages. It is very advanced software. With a bit of a setup, it will do whatever is needed.
The third piece of the puzzle is the font. If you think all fonts are design to play nicely with different languages, you may be surprised. We'll have an upcoming article on multilingual fonts. For now, just keep that in mind.
Owning a multi-lingual website isn't a necessity for all businesses. However, there are many reasons to think about one. Expanding to new markets or being surrounded by a foreign audience, dealing with international clients or trying to attract more customers speaking a particular language. Be sure to build time and expertise into your plan of action if that's your goal.