The development and implementation of language teaching programs can be approached in several different ways, each of which has different implications for curriculum design. Three curriculum approaches are described and compared. Each differs with respect to when issues related to input, process, and outcomes, are addressed. Forward design starts with syllabus planning, moves to methodology, and is followed by assessment of learning outcomes. Resolving issues of syllabus content and sequencing are essential starting points with forward design, which has been the major tradition in language curriculum development. Central design begins with classroom processes and methodology. Issues of syllabus and learning outcomes are not specified in detail in advance and are addressed as the curriculum is implemented. Many of the ‘innovative methods’ of the 1980s and 90s reflect central design. Backward design starts from a specification of learning outcomes and decisions on methodology and syllabus are developed from the learning outcomes. The Common European Framework of Reference is a recent example of backward design. Examples will be given to suggest how the distinction between forward, central and backward design can clarify the nature of issues and trends that have emerged in language teaching in recent years.