Language and Diplomacy online course

Language and Diplomacy online course

What makes one set of words more convincing than another, and how can language best be put to work in the service of diplomacy and international relations?

This course promotes language awareness as a means of improving communication skills of opinion shapers. Close attention is paid to case studies of treaties, presidential speeches, public announcements, government advertising and media materials in order to link theoretical discussion to practical examples. Since effective communication has much to do with reading intentions and contexts correctly, insights are provided into relevant cultural, social and psychological variables.

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What will you learn?

  • Define and explain selected concepts in the field of linguistics, including Speech Act theory, semantics, speech communities, and politeness.
  • Define and explain concepts and techniques related to politics and international relations, including soft power, persuasion, and spin.
  • Explain and provide examples of common linguistic tools such as ambiguity, metaphor, analogy and inference.
  • Analyse textual materials (treaties, speeches, governmental advertising, media) using the linguistic tools presented in the course.
  • Analyse images in terms of their influence on our perception of the world.
  • Construct effective textual and visual messages employing the tools presented in the course.

How will you learn?

In this course you will interact intensively in discussions with classmates and lecturers from around the world. You will receive guidance, and personalised feedback on your classwork, from the course team.

How long will you learn?

The course lasts for 10 weeks:

  • 1 week of course introduction and orientation to online learning
  • 8 weeks of addressing the course topics one by one (see below for more details)
  • 1 week for the final assignment and completing the pending tasks

Who should apply

This course will be of interest to:

  • Practising diplomats, civil servants, and others working in international relations.
  • Postgraduate students of diplomacy or international relations wishing to gain deeper insight through interaction with practising diplomats.
  • Postgraduate students or practitioners in other fields seeking an entry point into the world of diplomacy.
  • Journalists, staff of international and non-governmental organisations, translators, business people, and others who wish to improve their understanding of diplomacy-related topics.


The course consists of 8 modules, as follows:

  1. Language as action: This session focuses on the importance of context and inference in understanding intended meaning, especially when meaning is expressed indirectly. It also considers the many ways in which diplomatic language is performative, from the operative verbs in UNSC resolutions and diplomatic reporting to diplomatic signalling and conversational innuendo.
  2. Building relationships: Sensitivity to cultural and individual differences can make or break relationships. We look at the relationship between directness and discourtesy, consider the notion of ‘face’ and analyse how indirectness is expressed in English. Comparison with other languages shows that many of the distancing devices of courtesy are universal, as are the issues raised by courtesy: genuineness, gender, altruism vs self-promotion, nature vs nurture.
  3. Securing agreement: How can we use the resources of language to secure agreement, reconcile divergent views and defuse disagreement? What causes divisiveness and how can we recognise linguistic warning signs, such as ad hominem attacks, generalisations, polarisation and othering. We consider various conciliation strategies such as addressing the individual, securing common ground, and expanding the circle of inclusion.
  4. Framing an argument: This lecture looks at various ways of framing and reframing one’s argument, from assertion to pre-emptive arguments, selective disclosure, appeals to authority, precedent, and emotion, as well as typecasting, connotations, metaphors, analogies, and clusivity. We analyse a public speech and suggest some Hard Talk simulation exercises.
  5. Persuasion: We recast the three components of classical rhetoric (logos, pathos and ethos) into ‘hard’, ‘soft’ and ‘smart’ persuasion. Hard persuasion involves the power of reason and the use of evidence. Soft persuasion is concerned with emotional and imaginative appeal, as achieved through connotations, figures of speech, etc. Smart persuasion involves the credibility, authority and expertise of ‘ethos’ but also the clever combination of hard and soft attributes, such as in the astute deployment of logical fallacies.
  6. Force and grace: This lecture considers how to defuse, evade, reframe, assert and otherwise negotiate confrontational settings by practising a range of devices, from discourse connectives to the ABC media-management strategy: Acknowledge, Bridge, Communicate. Since holding one’s ground need not entail hostility, we consider how to remain firm on resolve but graceful in delivery.
  7. Ambiguity: Ambiguity can both create and accommodate disagreement. This lecture identifies seven types of ambiguity, and distinguishes between linguistic and constructive ambiguity (the latter refers not to a type of ambiguity, but to its deployment for particular ends). Since ambiguity allows for divergent interpretation, it is important to know how to create it where advantageous, and how to recognise and challenge it where it works against us.
  8. Diplomacy and the unsaid: Much of the power of communication resides in what is not said explicitly, but is nevertheless conveyed implicitly. We consider the role of the unsaid in diplomacy, and identify four categories of implicit communication: gaps, focus (vagueness at one end and loaded questions at the other), stories in a capsule and face-space. This final lecture acts as a revision of the previous topics by approaching them from a different angle.

Course lecturers

Biljana Scott

Associate of the China Centre, University of Oxford

Andrej Skrinjaric

Andrej Škrinjarić

Director of Education & Training, Diplo


The Language and Diplomacy online course is based on a collaborative learning approach, involving a high level of interaction over a period of 10 weeks. Reading materials and the necessary tools for online interaction are provided in a virtual classroom.

Each week, participants study and discuss course materials and complete additional online activities. At the end of the week, participants and lecturers meet to discuss the topic of the week. For successful completion, this course requires a minimum of 5 to 7 hours of study time per week.

Participants who successfully complete a certificate course receive a certificate issued by Diplo which can be printed or shared electronically via a permanent link. Participants who successfully complete an accredited course will receive 9 ECTS credits from the University of Malta.


All course applicants must have regular internet access; dial-up connections are sufficient, broadband is preferable.

Applicants for certificate courses must have:

  • An undergraduate university degree OR 3 years of work experience and appropriate professional qualifications in diplomacy or international relations.
  • Sufficient English language skills to undertake postgraduate-level studies.

Applicants for accredited courses must meet the University of Malta prerequisites:

  • Bachelor's degree in a relevant subject with at least Second Class Honours.
  • Proof of English language proficiency obtained within the last two years (minimum requirements TOEFL: paper-based – 650; Internet-based – 95. IELTS: 6.5. Cambridge: Proficiency Certificate with Grade C or better). If when applying you are still waiting for your English language proficiency results, the University may issue a conditional letter of acceptance.

Fees and scholarships

Course fees depend on whether you wish to obtain university credit for the course or a Diplo certificate:

  • University of Malta accredited courses: €850
  • Diplo certificate courses: €690

Note: Diplo alumni can benefit from a 15% discount on the fee for this course.

A limited number of partial scholarships are available for diplomats and others working in international relations from developing countries. Discounts are available for more than one participant from the same institution.

You can apply for this course:

How to apply

Fill out the short form to start your application process for this course. You will receive an instruction email on how to continue.

Applying for financial assistance? Please indicate this on the application form, upload your CV, and a motivation statement that should include:

  • Details of your relevant professional and educational background.
  • Reasons for your interest in the course.
  • Why do you feel you should have the opportunity to participate in this course? How will your participation benefit you, your institution and/or your country?

Please note that financial assistance from Diplo is available only to applicants from developing countries!

Late applications will only be considered if there are spaces available in the course.


Apply for a University of Malta accredited course

Complete application packages must be received by specified application deadlines in order to be considered.

  1. Two copies of the University of Malta application form filled out in full.
  2. Certified copies of original degree(s) and official transcripts.
  3. English translations of degree(s) and transcripts if they are not in English, signed and stamped by a translator.
  4. English language proficiency certificate obtained within the last two years (minimum requirements TOEFL: paper-based – 650; Internet-based – 95. IELTS: 6.5. Cambridge: Proficiency Certificate with Grade C or better). Please indicate on the application form if you are still waiting for your English language proficiency results.
  5. Photocopy of personal details pages of your passport.
  6. If you are requesting financial assistance, please include your CV and a motivation letter with your application. The motivation letter should include details of your relevant professional and educational background; reasons for your interest in the course; and why you feel you should have the opportunity to participate in this course: i.e. how will your participation benefit you, your institution and/or your country? Financial assistance from DiploFoundation is available only to applicants from developing countries.
  7. Application fee or proof of payment (100 euro – non-refundable – see methods of payment).

Please send the complete application package by email to or by post to:

Anutruf, Ground Floor
Hriereb Street
Msida, MSD 1675, Malta

Please note that by sending your application package, you are confirming that you have read Diplo's Privacy Policy. Please note that Diplo will process and share your personal data with third parties (including the University of Malta) for admissions and academic matters, administering finance, and administrative purposes in accordance with the Privacy Policy.


Cancellation policy

Diplo reserves the right to cancel this course if enrolment is insufficient. In case of cancellation, Diplo will notify applicants shortly after the application deadline. Applicants who have paid an application fee may apply this fee towards another course or receive a refund.