Recently, researchers have been debating whether children exhibit a universal “noun bias” when learning a first language. The present study compares the proportions of nouns and verbs in the early vocabularies of 24 English- and 24 Mandarin-speaking toddlers (M age = 20 months) and their mothers. Three different methods were used to measure the proportion of noun types, relative to verb types: controlled observations in three contexts (book reading, mechanical toy play, regular toy play), identical across languages; a vocabulary checklist (MacArthur Communicative Development Inventory); and mothers' reporting of their children's “first words.” Across all measures, Mandarin-speaking children were found to have relatively fewer nouns and more verbs than English-speaking children. However, context itself played an important role in the proportions of nouns found in children's vocabularies, such that, regardless of the language spoken, children's vocabularies appeared dominated by nouns when they were engaged in book reading, but not when they were playing with toys. Mothers' speech to children showed the same language differences (relatively more verbs in Mandarin), although both Mandarin- and English-speaking mothers produced relatively more verbs than their children. In sum, whether or not language-learning toddlers demonstrate a “noun bias” depends on a variety of factors, including the methods by which their vocabularies are sampled and the contexts in which observations occur.