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BrexitBriten zieht es nach Luxemburg

Blick auf Luxemburg
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Fiona Godfrey takes language lessons to help her pronounce gromperekichelcher, useful when ordering potato pancakes in Luxembourgish.

The U.K. native will also try to get the hang of words like foussgänger, pedestrian, and schnuddelhong, which means turkey but translates roughly to “snot hen.”

Ms. Godfrey is one of a growing number of British citizens offering their allegiance to tiny Luxembourg and its obscure tongue-twisting language following the United Kingdom’s decision to leave the European Union.

Luxembourg citizenship will allow Brits to live and work in the EU after the U.K. departs the bloc in March 2019. Those like Ms. Godfrey, who have lived in Luxembourg 20 years or more, must complete 24 hours of language classes to qualify. Anyone with at least five years of residency is eligible, but they must also pass a civics test and the sproochentest, or Luxembourgish language exam.

“It’s a very strange language, but it has its own charm,” said Ms. Godfrey, 52 years old. The public-health consultant started language class this month.

Luxembourgish, also known as Luxembourgeois, sounds like a mashup of German and French. The word for fork, forschett, resembles the same word, fourchette, in French.

If you’re not that sure, you sort of say something that sounds in between

Clive Cherry

Knife, or messer, matches its German counterpart. Some words—say, baangschesser, which means coward—stack consonants. Others, such as beaarbechten—meaning, to deal with—are awash in vowels.

The mix of German and French provides some cover for clever beginners. “If you’re not that sure, you sort of say something that sounds in between,” joked Clive Cherry, a 56-year-old Brit, who works in finance.

Mr. Cherry hopes to take the sproochentest this year and continue living in Luxembourg after Brexit. He enjoys pistol shooting in his free time and dreams one day of joining Luxembourg’s Olympic team.

If nothing else, he said, “I think I’ve been accepted a lot more since I started learning Luxembourgish,” and added new Luxembourgish Facebook friends.

Foreigners account for nearly half of Luxembourg’s population of 590,667, and about 6,000 Brits live there. The number of expatriates has grown in recent years as technology giants Amazon.com Inc. and Microsoft Corp. have expanded there, along with large banks and money managers.

Brexit “pulled the rugs out from under my feet and my family’s feet in terms of that freedom of mobility,” said Matt Neale, 38, who works for an e-commerce company. He plans to take the sproochentest and apply for citizenship in 2019, once he has lived in the country for five years.

Luxembourgish is more complex than many Romance languages, say language students. It is also more difficult to learn because there is nowhere else where it is widely spoken.

The language is “of little to no use anywhere else,” said Nick Parkes, a U.K. native who works on governance and administration within the fund management industry.

It’s like German about 500 years ago

Karen Tomasi

Even in Luxembourg, fluency isn’t required in daily life. French, German and Luxembourgish are all recognized languages, used in varying degrees throughout government and in court.

Luxembourg is the second-largest market in the world for investment funds by assets, yet business is largely conducted in English, Mr. Parkes said.

Karen Tomasi, a 51-year-old Guernsey native, struggled to learn Luxembourgish when she moved to the country in 2001. “It’s like German about 500 years ago,” the office manager said. “I found it quite frustrating.”

Now, Ms. Tomasi plans to apply for citizenship once she is eligible under the 20-year rule, sparing her the pain of completing the sproochentest. The test includes a conversation with a moderator, as well as listening to a recording and translating what was said.

Before Brexit, Ms. Tomasi bought an apartment across the Luxembourg border in Germany and planned to move there. She changed her mind after the U.K.’s surprise decision. Ms. Tomasi will now remain living in Luxembourg, she said, and pursue her citizenship there.

Many of the more than 1 million Brits who live in continental Europe are seeking dual citizenship in some of the other 27 EU countries. Luxembourg is a less obvious choice, except for those who have lived there several years.

The number of British citizens registered for the sproochentest has risen sharply, according to the Institut National des Langues, which administers it: 108 British citizens took the exam in 2017, up from an annual average of just 18 over the eight years prior to the Brexit vote.

Another 49 people have registered to take the test this year, with exam slots through July now filled. There are typically 1,600 spots for the sproochentest each year, said Karin Pundel, director of the Institut National des Langues, but that number is expected to grow by more than 30% to meet demand.

Luxembourgers have even made a bit of room in their umlaut-heavy lingo for the occasional Britishism, Mr. Neale noted. Tipptopp is used for “cool.”

Brits cramming for the sproochentest can always turn to children’s books to practice their comprehension, including such familiar fare as “Den Harry Potter an Den Alchimistesteen,” the Luxembourgish translation of “Harry Potter and the Philosopher’s Stone.”