MONTREAL—The Parti Quebecois has put the brakes on plans to teach intensive English to Quebec’s sixth graders.

“It is important that our children learn their mother tongue very well. It’s not easy to be a Francophone in North America,” said Education Minister Marie Malavoy on Thursday.

Malavoy said the plan introduced by the previous Liberal government to provide intensive English classes in all French-language elementary schools by 2015 was simply not realistic.

"You have just a little more than 12 per cent of schools teaching intensive English," said Malavoy, pointing out that pushing that number up to 100 percent in the next two years would require extensive effort.

“Most schools have regular classes in English and they speak English probably not so bad.”

The education minister said learning English is important, but at this point there just are not enough people qualified as teachers for the program to go forward.

She did caution that she was not telling schools to stop intensive immersion if they wanted to have it.

The Liberals fired back that the goal was achievable if the political will was present.

“We thought it was doable because we spoke with school boards and parents, this is what they asked us to do,” said Liberal education critic Francine Charbonneau.

The Parti Quebecois has decided that each school will have to decide on its own if it wants to offer an intensive English immersion program, and acknowledges that it is very popular in some regions.

It also says that all students, by grade six, should know some English, and that they should be able to pass provincial English exams by the end of high school.

The PQ’s position is that Grades One and Two are too early to start learning English as a second language, but Malavoy said she could not offer an appropriate age to start teaching English.

She said it is such a sensitive topic that she wants real analysis and research before making a decision about when to introduce English in French schools, and to that end has asked Quebec's national management school, the ENAP, to study the question and get back to her by September.

It will now be up to schools and their governing boards to decide on intensive English. Many Montreal students are already bilingual, so no need for extra English there the minister said.

The government's position is just fine, according to a group that represents parents.

“If a given school somewhere, the people from the governing board feel that it is not necessary to have English then it is there decision,” said Marc Charland of the Federation of Parents Committees.

Charland is a parent of three and he says for some young Quebecers, English can make all the difference.