How to Add Multi-language Support to a PHP Website

Posted on July 23, 2009, under PHP 

Are you interested in having a multilingual website? This is a tutorial that shows you how you can do that in PHP.


The first thing we need to do is to create a couple of files that will contain the text for each of the languages that will be supported by the website. For demo purpose I have chosen English, Spanish and German. Make a directory named “directory”. In this directory create 3 files:, lang.en.php, and In our main file (index.php) we will include a file (common.php) containing a piece of code that gets the requested language. Here’s the content of those 3 language files:


Language: English

$lang = array();

$lang['PAGE_TITLE'] = 'My website page title';
$lang['HEADER_TITLE'] = 'My website header title';
$lang['SITE_NAME'] = 'My Website';
$lang['SLOGAN'] = 'My slogan here';
$lang['HEADING'] = 'Heading';

// Menu

$lang['MENU_HOME'] = 'Home';
$lang['MENU_ABOUT_US'] = 'About Us';
$lang['MENU_OUR_PRODUCTS'] = 'Our products';
$lang['MENU_CONTACT_US'] = 'Contact Us';
$lang['MENU_ADVERTISE'] = 'Advertise';
$lang['MENU_SITE_MAP'] = 'Site Map';

Language: Spanish

$lang = array();

$lang['PAGE_TITLE'] = 'Título de la página de mi sitio web';
$lang['HEADER_TITLE'] = 'Mi sitio web de la cabecera título';
$lang['SITE_NAME'] = 'Mi Sitio Web';
$lang['SLOGAN'] = 'Mi lema aquí';
$lang['HEADING'] = 'Título';

// Menu

$lang['MENU_HOME'] = 'Inicio';
$lang['MENU_ABOUT_US'] = 'Sobre Nosotros';
$lang['MENU_OUR_PRODUCTS'] = 'Nuestros productos';
$lang['MENU_CONTACT_US'] = 'Contáctenos';
$lang['MENU_ADVERTISE'] = 'Publicidad';
$lang['MENU_SITE_MAP'] = 'Mapa del Sitio';

Language: German

$lang = array();

$lang['PAGE_TITLE'] = 'Meine Webseite Titel';
$lang['HEADER_TITLE'] = 'Meine Website-Header Titel';
$lang['SITE_NAME'] = 'Meine Website';
$lang['SLOGAN'] = 'Mein Slogan hier';
$lang['HEADING'] = 'Position';

// Menu

$lang['MENU_HOME'] = 'Heim';
$lang['MENU_ABOUT_US'] = 'Über uns';
$lang['MENU_OUR_PRODUCTS'] = 'Unsere Produkte';
$lang['MENU_CONTACT_US'] = 'Kontaktieren Sie uns';
$lang['MENU_ADVERTISE'] = 'Werben';
$lang['MENU_SITE_MAP'] = 'Site Karte';

As you can notice, some constants are created using the define() function. In every file the defined constants have the same name, bu the values is different. We will output the values of the constants inside the index.php file. Therefore we will see different text every time we will call other language file.

Determine the right language

Let’s analyze the common.php file:

header('Cache-control: private'); // IE 6 FIX

$lang = $_GET['lang'];

// register the session and set the cookie
$_SESSION['lang'] = $lang;

setcookie('lang', $lang, time() + (3600 * 24 * 30));
else if(isSet($_SESSION['lang']))
$lang = $_SESSION['lang'];
else if(isSet($_COOKIE['lang']))
$lang = $_COOKIE['lang'];
$lang = 'en';

switch ($lang) {
  case 'en':
  $lang_file = 'lang.en.php';

  case 'de':
  $lang_file = '';

  case 'es':
  $lang_file = '';

  $lang_file = 'lang.en.php';


include_once 'languages/'.$lang_file;

After we determine the value of $lang, we use switch() to compare its value with some different values, and execute a different piece of code depending on which value it equals to. After the value of the $lang_file is determined, the script will include the necessary language file. As you can see I have used sessions to register the value of $lang. This way users can navigate through the whole site and see the content in the chosen language (lang=[language here] does not need to be passed in every URL). Additionally, I have used cookies to store the selected language in users computer for 30 days. When the visitor will come back he will see the site in the language that he previously selected.

How if the website’s language requested?

In this demo I have chosen to use some image flags, each image having a link to index.php?lang=[LANG HERE]. So, to see the site in german we will use the German image flag which links to index.php?lang=de.

Lastly, the constants values should be outputted in the page. Examples:

for document title

<title><?php echo $lang['PAGE_TITLE']; ?></title>

for header menu

      <li><a href="/"><?php echo $lang['MENU_HOME']; ?></a></li>
      <li><a href="about_us"><?php echo $lang['MENU_ABOUT_US']; ?></a></li>
	  <li><a href="our_products"><?php echo $lang['MENU_OUR_PRODUCTS']; ?></a></li>
      <li><a href="contact_us"><?php echo $lang['MENU_CONTACT_US']; ?></a></li>
      <li><a href="advertise"><?php echo $lang['MENU_ADVERTISE']; ?></a></li>	
      <li><a href="sitemap"><?php echo $lang['MENU_SITE_MAP']; ?></a></li>

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107 Replies to "How to Add Multi-language Support to a PHP Website"

  1. The script is able to be mounted on wordpress,
    to the system how, if the web owner wants to rewrite the language in translated or all languages ​​will automatically change all when the flag at the click ..?
    Thank you very much

    1. The script is just a basic example of how you can make a website multi-lingual. It’s not a good idea to mount it on WordPress, as there are other alternative methods especially made to work with WordPress. Take a look at the following post: (you can Google more about it as well “wordpress multiple languages”)!

  2. Is it possible to output the language data from a database? Instead of controllin the data directelly in the php language page making it communicate in the database. Whit the finality of controlling it in the backoffice.

    1. What if someone calls an index.php?lang=FOO?

      1. In this case, the English language is loaded as default, since the neither of the other available languages is requested.

  3. the switch case at the end is totally useless. why dont you just:

    include_once “languages/lang.$lang.php;

    will work just fine

    1. The requested value has to be checked. If something else is typed in the URL bar such as /?lang=foo then the include_once function will trigger an error. That’s why the switch case is added: for verification!

  4. Thx very usefull guide, translating from a db would also indeed be extra usefull

  5. Thanks for this tut!

    I have some issue’s though. Can’t figure it out. First of all, let me say that the folder & file structure is the same as in the demo.

    But somehow it just doesn’t show the languages. I started over like 4 times, but can’t find what’s wrong…

    I have altered the ‘common.php’ to make the default language dutch and the available languages, but nothing drastic:

    Now when I go to my website, it shows every element, but not the texts. The Dutch texts are only showing a D, and the English texts only an E.

    Furthermore I get an error that the include (as called on line 41 of the common.php) can not be performed?

    Anybody an idea? Suggestions are more then welcome!


    1. I have the same problem, any idea ?

    2. I have the same problem too, with dutch language. If I switch "include_once ‘common.php';" to "include_once ‘languages/lang/en.php';" it doesn’t show anything… So, the problem isn’t common.php, but the request in the index or the language files, I guess…

  6. If i want to display dinamic content from database, how do this ?

  7. I’ve also made an tutorial about how to use multiple languages using PHP and XML files which support UTF-8. You can read about this here Create a multi-languages website using PHP and XML

  8. I’m a rookie in designing websites and I love this tutorial.
    But I have a question according to the links in the header.

    So if I’m correct I just replace for example the ‘#’ in the header menu (menu_home) to ‘./index.php’. Can I just rely on the language cookie that has been set, or do I have to add something extra at the back like ‘./index.php?lang=[..] to keep it on the right language?

    I apologize if it was a dumb question.

  9. Hi :) I’ve been using this script for a while and really like it.

    I just wanted to know how to make it automatically detect the language of the browser or the OS, cause everytime i visit my website, it display in English.

    Thanks :D

    1. Hi,
      the superglobal variable $_SERVER[‘HTTP_ACCEPT_LANGUAGE’] stores what languages the user reads.

  10. How to implement this script for dynamic websites ?

  11. Saved me hours and hours of work. And one look it tells me that it can easily be converted for $l_files = etc and should blend in nicely with what I am trying to do.

    Thanks for the script, now all I have to do is apply it to my games demo site.

  12. Thx a lot. works for me!

  13. Can anyone help me here? I used this code, it works on MAMP but not on a live server, any clues as to why?

    The changing of the languages work. But it doesnt stay the selected language, anyone can help me out please?

    1. hi soravit I notice that you seem to have fix your problem in your website, since I have the same problem could you explain how you resolve it, thanks.

  14. its a great tutorial but only change the languages on the first page

    using other pages not working the language change

    i had tried few options not working at all
    first page works perfect

    i want to load from the first page change on first page
    and all the other pages change the language as well

    if anyone can help me out


  15. this software works with the front page where the language is installed click the language and changes perfect

    when you navigate on other pages the language don’t change at all

    i would like to ask for any help of language change on all the pages if possible
    sooner change language on the front page all the other pages will change language as well
    its not working with this

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