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I don't think Perl is a bad first programming language to learn but I don't think it's a great language for learning programming.
Perl provides some instant gratification and that's encouraging for people just being introduced to programming in general. On the other hand, Perl hides many of the details to which new programmers should get some exposure. As unpopular an answer as this might be, I think Pascal is a good language for learning programming. The first design goal Wirth set for Pascal was:
"to make available a language suitable for teaching programming as a systematic discipline based on fundamental concepts clearly and naturally reflected by the language"1I think the language successfully met that goal. Pascal provides a gentle introduction to important concepts like pointers, memory management, data structures and abstraction, and structured programming.
I learned BASIC first (and found its instant gratification encouraging,) then some assembly for the 6809. Then I learned Pascal and it helped me better understand what I already knew and gave me a good foundation. After that, C came pretty easy.
Lisp hit me with many new concepts, particularly about algorithms. I think it would make a good first language in many respects. It's beautiful and syntactically minimal. I understand MIT uses scheme in its introductory courses. Now, many schools are teaching C++ first. I think that's horrid. I use OOP despite the fact that I was introduced to it through C++. If I had to choose between recommending C++ or Perl as a first language, Perl would win hands down.
1 ISO 10206:1990 "Extended Pascal"
-sauoq "My two cents aren't worth a dime.";
In reply to Re: Learning Perl as a First (programming) language