If one has no formal programming training how would you suggest going about learning java? Would it be necessary to learn another language first such as C++ or could one just grab an intro to Java book and dive right in?
No need to know another language you can start with Java. You need to find a good book (not something out of date) or some course, plus download Java. They may sugest some IDE (Integrated Data Environment - application to write your code which helps with code compiling, debuging and other thigs), but I should warn you that if they suggest NetBeans be careful that IDE is very tricky and confusing for beginner.
If you want to study on your own I suggest book from Deitel, Java: How to Program 7th edition, but that is only my offer other can suggest something else...
I used the book from Deitel (still do), and have found that the best way for me too learn is to just start coding.
I had very little COBOL programming experience years and years ago, so this was really my first modern language, and it is so vast that it takes time.
Peter is absolutley right about the IDE. I tried using NetBeans at first, but when you do not know exactly what is going on, the "help" NetBeans tries to offer you is even beyond understanding and just ends up confusing.
if you want a good IDE, i won't suggest u to use eclipse, net beans or jbuilder at the beginning.... u can use BlueJ, which is actually made for learners.... it has very interesting getup... i also learned Java using this.... u just can google it for the latest version.
if you just type java tutorial in google, thr will be bunch of thm... u can try for dummies books, if u r new to programming.
Never heard somebody to say that netbeans is for beginners. You should browse Java and JSP section and you will find plenty of "help i'm compiling this in netbeans and it doesn't work" or similar. For BlueJ another bad pick, code finishing is not for beginners but pro's to speed up they task. If to learn with some IDE then with JCreator or IntellyJ