English for International Relations: A Glossary of 15 Key Terms

I’m not a political diplomat, but I can pretend to be one.

I mean that literally.

When I was in school, I participated in competitions called “Model United Nations,” or MUNs.

In these competitions, we held fake United Nations meetings. Participants pretended to be ambassadors of different countries and debated political issues based on their nation’s foreign policies.

MUNs taught me a lot about international politics as well as the art of tact and diplomacy.

They also helped me build confidence in my speaking and writing abilities—how to subtly persuade people to come around to your point-of-view, how to debate effectively in a room full of people, how to build alliances with strangers and so on.

At its core, this is exactly what the field of international relations is all about.

It studies and analyzes the different ways various state and non-state actors (more on what these are later!) interact with each other to solve global issues and even crises.

Studying international relations will open up numerous exciting career options for you.

You can become a political diplomat, an international lawyer, a lobbyist, a policy-maker, an intelligence specialist, a political analyst, a communications specialist and so on—and even get to travel the world, while you’re at it.

But first, you’ll need to learn the lingo.

How Business English and International Relations Are Connected

You might be wondering, how exactly does English fit into international relations? After all, they are, well, international.

Since English is the international language of business and commerce, you can’t succeed in the field of international relations unless you’re an expert in the language. And for that, you need superb business English skills.

And the best part is, many of the skills that you’re expected to cultivate and refine for international relations—such as diplomacy, negotiation and effective communication—are covered in many business English courses as well.

Mastering both will teach you how to collaborate, cooperate or compromise with different parties and build bridges across different countries and cultures.

In short, you’ll learn how to be a successful global citizen.

Free Online Courses for Getting Started in International Relations

Knowing the right words to use is a good start, but once you’ve learned all the words in this post, you might want to further broaden your learning. Whether you’re studying the subject and language on your own or you’re looking for some good online resources to supplement your learning, make it a point to sign up for these MOOCs available for free on Coursera to complete your English for international relations education.

1. Business English: Networking

This course by the University of Washington is specifically focused on the language and strategies used in networking events to build the right contacts. Thus, it covers many of the skills you need to succeed in international relations.

2. Global Diplomacy in the Modern World

This course, taught by Dr. J. Simon Rofe of the University of London is a great introduction to the field of international studies and global diplomacy. It will help you develop your vocabulary and give you a critical understanding of how global issues are dealt with.

3. Global Trends for Business and Society

This course from the University of Pennsylvania combines the best of business English and international relations. It will teach you all about global trends and their effects on geopolitical relationships between countries, consumers and labor markets and more.

English for International Relations: A Glossary of 15 Key Terms

You must have noticed that when politicians, diplomats or ambassadors speak, their English not only sounds “official” but also extremely “polite” and “diplomatic” as well. The following are some commonly used words, which you must know by heart if you’re interested in making a career in this field.

I’ve adapted and simplified the meanings from different online business English dictionaries and other sources to make it easier for you. I’ve also added a sample sentence for each so you can better understand them.

1. Ambassador

An ambassador is an important high-ranking official stationed in a foreign country who represents his own country’s interests there.

The British ambassador to Germany was tasked with maintaining peaceful relations between the two countries after by the political turmoil caused by the elections. 

2. Bilateral

Bilateral meetings, communications or agreements are those that directly involve only two countries.

There are ongoing bilateral negotiations between the USA and Mexico over land disputes. 

3. Colonization

Colonization is the process of taking control and settling down on a foreign land with little or no regard for the indigenous populations or their land, whose resources are usually exploited for the benefit of the dominant political power.

The devastating repercussions of African colonization by different European powers persist even today. 

4. Consulate

A consulate is the small office or residence of diplomats and ambassadors in another country. The main diplomatic office or the “Embassy” is usually located in the capital city while the “Consulates” are located in other prominent towns.

Rita is planning to pursue a Master’s in Italy and has to visit the Italian consulate for her visa. 

5. Cultural Imperialism

Cultural imperialism is one of the effects of colonization, where the “culture” of the dominant political power is regarded as more superior. As a result, the indigenous cultures of that area are neglected, suppressed or even gradually erased.

Due to cultural imperialism, we have lost several indigenous languages and cultures forever. 

6. Delegation

A delegation refers to a small group of people, representing a particular country, who have been sent elsewhere to negotiate with other people, on behalf of their country or a larger group.

Rohan went to Paris as part of the Indian delegation for a peace talk between the two countries. 

7. Diplomacy

Diplomacy is the art of maintaining peaceful and mutually beneficial relations between the governments of two countries.

Ahana’s skills at diplomacy make her one of the best candidates to represent her country at the United Nations. 

8. Domestic policy

These relate to the administrative decisions taken by a country’s government with regard to all the issues that take place within a country’s borders.

Issues of healthcare, law enforcement and taxation fall under the country’s domestic policy. 

9. Espionage

This is the practice of government-sponsored spying to find out another country’s military, political and industrial information.

John’s past career in espionage as an Irish government spy for Poland is something that he doesn’t like to talk about much.

10. Foreign policy

A country’s foreign policy refers to the different strategies that it uses to protect its national interests and maintain diplomatic relations with other nations.

Issues relating to war, conflicts and international trade generally fall under a country’s foreign policy

11. Geopolitics

Geopolitics refers to the way geography affects the politics and relations between different nations. For instance, the presence of natural resources may impact the country’s position in international geopolitics.

The discovery of oil in the West Asian countries heralded a new era in global geopolitics. 

12. Non-State Actors

Individuals or organizations with political influence who are not allied with any country.

A terrorist organization is a prime example of a violent non-state actor (VNSA).

13. Rogue State

A rogue state refers to a country that’s breached international law and is now a threat to the security of other nations.

In 1994, five nations were labeled by the US as rogue states for allying with terrorists, oppressing their citizens and rejecting democracy.

14. Prisoner of War

A prisoner of war is an individual who’s held by a hostile power during or immediately after a war.

Maya’s brother, who was a soldier, was executed as a prisoner of war following an armed conflict. 

15. Unilateral

A unilateral decision is a decision taken by an involved country without the agreement of the other parties involved.

Russia’s unilateral decision regarding nuclear power angered other nations. 


These words are just the tip of the iceberg and a great starting point for you to do more research and discover more information about the field of international relations.

Invest in a good dictionary and some textbooks, sign up for one of the above-mentioned courses and keep studying and applying all you learn. Closely follow international business news and politics and try to analyze them. You can even read editorial articles on the web or in magazines to sharpen your vocabulary, language and critical perspective.

Make it a point to learn every day and regularly revise, and you’ll be destined for global success.

Archita Mittra is a freelance writer, artist, educator and a self-taught Italian speaker. Feel free to check out her blog or contact her for freelancing inquiries. 

Enter your e-mail address to get your free PDF!

We hate SPAM and promise to keep your email address safe