Could Marco Polo Speak Chinese?
In the Travels of Marco Polo, Marco Polo said that he could understand four languages including their alphabets and ways of writing during his stay in China. However, he did not state clearly what they were, which left space for later generations' speculation.
According to G. Pauthier, a modern French scholar, Marco Polo knew Chinese, Uigur, Phagspa Mongolian and Persian written in Arabic letters.
However, some scholars discovered that in his book, Marco Polo's spelling of words in Turkic, Mongolian, and Persian is rather standardized and accurate, however, Chinese characters seldom leapt out at us. Therefore, it is concluded that he acquired Persian, Mongolian, and Turkic but not Chinese.
According to some Chinese scholars, Marco Polo could not understand Chinese, for the Yuan Dynasty was founded by the Mongolians. New Mongolian was therefore adopted as the official language pursuant to the governmental edict; spoken and written Chinese thus were not a must in the officialdom. Since the Mongolians knew little Chinese, how can we expect a foreigner at that time to know Chinese well? The people Marco Polo made friends and had conversation with were mostly the foreigners in the imperial court, so the language in use was basically Persian, which was probably the common language shared by the foreigners in the Mongolian court.
Judging from this, the four languages Marco Polo acquired should be Mongolian, Persian, Arabic and Turkic (Uigur) but no Chinese.