The short answer: because I know Russian!
The long answer:
I never realized when living in Russia how vital my classes were in teaching me grammar and words so I could later pick them up in conversation. Maybe that sounds stupid, but it's true – I sort of had the idea that even if I weren't in class, I'd still have picked up the language okay.
Turns out, for me at least, that's just plain not true. Because I've been in Georgia for a total of seven months already, but beyond a few words and phrases, I don't know any more Georgian than I did when I first arrived.
I forgot that I'm not five years old anymore and can no longer spontaneously learn a language. In particular, most of my linguistic exposure is aural, and I've found that without written confirmation of what I hear, sounds that are new to me continue to pass by my ear – I simply can't catch them.
I know it's possible to retrain one's ears to hear new sounds, as I hear the difference between hard and soft consonants in Russian that I couldn't differentiate and the beginning of my studies. So there's hope.
Beyond my lack of formal language study – something I hope to remedy soon – there's the probably more important fact that everyone is already used to speaking with me in Russian. So it's very hard for them to remember to switch to Georgian, and I – because I understand them in Russian – don't remind them. There have been a couple attempts to “go Georgian,” but when I don't understand right away, it's too easy for everyone to just switch over to Russian rather than struggle through it to communicate in Georgian. The irony, of course, is that without Russian Reziko and I would never have met at all, but now that same language has become a crutch.
My first few months in Russia in 2005 were miserable because I didn't understand what people were saying to me. My brain was overwhelmed by linguistic input it couldn't process. But that experience is necessary to push through to language fluency. I feel like my ear is so used to hearing Georgian around me now that if only I'd learn a little grammar and vocabulary, everything would fall into place. But until I can create that uncomfortable situation where Georgian is the only language of communication, I fear I'll never pick it up.
5 days ago