In today’s software, the default language is usually English, which in turn encourages people outside English speaking countries to start using that software as-is, even when localized versions exist. They simply stick with the English version, since they themselves have grown used to it and the localized version ends up feeling “strange” to them. It comes as no surprise that this applies to WordPress as well. Many site administrators, even though English is not their native language nor do they publish in English, still use the default, English version.
However, a localized version of WordPress has a lot more than meets the eye, i.e. the translation of strings, such as local settings and formatting, a few of which I will present here:
Beyond the strings
Language code for the browser — If you look at the HTML source of any WordPress page you’ll see that it specifies a language code for that page. This code also tells the browser, search engines and other readers that your content is written is this particular language. If the content of your page is in German why would you tell them that it is in English? Keep in mind that they cannot guess it. How is this useful? Most moder browsers will activate the spell checker with dictionaries for the language specified. For instance, if you’re on a site in German any text you’ll type will be correctly validated against a German dictionary, to give you the proper suggestions.
Date and time formats — Is it 02/29/2012 or 29/02/2012, or even 29. фебруар 2012? Is it 9:15pm or 21:15? Different languages use different formats for dates and times and localized versions of WordPress fully support that (keep in mind that your theme might hardcode some “untranslatable” formats).
Number formats — Is it 1.987,06 or 1,987.06? WordPress generates many different numbers, such as number of posts, comments, an do on. Using the proper localized version will assure that those numbers are output as they should.
Separators — How does your language separate list items? A comma or a space? Maybe both? Maybe nothing? What about the last two items in a list? Does it use a comma before “or” or “and”?When WordPress outputs lists of items, such as of post tags, people that commented, and so on. Again, a localized will ensure the correct formatting of lists.
Curly quotes, apostrophes and dashes — WordPress filters your posts, pages and comments with the texturize function, which applies formatting according to the rules of the English language. Quotation marks, for instance, are converted to their English form “”. Other languages, however, use different forms, and translators can make it so that the format is applied according to the rules of your language.
Timezones — What time is now? Is it 10 or 9, or maybe 2? A localized version will automatically be installed in the correct timezone (which you can always change, if you need to).
Quirks — Some localized versions contain some important, specific settings. For example, the Chinese version includes a fix for the counting of words on the post editing page, while the Serbian version improves and fixes post and page slugs.
You’re not the typical visitor
After all, even though you might be fluent in English, doesn’t mean your visitors are as well. Even if you change some strings on your theme “by hand” (much like hacking core, this is a very, very bad practice), there is still a lot WordPress core or plugin output that will be shown to visitors in some situations.
Right, I get it. How do I move to the localized version?
There are several ways of doing this. The simplest is to edit your wp-config.php file and do “a reinstall”; just include the language code that you need, navigate to Upgrades on your dashboard, and choose to reinstall the localized version. This isn’t really a reinstallation actually, it’s more of an upgrade—it will download the core WordPress files and overwrites old ones, this time including the files with all the strings in your language. As usual, you should do a backup of your site before upgrading.
You could also upload the language files to your server, after editing
wp-config.php. You’d just need to download the relevant localized WordPress package and then upload the
wp-content/languages folder to the appropriate directory on your server.
But I really, really want my dashboard in English!
If you’re used to English on your dashboard, you can still have it while serving your visitors a different language. One way to do it would be to install the WP Native Dashboard plugin, which allows registered users to choose which language they want to see when they access their dashboards.
Developers & translators are working for you, after all
WordPress developers invest a lot of time and effort into making WordPress more suitable for languages other than English. Translators spend countless hours in translating the thousands of strings in WordPress. Using a version localized to your language is an excellent way of showing your appreciation and of encouraging the propagation of your language.