The CEO of OnTheGoSystems, the company behind the multilingual wordpress translation plugin WPML, gave a presentation in wordcamp jerusalem 2013.
The presentation started by showing leading Israeli site which have great content in hebrew but are much less impresive or even plain bad in english or russian.
For the english example he used the leading israeli news portal ynet.co.il which has full content in hebrew and a simpler site in english. For the russian example he used the site of the airline arkia in hebrew and their russian site.
I wasn’t the only one that were underwhelemed by those examples for “poorly translated” sites. Ynet is mainly about israeli news so why would they even bother with an english site? tourists or buisnessman located in israel might want to know about the major political/buisness/cultural events but are they really interested in the israeli equivalent of “american idol”? Same goes for arkia, their main costumers are israeli and whatever service they give to russian speakers is related to israel (the phone numbers in the site are local israeli numbers), and how many russian speaking israeli are there that can’t use the hebrew or the english site?
In ideal world all content would have been translated in to all languages, but in the real world translation cost money and there is no point in spending money for translating into languages from which you don’t make money. It is never enough to translate the site only when it is launched, and you always need to keep spending time and money for translating every new content.
And if the reason for not having full translation to all the languages is money related conscious decision, then why would you even start considering a solution which has the basic assumption that all content should be translated? Better to just set up a site per language and manage the translation according to the amount of effort you decided to dedicate to that language.
The presentation highlighted something that WPML seems to do well, it gives you an up to date status of the translation and makes it easy to see what parts of the site are translated and what are not. This is something you can’t automatically achieve when each language has its own site. For sites that have to have reasonable up to date content in several languages (even if not all of the content) it might be a valid solution.