WordPress Translation Plugins Part 3 – Alternatives to WPML

In part one of this series, we looked at WPML, the popular translation/multilanguage plugin. Part two focused on the plugin's more advanced features and extension options. But what if WPML is just not for you, for whatever reason? Here are some alternatives to consider.

So we’ve established that WPML is great and awesome. But what if you don’t think so, or what if you just don’t want to spend money on it? Admittedly, there are not a whole lot of alternatives available that serve the same purpose as WPML. The few that are, all come with their own quirks. Let’s look at three of them that are most popular – and all free: qTranslate, xili-language and Transposh.

(To give full-on reviews of each of these alternatives would take a bit too much, so we’re going to have to stick with a bird’s eye view of each of them, focus on their value as WPML alternatives, and point out the pros and cons.)

qTranslate

First thing to note is that the original qTranslate, long considered a worthy alternative to WPML, appears to be dead. Development and support has stopped for almost a year, although details about why and how are vague at best.

Testing qTranslate on current WordPress versions resulted in many errors, so at this point I recommend to avoid it.

However, there is a forked, modified version available called qTranslate Plus, which is compatible with WordPress 3.9 and higher. I still got some minor errors here and there, but I’ll give the plugin the benefit of the doubt and say that it’s because I’m using nightly version of WordPress 4.1 (scheduled for official release in 2-3 weeks or so).

qTranslate Plus is a free alternative for WPML, and my first impression was that it looked easier to configure than WPML. Maybe it was the cleaner interface, maybe just because there are less options on the first screen. In part 1 of this series I already mentioned that WPML can be a little overwhelming (due to the great amount of options), and qTranslate seems have less of that.

After installing the plugin, your site becomes tri-lingual out of the box: English, German, and Chinese. It’s easy to enable and disable languages from the main settings screen; the most popular languages are listed and for each one of them, choose “Enable” or “Disable”.

qtranslate-01

The main options are directly visible. Which languages you need, and two options for how they should be handled.

Expanding the Advanced Settings gives a whole bunch of additional options, but most of these settings are fine as they are, so in most cases you can just leave these alone.

The plugin adds links for each language in your left-side admin menu, which makes it very easy to switch the language of your dashboard. But, of course it’s more about the language of your front end site, so…

Whereas WPML basically had a different screen for each translatable item (e.g. a post in one language had a different place than it had in another language), with qTranslate every language is captured on one screen. Hence, all translations for a post can be found on the same page. The language variations of a post title are visible right away, and the different versions of content are available through tabs.

qtranslate-02

Also, just like with WPML, categories are easily translatable and the proper language version gets attached to the proper language post. As a matter of fact, the more I played around with qTranslate, the more I liked the fact that it was all very easy and intuitive.

The key to this is that all the options you don’t see here (that WPML has), are only available as plugin extensions. At first you might think “ah, I can’t configure a different URL for my French version of this post…WPML can do that!“, but then you figure out that with the qTranslate Slug extension, that functionality is there, if you actually want it.

This, in my opinion, is qTranslate’s strong point: it doesn’t give you all too many confusing options right away — at first, you just get the basic ones, and if you need more then you can get an extension for that. Other examples of additional functionality: qTranslate ACF to work with Advanced Custom Fields translation, qTranslate Separate Comments to separate the comments for your posts based on the language it’s viewed in, qTranslate support for GravityForms, and so on.

Yet, even with that in mind, WPML still has a lot more configuration options and is more customizable, but qTranslate is more intuitive and looks a lot lighter.

And of course, the price (a whopping zero dollars!) will be a factor for a lot of people too.

Unfortunately, after deactivating the plugin, you’ll still see traces of it. A post that used to be available in more than one language, will have a crazy title once qTranslate is not active anymore, along the lines of “<!–:en–>My English post<!–:–><!–:nl–>Mijn Nederlandse bericht<!–:–>“. That’s not really a proper job of cleaning up…

PROS

  • less overwhelming than WPML
  • extended functionality through plugin extensions

CONS

  • a few code errors pop up here and there
  • out of the box, a little less options/configurations than WPML
  • deactivating the plugin doesn’t clean up nicely and leaves traces

xili-language

xili-language is also available from the WordPress plugin repository. Although it has a lot more configuration options than qTranslate, you’re presented with helpful alert boxes the first time you go through the settings, that should give you an idea what you’re actually looking at.

xili-01

Unfortunately, the fact that the original author isn’t a native English speaker is quite clear: “This screen contains selectors to define the behaviour of frontpage according languages and visitors browser and more…“. Things like that don’t really help.

That problem comes up here and there. Sometimes you’ll run into settings that you don’t know what to do with because the description is so vague: “Modify home query” wouldn’t make much sense to a non-programmer user.

In fact, the more I looked through the options screens, the more I wondered what all those settings meant, giving me an “I’ll try changing it and see what it does” feeling. Which isn’t very reassuring.

Having said that, without meddling too much with the settings, things worked already. xili-language works with the same structure as WPML; creating a translation of a post results in a new post (with its own ID). But unlike WPML, you won’t get a nicely sorted list of all posts of one specific language; all your posts, no matter which language translation, are shown in the Posts list by default…which can get messy. The link between a languages of a post isn’t immediately clear at first sight, or at least not the way it is with WPML.

When you view a post on the site, there’s no immediate link to other languages available. And, since different-language posts have different IDs, and so different URLs, it’s not clear how to get to a translation. At least with qTranslate it just involved adding/removing a language code from the URL.

Are categories and taxonomies easy to translate? Not without an additional plugin xili-dictionary, and then the process was confusing at best. I actually had the feeling I was messing up my site more than needed, and I wasn’t sure what I was doing anymore. Can you tell what this screen actually represents?

xili-02

Neither can I.

At some point, I figured that xili-language may only be helpful if I would dive into the documentation and spent a good time on that first, but since I tested the plugin for being a good alternative for WPML, I could tell that that was not the case.

If you do have the time and patience to figure out how the plugin works, and that’s worth saving the money you would normally spend on WPML, then xili-language might be a good option. The additional wiki-based documentation does help a lot but is almost required reading. With WPML, I never felt I had to read any documentation to understand anything.

PROS

  • familiarity: some methods using the same structure as WPML
  • extensive documentation

CONS

  • descriptions of settings is not always clear
  • confusing way of doing things
  • does not separate languages nicely in admin dashboard

Transposh

Transposh works differently from WPML and the other two, in such a way that everything is being translated automatically and by a translation engine. That comes with its own problems: machine translations are often not very accurate. But there’s a solution for that.

The configuration screens show options that are clear and concise. Check the default options on the main configuration screen, because some of them may not be exactly what you want.

transposh-01

As said before, Transposh translates your content automatically. For any content you have, a translation will be available on the web site (a link to a translated version of your content is available in the form of a widget. Just drag the widget to your sidebar or other widget area, and your language selection link will be displayed).

Translated content does not not seem to be available in the admin! Unlike the other plugins, there is not a specific editing area where a translation of a post/page is listed. Instead, it only lives on the front end. But what if you want to correct the automatic translation? Even that is done on the front end. Right in your translation widget, a checkbox is available to some users (admins, editors, whichever groups you define) that will give them the option to just correct any phrase right from the front end of the site.

transposh-02

And not just for posts/pages content. Even for the menu and sidebars, and everything else on your site is automatically translated and can be corrected if you want to.

There are two ways to look at this. First, the view that the automatic translation will do a lot of the dirty work for you (which will save you time), and afterwards you just polish it all. Or, the view that you’ll have to verify everything the automatic translation did to make sure it’s all correct (which will take you more time).

This is a little bit of a dilemma. Are you going to trust Google/Bing to translate your text? Or are you going to spend some time to make sure everything went right?

As you can see, this is a completely different approach from WPML and the other plugins. Sure, you can just have your content be translated automatically and then just overwrite it all with your own translation, but then what’s the point of using this plugin and not just use WPML – other than the fact that it won’t double up all your content in the WP admin.

Also to note: on a local development environment, neither the widget, nor any translated content were available. It’s likely that that’s because Google/Bing have no way of reaching my local site (after all, only the developer can see that site as it is not “public” on the Web). Therefore, it looks like Transposh can only work with sites that are actually online and publically available.

PROS

  • inititial translation is done automatically
  • front-end text editing

CONS

  • initial translations may not be fully accurate
  • does not work for local/protected sites

Conclusion

…and these are just the three of the most popular alternatives to WPML. Note that we addressed actual translation plugins only – there are a few other plugins out there that don’t really make your site multilingual, but “connect” two (or more) sites with different languages, which is especially helpful if you have a multisite installation. Although they definitely serve their purpose, they shouldn’t be considered an alternative for WPML, since the big advantage of that is one site – multiple languages.

All in all, it comes down to your own preferences (as always).

WPML is a very complete package, with all the options you can think of, for a not-so-bad price. If you want it all, and you might need support because your site is fairly critical, WPML is definitely the best choice.

qTranslate Plus excels in simplicity and is perfect if you just want to maintain your multilingual content in an easy way, and you don’t really need to deal with all kinds of customization. It works a little differently and lacks some of the possibilities you get with WPML, but if you really want to avoid spending cash on a translation plugin and you just need some basic translation in your site, qTranslate is something you should give a try.

Transposh works differently than this and is not directly based on manual translations. Although I’m struggling with considering it a good alternative for WPML, something else tells me “why not?“. Maybe there’s less customization involved, and maybe a little more work, but it does the trick very well and simply gets you what you need: a translated site. It’s just not done as elegantly as WPML, and has less customization options.

xili-language comes across as an unpolished, lighter version of WPML. I wouldn’t consider it a go-to alternative for WPML, but it could be an option if any of the other plugins don’t fit your needs/budget.

Let’s hear it from you. Did we miss any translation plugins that can compete with WPML?

Mark Senff
Mark Senff
Senff has been creating websites for about 18 years and can be found tinkering with WordPress at the most unusual times of day. His (somewhat) blog can be found at Senff.com.

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13 Responses

  1. There’s actually one more alternative to WPML worth considering – Polylang (https://wordpress.org/plugins/polylang/). It’s actively developped and in my personal view you should definitely add it to the list. At almost 0.5 milion downloads it’s exclusion here makes the list incomplete.

    I am an owner of WPML full licence but I’ve also had experience with Polylang and I need to say that on smaller projects (where compatibility with other plugins isn’t a must) Polylang… wins hands down. It feels much faster, makes fewer calls to the database and has never let me down (comparing to WPML with which I’ve had a few problems). It’s incredible how much more polished this FREE plugin feels. Unfortunately it suffers from the fact that it’s still comparatively young and not all plugin devs have noticed its existence and so haven’t made their soft compatible.

    You should definitely test it and complete your article.

    1. I’m not sure why Polylang didn’t show up in my research prior to writing the article, but from the looks of it you’re right — it definitely should have been included. I’ll give it a look and see if we can update the article or if we’ll save it for a future one. Thanks Krzysztof!

    1. Bogo didn’t show up in the top 5 of alternatives in my research prior to writing the article, which is why it wasn’t addressed initially. We’ll probably give it a go in a future article.

  2. gtanslate hasn’t worked for a year. It has been disowned by its author and is not compatible with wordpress 3.9 and above. That isn’t in the ‘cons’ section.

    1. Please note we reviewed qTranslate PLUS, not the original, abandoned qTranslate plugin (qTranslate Plus is a fork of the original one and is still maintained). Maybe I should have made that a little more clear.

  3. PRO: inititial translation is done automatically

    That is actually a CON, because automatic translations are useless crap.
    I guess the only reason there are people using them is that they only know one language (mostly english) and don´t realize the translations are totally worthless

  4. I’ve had so many problems with WPML over the past year and half that I’ve now begun a search for an alternative. (1) The Website and documentation are all convoluted. Horribly organized. Lousy technology. Just go look at the website and see how confusing it is. (2) What I consider ODD functionality. When it translates a taxonomy you can’t see that the translation is done back-end. The mysterious translation only appears front -end. Most importantly (3) Despite saying it is compatible with Divi, it is NOT. It disables the GLOBAL MODULE functionality when activated with Divi. Whether there is anything better, I don’t know. But I’m going to find out!

  5. Clarification: The way I see it, multilingual plugins do three things. (1) They make the back-end (Admin) available in a language other than English. This will not be important to most developers creating multilingual websites as they are going to have to have access to translators that speak, read and write in both the primary and secondary language. So having the Admin available in the secondary language is not really necessary. We purposely retain English (our primary language) on the Spanish side of the site. (2) It translates strings and taxonomy. String means thing the viewer will see front end like (Home Page, Continue, etc) As far as the few visible strings that are not technically content, I would assume that all plugins handle these about the same. As far as the taxonomy goes, I think implementation is clunky. You can’t see a translated custom-field string back-end. You have to preview the page front end and check it. I find that incredibly awkward. (The taxonomies, such as categories, are handled very well and are visible back end just as you would see them in the primary language in the right column Admin panel) But custom field translation is awkward. If you use Advanced Custom Fields? Forget it! Horrible implementation of translation. Toolsets (created by the same authors as WPML) work smoothly. That’s a PRO because Toolsets is immensely better than ACF in my opinion. (3) Translation management. If you think that any of these plugins will actually translate your content, forget it. I have in-house translators working on relatively small sites in just 2 languages. I’ve never even looked at the translation management features other than to say the whole management system looks a bit confusing. But the straw that broke the camel’s back is how WPML broker the global module functionality of Divi (even after I deactivated and uninstalled WPML). Hope these details help.

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