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You have made a good start
>>>So, I hate to ask, but is calligraphy the same thing as writing chinese *characters*?<<<|
No. They are different. Foreigners see Chinese calligraphy as pictures or arts. Actually they're just normal Chinese characters, but writing with a brush in a certain way( consistency, stree or dub etc. )with black think ink. Kinda like drawing water color pictures.
>>>Are they the same thing, but when written a certain way (context, material, etc), it is considered calligraphy/art? Am I not paying close enough attention to the differences?<<<
A same content can be written in different ways, so looks like different calligraphy/art.
>>>I'm asking because I clearly knwo little about the subject. And, because I'm taking a mandarin course at a college (finally have the time) next semester and they also offer a course on Chinese calligraphy that is a basic one and seems very interesting. My asking is also due to wanting to knwo (cuz I'm impatient) if the calligraphy will help with learning how to write mandarin(not pinyin).<<<
Dude, you have made a good start to learn Chinese. The calligraphy definitely will intrigue foreigners to learn Chinese. Almost every Chinese kids are taught to learn calligraphy since very young age in kindergarten or primary school. In recent years, we abolish brush to pen or ballpen as the writting tool.
>>>And oh, in Chinese schools do they place an emphasis on Pinyin or traditional Chinese writing?<<<
Chinese kids are taught to learn Pinyin first and Chinese characters writing second. Traditional Chinese writing are taught in Taiwan, and simple Chinese writing are taught in mailand China.
Hope it helps.