Posted 31/1/11

For this activity, you will need to get the lyrics of the 1978 Police hit song Roxanne translated into your students’ mother tongue. Change Roxanne’s name so that students don’t recognise the song if they already know it. Tell students that the text is a poem and their task is to translate it back into English. Will they realise that it is a song? The activity works best with adult learners who are likely to be familiar with the track. A Spanish translation is included in the PDF download. Others are included in the comments below.
  • Language level: Intermediate – advanced (B1 – C1)
  • Learner type: Mature teens; Adults
  • Time: 45 minutes
  • Activity: Translation
  • Topic: Prostitution
  • Language: ‘Have to’ for obligation
  • Materials: Song
Roxanne pdf [downloaded 2512 times]


For this activity, you will need to translate the lyrics of Roxanne into your students’ mother tongue. Change Roxanne’s name so that students don’t recognise the song if they already know it. Here are the lyrics followed by a Spanish translation:

Roxanne, you don’t have to put on the red light
Those days are over
You don’t have to sell your body to the night
Roxanne, you don’t have to wear that dress tonight
Walk the streets for money
You don’t care if it’s wrong or if it’s right

I’ve loved you since I knew you
I wouldn’t talk down to you
I have to tell you just how I feel
I won’t share you with another boy
I know my mind is made up
So put away your makeup
Told you once I won’t tell you again it’s a bad way

Deborah, no tienes que encender la luz roja
Aquellos días han pasado
No tienes que venderte el cuerpo a la noche
Deborah, no tienes que llevar puesto ese vestido esta noche
Hacer la calle por dinero
Te da igual si está bien o si está mal

Te quiero desde que te conocí
No quiero menospreciarte
Tengo que decirte exactamente como me siento
No quiero compartirte con otro chico
Yo sé que estoy decidido
Asi que guarda tu maquillaje
Te lo he dicho una vez, no volveré a decirtelo más
Es una mala manera

Make a copy of the translation for each student in class and sign it Gordon Sumner (this is the real name of Sting, the lead singer of The Police and the Roxanne songwriter)

Lesson plan outline

  1. Ask your students if they like poetry. Tell them that you have a very famous English poem that has been translated into their own language.
  2. Give out copies of the text and tell students that their task is to work out what the woman does for a living. Ask students to read the poem and write down their answers.
  3. Let students compare their answers and give reasons for their decisions.
  4. Tell students that you want them to translate the poem back into English. Tell them that once they have done that, you will let them see the original English version. Give them access to dictionaries if possible. This process can work best if you allow students to work together.
  5. Allow different students or groups to compare their answers.
  6. Tell students that the poet, Gordon Sumner, is very well known. Tell them that they might recognise him if they could see a photograph. Use an image search site to find a picture of Sting.
  7. At this point, students may realise any or all of the following
    • The text is from a song not a poem.
    • The woman’s name has been changed. She is actually called Roxanne.
    • You (the teacher) are a liar and a cheat.
  8. Play Roxanne for your students and let them listen and correct their translations before giving access to the full lyrics in English.

Follow up

Give your students a mini webquest for homework. Ask them to find out where Sting got his name. The commonly-cited story is that he used to play in a jazz band wearing a black and yellow sweater. The bandleader thought that the sweater made him look like a giant wasp and gave him his nickname, “Sting”.


Roxanne contains 3 examples of don’t have to and can be a useful song to practice or introduce this structure.

  • You don’t have to put on the red light.
  • You don’t have to sell your body to the night.
  • You don’t have to wear that dress to night.

Image credits

The public domain image in this post was taken from here.

Posted 31/1/11

20 Responses to Roxanne

  1. Mark Bain says:

    Another nice lesson.

  2. Jamie Keddie says:

    Here is Roxanne (or rather, Deborah) translated into Polish thanks to Milada Krajewska :)

    Deborah, nie musisz zapalać czerwonego światła
    Te dni minęły
    Nie musisz sprzedawać nocy swego ciała
    Deborah, nie musisz dziś wieczorem zakładać tej sukienki
    Chodzić po ulicy dla pieniędzy
    Bez względu na to, czy to jest dobre, czy złe

    Kocham Cię odkąd Cię poznałem
    Nie mógłbym zwracać się do Ciebie z pogardą
    Muszę Ci po prostu powiedzieć, co czuję
    Nie podzielę się Tobą z innym facetem
    Wiem, że podjąłem już decyzję
    Więc odłóż kosmetyki
    Powiedziałem Ci już raz, nie będę się powtarzać, że to zły pomysł

  3. Neeraj says:

    I used this with class of teenage girls here in Barcelona and it worked a treat. I think none of them had heard of Sting or the Police but they had heard of the song, in particular the Moulin Rouge tango version. We listened to the original Police version and compared it to the very different Moulin Rouge version (different lyrics in the verses but same chorus) and they decided which one they preferred.

    Something quite interesting – They were initially puzzled as to why teacher was handing out poems in Spanish to read in class. Some even asked me directly why they needed to read it and I had to reassure them to bear with me. However when I explained it was actually a song and they had to translate it to English they really got into working together to find the rhyming words and listening to check. I think their suspicion is just probably that they do very little L1 to L2 translation at school or that it is not built into a nice multi skill activity like this one. Either way, they enjoyed it immensley and I’m having a lot of trouble get the tune out of my head now (original Police version of course).

    Ta very much to you Jamie for coming up with this one.

  4. Jamie Keddie says:

    Great feedback Neeraj
    It seems that your experiences as a translation-embracing teacher are similar to mine: students are surprised or sceptical at first but then come round to the value of the technique. Here is a talk on translation by Guy Cook that I was lucky enough to attend last month:

    Some more translation activities on the site:
    Thanks for the comment :-)

  5. Pingback: » ELT news feed » Song translation lesson: Roxanne

  6. Jamie Keddie says:

    Here is the German translation of the song. I looked at this with a number of Austrian teachers of English recently. I seem to remember that there was a single mistake. If anyone can identify it, let me know:

    Deborah, du musst das rote Licht nicht einschalten
    Diese Tage sind vorbei
    Du musst deinen Körper nicht an der Strasse verkaufen
    Deborah, du musst dieses Kleid heute nicht tragen
    Auf der Strasse stehen, um Geld zu bekommen
    Es interessiert dich nicht, ob es richtig oder falsch ist

    Und seit ich dich kenne
    Ich würde nicht schlecht über dich reden
    Ich muss dir nur sagen, wie ich mich fühle
    Ich will dich nicht mit einem anderen Mann teilen
    Ich weiß, mein Gehirn ist phantasievoll
    Also wisch dein Make-up weg
    Was ich dir einmal gesagt habe, werde ich nicht noch einmal sagen
    Es ist ein schlechter Weg

  7. Michèle says:

    Hi Jamie!
    Here’s the French version I’m going to try next week. (Roxanne is now Ellen). Thanks for your great work!

    Ellen, tu n’es pas obligée d’allumer la lumière rouge
    Ces jours sont finis
    Tu n’as pas à vendre ton corps à la nuit
    Ellen, tu n’es pas obligée de porter cette robe ce soir
    Marcher dans les rues pour de l’argent
    Tu te moques de savoir si c’est mal ou si c’est bien
    Je t’aime depuis que je t’ai vue
    Je ne te prendrais jamais de haut
    Je dois te dire juste comment je me sens
    Je ne te partagerai pas avec un autre garçon
    Je sais que je suis décidé
    Enlève ton maquillage
    J’te l’ai dit une fois, je ne te redirai pas que c’est le mauvais chemin

  8. Jamie Keddie says:

    Thank you Michèle
    We now have it French, Polish and German. It is good to have it in French because Sting was inspired to write the song while he was in Paris.
    Happy new year!
    Jamie :-)

  9. Andrew says:

    Hi Jamie, I have an Italian translation for Roxanne: I got it using
    Hoping to use it next week.

    Non devi avere a che fare con la luce rossa
    Quei giorni sono finiti
    Non devi vendere il tuo corpo alla notte

    Non devi indossare quel vestito stanotte,
    Passeggiare per le strade per denaro
    Non ti interessa se è sbagliato o giusto

    Non devi avere a che fare con la luce rossa
    Non devi avere a che fare con la luce rossa

    Avere a che fare con la luce rossa

    Ti ho amata da quando ti ho conosciuta
    Non mi sarei abbassato a parlarti
    Ti devo solo dire come mi sento
    Non ti condividerò con altri ragazzi

    So che ho deciso
    Quindi togliti il trucco
    Te l’ho detto una volta, non te lo dirò ancora
    é una cattiva strada

    Non devi avere a che fare con la luce rossa
    Non devi avere a che fare con la luce rossa

    Avere a che fare con la luce rossa…

  10. Jamie Keddie says:

    Thanks Andrew
    Really appreciate the translation. We now have it is Spanish, Polish, French and Italian.
    J :)

  11. ivan says:

    Hey guys there’s an awesome salsa version of this song. check it out in youtube: la 33 roxanne, a Colombian band did it

  12. Jamie Keddie says:

    Thanks Ivan
    Jamie :)

  13. Mike says:

    Hello Jamie,

    Thank you for the lesson!

    I wanted to share the Korean translation.


    빨간 불을 켜지 말아요
    그런 날은 끝났어요
    오늘 밤엔 당신의 몸을 팔 필요가 없어요

    오늘밤엔 드레스를 입을 필요가 없어요
    돈을 위해 거리를 방황할 필요도
    옳고 그름을 염려할 필요도 없어요

    빨간 불을 켜지 말아요
    빨간 불을 켜지 말아요

    빨간 불을 켜지 말아요
    빨간 불을 켜지 말아요

    처음부터 사랑했어요
    그래서 아무말도 할 수 없었죠
    지금은 말해야만 하는데
    당신이 다른 사내랑 있지 않기를 바래요

    이미 결정했어요
    그러니 화장일 지우라고요
    다시는 그런 말 하지 않겠다고 말한것
    그건 저의 실수였어요

    빨간 불을 켜지 말아요
    빨간 불을 켜지 말아요

    빨간 불을 켜지 말아요
    빨간 불을 켜지 말아요
    빨간 불을 켜지 말아요

  14. Sarka says:

    Hi guys,
    I like the lesson plan a lot, so I’ll try it out with my class and share the translation into Czech.

    Andreo, nemusíš rozsvěcet červené světlo
    Ty dny už skončily
    Nemusíš prodávat noci své tělo
    Andreo, nemusíš si v noci brát ty šaty
    Chodit ulicemi pro prachy
    Je ti jedno, jestli je to dobrý nebo špatný

    Miluju tě, co jsem tě poznal
    Nemluvil bych na tebe spatra
    Musím ti jen říct, co cítím
    S nikým se o tebe nerozdělím
    Vím, že jsem rozhodnutý
    Tak si schovej ty šminky

    Už jednou jsem ti to říkal a nebudu to opakovat,
    je to špatná cesta


  15. Jamie Keddie says:

    Thanks Mike
    Thanks Sarka
    J :)

  16. MONICA BARRERA says:

    Deborah, no tienes que encender la luz roja
    Aquellos días ya pasaron
    No tienes que venderle tu cuerpo a la noche
    Deborah no tienes que llevar puesto este vestido esta noche
    Recorrer las calles por dinero
    Te da igual si está mal o si está bien
    Te he amado desde que te conocí
    No te menospreciaría
    Tengo que decirte justo como me siento
    No te compartiré con otro chico
    Sé que estoy decidido
    Así que guarda tu maquillaje
    Te lo dije una vez y no te lo volveré a decir
    Es una mala manera (Es un mal camino)

  17. Ece says:

    Hey Jamie,

    It’s a great lesson, thanks a lot for that! And here is the Turkish lyrics of the song;

    O kırmızı ışığı yakmana gerek yok
    O günler sona erdi
    Bedenini geceye satmana gerek yok
    Bu gece o elbiseyi giymene gerek yok
    Para için sokaklarda gezmek
    Bunun yanlış ya da doğru olmasını umursamıyorsun
    O kırmızı ışığı yakmana gerek yok
    Seni tanıdığımdan beri seviyorum
    Karşına geçip konuşamazdım
    Neler hissettiğimi söylemeliyim sana
    Seni başka bir erkekle paylaşamam
    Biliyorum, kararımı verdim
    Bu yüzden makyajını çıkar
    Bir kere söyledim bir daha söylemeyeceğim sana
    Bu kötü bir yol
    O kırmızı ışığı yakmana gerek yok.

    Ece :)

  18. Jamie Keddie says:

    Thank you Ece
    Turkish is now the tenth language that we have for this activity.
    So Mehtap for Roxanne!
    Jamie :)

  19. Ângela says:

    Maria, não tens de acender a luz vermelha
    Esses dias acabaram
    Não tens de vender o corpo na noite
    Maria, não tens de usar esse vestido esta noite
    Caminhar pelas ruas por dinheiro
    Para ti é indiferente se está certo ou errado

    Amo-te desde que te conheci
    Não te quero dissuadir
    Tenho de dizer-te apenas como me sinto
    Não irei partilhar-te com outro rapaz
    Já me decidi
    Por isso guarda a maquilhagem
    Já te disse uma vez, não voltarei a dizê-lo
    Para mim é uma maneira errada

  20. Jamie Keddie says:

    Thank you Ângela
    A perfect day to get a translation in Portuguese after the football match last night!
    Thank you very much for sharing this
    Jamie :)