Olga Kagan, UCLA professor of Slavic, East European and Eurasian languages and cultures and one of the country’s leading specialists on heritage language teaching, died of leukemia on April 6 at her home in Los Angeles. She was 71.
Kagan was director of both the UCLA International Institute’s Center for World Languages and the National Heritage Language Resource Center. She moved to the United States from Russia and taught at UC Riverside for five years before joining UCLA in 1981. During her career, Kagan emerged as one of the country’s leading specialists on second-language acquisition, in particular, teaching students who have grown up speaking their native language in a foreign-language environment, but possess little or no facility in reading or writing in their native tongue.
She co-authored 11 Russian-language textbooks, as well as numerous articles and book chapters on heritage language studies. Among her best known publications is Russian for Russians, a textbook co-authored with Tatiana Akishina and Richard Robin and designed specifically for heritage speakers. This textbook is currently used at about 30 universities across the country.
A selfless institution builder, Kagan was a key member of a UCLA delegation to Russia that launched new partnerships with institutions in Moscow and St. Petersburg.
A funeral service for Kagan will be held Wednesday, April 11, at 10 am at Mt. Sinai Simi Valley. In lieu of flowers, Kagan’s family requests that donations be made to the UCLA National Heritage Language Resource Center, which promotes the teaching of heritage languages, and the Russian Flagship Program, which supports study-abroad opportunities for UCLA Russian Flagship students.
This story was adapted from a longer version published by the UCLA International Institute.