A correspondent writes to ask if I have written anything about 'false friends', and their role in language learning and teaching.
Just in case some readers of this blog haven't encountered the term, false friends are cases where a word in one language resembles a word in another, and a learner assumes that, because the two words look the same, they therefore mean the same. So, abusif in French doesn't mean 'abusive' (which would be injurieux) but 'incorrect, illegal, unauthorized, excessive...'
Linguists do routinely collect examples of false friends, and I'm no exception. But I've never written a book about them - unlike, say, Philip Thody and Howard Evans, who compiled an excellent collection of French/English 'faux amis' a few years ago - Faux Amis & Key Words (Athlone Press, 1985). The Munich-based English-teaching magazine Spotlight also regularly lists German false friends.
The nearest I've got to writing on this subject is in relation to Shakespeare. I used to do a column in the Times Educational Supplement called 'Will's Words', which was on Shakeapearean false friends. You can see many of these pieces on the Shakespeare's Words website (www.shakespeareswords.com). I also discuss them in my recent Think on my Words: Exploring Shakespeare's Language (CUP 2008).
I'm no methodologist, so I don't have anything really to say about how best to incorporate false friends into language teaching. But they certainly should receive a special focus, at some point, for they are among the easiest errors to make, both in production and comprehension. I think time spent on assimilating false friends is time well spent, especially as some of them are very frequent (French demander comes to mind - meaning 'ask' not 'demand'). And it would certainly save a lot of Shakespearean misinterpretation if people took the trouble to learn the commonest false friends in Early Modern English - such as naughty and merely.